We recognize science can seem difficult to young scientists, and we hope to raise awareness about people who make it fun and accessible to broader audiences through social media, #SciComm!
This week, we're welcoming Emily, from @_biochemily_! She uses instagram to share her passion for cancer research and to journal her day-to-day challenges and victories. Her instagram channel is full of funny and relatable tidbits about science and her research life.
Being a scientist is about being resilient! Read on to get to know Emily's journey and how she saw herself grow as she wraps up her PhD program.
Hi Emily, we're so happy to have you join our #SciComm blog series - tell us a bit about you/your research and how you came to be where you are today!
I am a final year PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK. I investigate how lung cancer cells can move more than normal cells🚸.
We call this migration as cancer cells can move around the whole body (like a migrating animal/bird!). In a broad sense this is the process of metastasis.
I began my journey into science during my A-levels when I learnt about biological processes like the respiration cycle. I chose to do Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Nottingham.
During my degree I really enjoyed modules where we learnt about proteins and how changes in proteins result in disease.
I found cancer particularly interesting and chose to do my final year project and a summer project in labs that worked in cell division💕.
After university I worked as a research assistant at a biotechnology company called Adaptimmune, which genetically modify immune cells to attack cancer.
It was a really great experience and a wonderful company, but I always knew I wanted to go on and do a PhD.
I had heard of the research being done by my now supervisor, so I got in contact with him, applied for funding in his lab, and here I am! 👏
"It’s important to note that during this whole process – from school all the way to my PhD – there were many bumps and hurdles which I had to overcome to get to where I am now. It was not an easy ride! But so worth fighting for." 💪
In your instagram page, @__biochemily_, we love how you present little tidbits of science and showcase your fluorescently stained cell images in creative ways such as the “smooching” lung cell and the “freaked out” cell with all the filopodia.
It’s obvious you love your cell babies. What do you love most about working with cells?
I do love my cell babies!!
What I love about working with cells is how *relatively* easy they are to manipulate and experiment with.
I particularly enjoy seeing differences and changes in cells depending on their type and environment, as well as what I’ve done to them beforehand!!
"I am obsessed with the idea that our bodies are made up of trillions of these individual, amazingly beautiful cells which are each their own mini universe with millions of reactions, proteins and DNA being made every second! It’s mind boggling." ✨
What’s an interesting thing about working in cancer research that most people outside the field don’t know about?
"An interesting thing I don’t think people understand about cancer research is that there are lots of different layers of cancer research." 🌫️
I work on a basic cell biology level – where I look at basic molecular mechanisms behind how our cells work, which are then altered or manipulated in cancer.
You can then have translational cancer research which is focused on targeting these specific proteins or pathways using drugs – which can be tested using cell or animal models. 🎡
Later, if successful, they have the potential to become better drugs for the future. There is also a growing part of cancer research which is not based on the lab at all.
Computer modelling is a great example of this. Also research on causes and trends of cancer in the population is a really important part of cancer research as it can better treatments based on population data. 💻
From lab work, analysis, and writing, to #SciComm and mentorship activities, what’s a typical day like for you?
Do you have any tips on staying organized and dealing with stress?
A typical day for me (outside of COVID19 lockdown!) goes a bit like this:
🕢I get to the lab for ~8.30am and immediately go into the lab to check my baby cells (obviously) and any experiments I have running.
☕I then get back into the office, have a coffee, answer emails and plan my day.
🔬My day can be fairly varied experiment-wise, but I tend to stay in the lab most of the day.
"Throughout the day I like to document what I’m doing on Instagram📸. Not only does it give a good day-to-day insight for my non-scientist followers, but it also makes me more aware of what I’m doing and I find more joy in simple every day tasks!"
👩🏫Around my lab work, I also am usually involved in mentoring students in the lab (undergraduates/masters students) and also do demonstrating in undergraduate practicals.
🕕I usually finish in the lab by around 6ish. I tend keep my days to a normal 8-6 to try and maintain some sanity.
🏃I also exercise when I can – sometimes in the morning before going to the lab, but other times I go after work with a friend and do some high intensity classes. I find this really helps if I have any stress or anxiety from the lab or my PhD work.
Your posts are very positive and high energy, even though you often discuss setbacks in your projects!
What’s your way of staying positive/strong amidst the challenges, especially during these anxiety-ridden times?
"My positivity comes from a place of ultimately loving what I do."
Growing up, my parents always told me to follow my interest and do what I enjoy. That way, when the going gets tough, you can always go back to your core love of your job/work.
I’ve also been through a lot of setbacks through my journey through science, which I think (sorry if this sounds cheesy!) genuinely has made me stronger.
"Science – especially research science – is filled with huge highs and lows, and you have to be ready for it. You can’t give up every time there’s a problem. Often “failures” are how we learn in science!"
This year is a big year for you as you plan on finishing up your PhD! 🎓 What are some big things you learned about yourself during your PhD journey so far? What are you hoping to do as your next steps?
Following the last question, I’ve definitely learnt that I’m good at being positive through adversity! I’m mentally much stronger than I used to be.
I’ve also learnt (this is hard for me to say!) that I’m good at what I do! I’ve always been a very underconfident person, but seeing my progress, as well as how colleagues and students now look to me for advice, has really boosted my confidence in my abilities.
I hope with this renewed confidence, positivity and resilience I’ll be able to continue my career in academia as a postdoctoral researcher. Ideally, I’d love to continue in cancer metastasis research.
These days, there is a proliferation of anti-science movements (think anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers). We’ve been asking our science communicators to share their thoughts on why science communicators are important in the fight against misinformation!
Can you share your thoughts on the topic? What are some common misconceptions about your field that you’ve encountered?
This is such an important point!
I think science communication is so important at this point, as public trust of science is currently so low. I think it originates from a historical perspective where scientists were just rich, old men. If you can’t relate to someone its less likely you’re going to listen to what they’re telling you.
There’s also been so much misinformation spread by the media and people who don’t necessarily understand the complexities behind scientific issues.😵
My biggest issue is with people who tell me “but big pharma already have a cure for cancer” (and I’ve been told this MANY times). NO.
"Science communicators can fight against this information by giving a face to science, and hopefully a face you can trust and rely on!" 👩🔬
Do you have any last words of advice for young scientists thinking of doing graduate school?
The best piece of advice I have for future scientists is – DON’T GIVE UP and follow your heart 💖. If you are interested in graduate school, ensure you do research in a topic you are passionate or really interested in. It makes a huge difference, trust me.
You posted a photo of an ancient tree in the Amazon that you visited! How cool is that? What are some other cool places you’ve visited? 🌳
South Africa, India, Ecuador are probably the most adventurous! I’ve also travelled through a lot of Europe – my favourite country so far has to be Slovenia.
Favorite and least favorite lab assay?
Favourite – microscopy (think that’s obvious!). Least favourite – PCR.
Favorite dance move?
Can’t beat a twerk can ya…?!
Well, I’m British so it has to be a classic black tea with milk and sugar (we call it a builder’s tea!!). Yorkshire tea is the best. ☕
A big fat chocolate cake with lots of icing.
If you could have a superpower what would it be?
I’d love to fly. I’m not a big fan of walking (I have super short legs), so not only would it be amazing but I’d also save a lot of time and effort… 🐦
You know you’re a scientist when…
You look at the world with curious eyes.
Longest number of hours spent at the hood?
Cell culture hood record has to be 5 hours – not too bad! 🏆
What would make the world a better place?
If everyone was kinder and took life with a big pinch of fun.