Hello world!

…by Greg / from the United Kingdom / studying PhD Precision Medicine / 4th Year

Current status. Location: Edinburgh, UK. Weather: clear skies. Beverage: Breakfast tea. Currently reading: Death on the Nile.

Hi everyone and welcome to my first CMVM blog! I’m Greg, and I have been a scientist for the last nine years. I’m studying for my PhD in physiology. I’m currently running a set of qPCR experiments on what I think will be the penultimate study of my PhD, but this post is all about how I got here.

I am in my fourth (and hopefully final) year of my PhD at the University of Edinburgh on the MRC Precision Medicine Doctoral Training Programme. I have been studying the role of the immune system in blood pressure regulation and hypertension. My background is entirely unrelated to cardiovascular medicine with my research training focused on infectious disease so I thought, for my first blog, I would begin by detailing my past experience.

My interest in science began at the turn of the millennium in a long-abandoned place. Ayrshire once hosted a Nobel factory for the manufacture of dynamite. Nitroglycerin is the principle explosive agent of dynamite; however, nowadays, it is also used in as a treatment for angina and heart failure. At the time, we did not know that nitroglycerin could be used medically. Still, there is a local tale, which may be apocryphal, that patients with angina were encouraged to find work at the Nobel factory because patients reported symptomatic relief after working at the factory. The factory closed in the late 20th century, and the area was regenerated as part of the Millennium project to include a science centre, The Big Idea. The centre failed to attract regular visitors, and it closed after three years. However, it remained open long enough to spark my interest in science.

The United Kingdom has a long history at the forefront of scientific discovery and invention. One of Ayrshire’s most successful sons is Professor Sir Alexander Fleming. His discovery of the antibacterial effects of penicillin was awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. It started a new branch of medicine that has saved an incalculable number of lives. Needless to say, I grew up hearing about this scientist, and the global importance of his discovery and in my naiveté, I decided to become a scientist.

I selected the most scientific courses I could take at school (although I tried to avoid maths at all costs) and left the rest to the seeds of time. In hindsight, this plan is working differently than I had initially imagined. I never had the grades to attend an illustrious University; however, on the advice of a teacher, I enrolled in Biomedical Science and the University of the West of Scotland to continue my training. It is impossible to give my time as an undergraduate it deserves in this blog. I will note three things about how important about my undergraduate degree was. It was the first time I ever conversed with a professional scientist (some ten years after I decided to become one) and it was the first time I was motivated to study. Finally, it was the first time I got the ‘knack’ for how to take an exam.

The latter changes earned me two significant opportunities – an internship with the NHS and to join my first research lab as a Wellcome Trust Vacation Scholar. Both experiences were transformative. My experience in the NHS introduced me to clinical chemistry, the delivery of diagnostics and (now) one of my oldest friends. My vacation scholarship introduced me to research and the field of parasitology. Combined, they were significant stepping stones that helped me achieve admittance to for an MSc at the University of Dundee. There I developed a more comprehensive range of research and technical skills I could apply in PhD research. It was also the first time I left home, fended for myself and paid an electricity bill.

After Dundee, I decided to make a change. My studies to date had focused on pharmacology, parasitology and molecular biology. I needed a broader toolkit that included numerical skills (at this point, I realised I was mistaken not to pay attention in maths) and the application of novel technology for translational science. I was also keen to return to human disease because I found out that to help people was a major motivator for me. My current project ticked all of those boxes because I work with medics, engineers and physicists on a highly interdisciplinary project where every day I am learning something new! And, that is how I became a PhD student here.

You can find out more about my life in Edinburgh and science on my Twitter @endothelin1 and about my career on LinkedIn.


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