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Madina Wane

PhD Student (Postgraduate Researcher), Imperial College London

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Progress in STEM can only happen if we are brave enough to keep challenging the status quo, so don’t be afraid to try (and fail!).

What do you do?

As a PhD student, I study how the immune system responds to viral infection. I am specifically interested in the responses to respiratory viruses which cause diseases such as the flu and the common cold. We don’t currently have a good understanding of the response to viruses at the site of infection, the lungs. To address this, I have tried to develop new ways of studying viral infection in a specific species of fish, zebrafish. My work consists of designing and performing laboratory experiments on the gills, which are the equivalent of lungs in fish. This includes looking at the gills with powerful microscopes where I can see the shape and location of individual cells. I also spend a lot of time analysing data on the computer, supervising undergraduate and Master’s students, and presenting my work at meetings and conferences.

Why did you choose this field?

I am most drawn to biology because trying to understand living organisms, which are incredibly complex, diverse, and constantly changing, is a fascinating challenge. There is something very rewarding about using science to better understand yourself. I decided to move into immunology partly because infectious diseases are a huge problem in society and I felt I could make a positive impact in this field. I also love immunology because it you get to learn about lots of different pathogens and how they interact with our bodies. Both of my parents are in STEM which certainly helped fuel my interest in science. Growing up I was encouraged to follow my curiosity, be creative, and learn about lots of topics, including science, both from my school and from my parents. This was key to giving me the confidence to study science further. Hobbies like cooking and art have also given me an outlet to experiment even outside of what we consider to be STEM.

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

Doing a PhD has given me a lot more confidence in trying new things and not being limited to what I ‘think’ I’ll be good at. I wish I’d had this when I was younger as I think I would have really enjoyed things like building robots or learning more about computing. Luckily learning doesn’t end at any age so I’m looking forward to pursuing all my scientific interests throughout my life!

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love that science has always allowed me to follow my curiosity and be creative. As a PhD student you go beyond just learning facts, to developing your own ideas in a project that is truly yours. Of course, as a scientist it is incredibly exciting to discover something entirely new, but this doesn’t happen every day!

Best advice for next generation?

Progress in STEM can only happen if we are brave enough to keep challenging the status quo, so above all else don’t be afraid to try (and fail!). This is important for STEM but even more importantly you will learn new skills, gain confidence, and even discover interests you may never have thought of. Whilst it can be very rewarding, working in STEM can also be challenging so make sure you surround yourselves with good friends and mentors, and find other interests outside of science.

Inspo quote / fun fact

I recently learnt that dragonflies are hatched in water and stay in their immature form for up to 3 years! Once they metamorphose into a full dragonfly they only live up to 3 more months, so in other words they can be teenagers for a very very long time!