Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Completing her PhD at King’s College London, Alice is researching human induced pluripotent stem cells, and genetically reprogramming them back to an embryonic stem cell-like state, hoping to one day enable more personalised cell therapies for patients.

When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?

I studied Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Latin for A-levels, so studying medicine seemed like the obvious career path. I always enjoyed learning about human biology, however I couldn’t see myself being a doctor. I chose to study Biological Sciences at University College London which led me to pursue a career in biomedical research. I think it’s not always obvious what career options are available outside of medicine for those interested in biology, but there are plenty of different paths out there. I’d be happy to speak to anyone who would like to know more!

What do you do now, and what does your job involve?
I am currently in the second year of my PhD at King’s College London. My research is using human induced pluripotent stem cells, which are generated by taking adult cells, such as skin or blood cells, and genetically reprogramming them back to an embryonic stem cell-like state. These stem cells can be induced to become any cell type of the body, and so are used for studying diseases, drug discovery and regenerative medicine. I am using these cells to understand how genetic variation between people can influence the stem cells’ functions. I thereby hope to one day enable more personalised cell therapies for patients.

Most of my days are spent conducting experiments in the lab, analysing data or keeping up-to-date with the scientific literature. I also try to fit in workshops held on campus and attend seminars by other scientists. It’s important to present your research to get input from a wide audience, so this can mean the odd perk of travelling abroad to present at conferences!

What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
Stem cell research requires a lot of patience and perseverance, as experiments take time and a great deal of optimisation (often months of work and experiments usually carry on into the weekends). This can make the journey to the end goal feel like a marathon. The hard work is all made worth it when you find out something new that you’re the first person to have discovered, and that maybe one day that discovery might make people’s lives better.

What are you most proud of so far?
I’ve carried out lab projects at the forefront of biomedical research at University College London, Imperial College London and King’s College London. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with world-leading scientists who have taken their time to train me and invest in my personal development.

I am also President of the Innovation Forum branch at King’s College London, which is a global organisation across universities in Europe, the US and Asia. We support entrepreneurship in science through events, networking and mentorship to help scientists commercialise their research or develop their own start-up companies.

What is your fondest memory of school?
Being able to see my friends every day. I met some of my best friends (and housemates) at Brighton College, and I took being able to see them all every day for granted, especially now some of them are dotted around the world.

Who was your favourite teacher and why?
This is a tricky one – they each had their own individual qualities but all of them went above and beyond to invest in our development and our futures. Ms Woodmansey was a fantastic house tutor, Miss Playfair and Mrs Miller had an unparalleled passion for Latin, Mr Reeve brought a lot of humour to biology lessons, and Mr Peck was invaluable for navigating me through the university application process.

What advice you give to your 18-year-old self?
1. Don’t worry about stereotypes or let them shape what you do, which is especially important for women pursuing STEM subjects.
2. Don’t take everything at face value, but question what you read or hear (it’s okay to disagree with people.)

Is there a book, song or film that changed your life?
I would highly recommend Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley’s autobiography “Let IT Go”. It describes how she came to the UK as a refugee, founded her own computer software company in the 1960’s (taking the name Steve to navigate this male-dominated sector more easily) and raised her son who had severe autism, leading her to be a philanthropist for autism charities. This book inspired me to learn to code, which I did through Code First: Girls community courses (I would highly recommend these!)

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