Helena Teague

PhD Student, University of Cambridge


You have nothing to lose, without generations of strong women pushing forward the boundaries and making it a better space.

What do you do?

I am a research PhD student, studying regulation of the detection of RNA viruses such as Influenza and Zika, by the innate immune sensor RIG-I. In normal English, this means that I modify cells and see what effect this has on the cells when I infect them with viruses, and use this data to work out what the modification is doing. Practically, I spend almost all of my time in the lab, genetically modifying cells, infecting them with viruses and measuring the resulting immune response, followed by analysing the data.

Why did you choose this field?

I don't think there has ever be one moment when I decided this was the career path for me, it has all been incremental decisions based on how much I enjoyed what I was doing. At school, I always enjoyed science, I was interested in how things worked and liked that we could explain the things I could see around me (I also liked that I didn't have to learn any dates or write any long essays!). I had an incredible A level chemistry teacher who really changed my perception of scientists strong female role models. I chose my degree course based on the two A levels I enjoyed most, Biology + Chemistry = Biochemistry! I chose my undergraduate university based entirely on where I felt most at home, and this was one of the most defining decisions. Through researching and choosing elective courses, I discovered that I liked the study of disease and the immune system. I took a year out working in an academic lab as a sandwich student placement and really enjoyed doing the actual research rather than reading about it! So why stop there - a PhD it was! My parents are highly educated, and scientific, but I am the first person who is actively pursuing a research career. Two key female role models in my life are my A level chemistry teacher and the Post-Doc who supported me in my sandwich placement year. Currently my role model is an amazing female Principal Investigator in my department

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I am (fingers crossed) about 6 months away from graduating from the University of Cambridge with a PhD - I didn't even dare think of applying for Cambridge for my undergraduate because I 'knew' I would never get in - how did I know?!

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working with clever, motivated, open-minded and hard working people from a wide range of backgrounds. I love coming into work and having conversations with my colleagues about science, current affairs and life in general, I have learnt as much from them as I have about research

Best advice for next generation?

DO IT. You have nothing to lose, without generations of strong women pushing forward the boundaries and making it a better space for new researchers, it will never get easier to bring girls into STEM.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, creativity or curiosity .” - Mae Jemison (astronaut)

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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