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I often get asked the question of how did I end up where I am? It’s certainly not unique to research but I can understand why it often gets asked. I think you have to be pretty passionate about research to stay in it. As is true in many jobs, it’s not as glamorous as it’s made out to be. So how did I end up doing a PhD?

Starting at the beginning, I had a really fantastic science teacher in year 10 (shout out to Mr. Laybourn) who peaked my interest in science. At first it was chemistry that stole my attention, but I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be my niche. I did a degree in Cell and Molecular Biology, and although I enjoyed it immensely, I needed something bigger. Quite literally. I wanted to scale up from looking inside a cell, to looking at populations of cells, organs and people!

I suppose looking back it’s not a complete surprise that I ended up in medical research. I was really sick as a young girl with chronic fatigue syndrome and a muscle condition called fibromyalgia. It even got to the point where I was in a wheelchair for about 3 months. It goes without saying that experiences like that have a profound impact on you. Although I didn’t come out of it longing to be a doctor, I think it’s no coincidence that I have ended up in this field.

I’ve always had a need to understand things, always asking the ‘whys’ and wanting to learn more. Research can be a bit like detective work where we have to chase up unexpected results and try to figure out what is going on. But it is rewarding being able to look past the graphs and know that my research affects real people, patients that will be helped by my contribution.

It can come across as arrogant but I assure you, it’s what you have to constantly remind yourself of when that experiment that has taken you months has failed. When you have big days of 18+ hours and everything starts to hit you about 2am. When you spend up to a year trying many different tactics for one particular thing to work. Welcome to research. Did I mention it’s not always glamorous? J

I certainly don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. I consider it a MASSIVE privilege to do what I do. There is no day that is the same, I get to play with some amazing technology and meet fascinating people from all around the world. This PhD has not been easy, but it sure is once heck of a ride.

To keep in the vein I started, I want to leave you with a quote from Zora Neale Hurston (who was actually a novelist, but I won’t hold it against her).

‘Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’

This post is a personal view and not necessarily reflective of the views of any other people or organisations, including the Malaghan Institute.

Determination, discipline and a little bit of crazy- how I ended up doing a PhD

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