Hi everyone! I’m Ioana, a first year PhD student in the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, at the University of Manchester. My PhD project focuses on the therapeutic side of ischemic stroke at preclinical level. I spend a lot of time working with animal models, as they offer information highly translatable to humans.
I was born and raised in Romania, but I moved to Manchester to do my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology with Industrial Experience. I loved the university and the city so much, that I decided to stay. The degree offered me the chance to learn various laboratory techniques and to experience working with animals in research. However, when I started it, I had NO IDEA what I wanted to do after.
Between my first and second year, I wanted to get more experience in science as I was trying to figure out what I wanted my future career to be. It wasn’t easy to find any internships available for first years, but I emailed my CV, emphasising my willingness to learn to 46 different places that were not advertising any opportunities at that moment. I only received 6 replies, but I was lucky enough to secure 4 internships. One of those was with a research group based within the University of Manchester, where I learned several laboratory techniques that I am still using today. The other 3 were with the nearby hospital. There I had a chance to learn how to obtain ethical approvals for a cardiovascular trial, to manage patient data for a health economic analysis and to shadow a research nurse as she was administering trial treatment to patients with leukaemia. I was learning so much while working for all these places at the same time, as they accommodated a flexible schedule for me. I also did some work in the charity sector with Citywise. All these experiences gave me a broad insight into various paths my career could take.
As part of my degree, I did a placement year at Mayo Clinic in the United States, doing a neuroscience research project working with both cells and animal models. That is when I realised that I really love working in a laboratory setting, especially in Neuroscience. I liked the flexibility of thinking and applying the knowledge in experimental planning and then undertaking the study. I loved it so much that I was sure I wanted to continue with a career in neuroscience research, so I went straight from my undergraduate degree to do a PhD project. I knew it won’t be easy at all, so finding a project I liked with a very supportive group that felt like a community was really important!
So, what is my project about?
In ischemic stroke, when the blood clot is formed, a drug is used to burst the clot, trying to restore the blood flow and to limit the damage. There is increasing evidence that inflammation also plays a role in enhancing the brain damage after stroke. So, there is an anti-inflammatory drug currently in clinical trials for different types of stroke. My project aims to find the most suitable way to combine the anti-inflammatory approach with the clot busting drug in a safe and efficient manner. To do this, I need to replicate the stroke observed in humans, as closely as possible, in animal models of disease. Using these, I can observe the interaction between the two therapeutic approaches at cerebral, vascular, cellular and molecular levels. For example, I am using imaging to monitor blood flow (image attached) and running MRI scans to see the extent of brain damage.
Monitoring blood flow in a mouse brain using Laser Speckle Imaging.
The PhD experience is not all just science. I love being active and involved within the community, hence why I participate in outreach activities, teaching, learning to code, organising events as part of a doctoral society and trying to learn French. Your PhD experience can be whatever you want it to be, tailored to your preferences and interests.
- Undertake your own research project by doing an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), learn how and why?
- A list of undergraduate courses that would allow you to progress into a research career after:
- Learn more about stroke here:
- StrokeCasts - podcasts made by stroke survivors about their inspirational journey to recovery:
- Read about the research done by my supervisor and my colleagues here:
- Follow us on twitter:
My name is Jessica Traynor and I am a second year PhD
student at the University of Manchester. My research is based on producing a
localised drug delivery system for people suffering from endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a common gynaecological condition that affects roughly 10% of
women at reproductive age. Endometriosis occurs when lesions grow outside of
the uterus. These lesions can cause painful periods, pelvic pain and fatigue.
Although this disease is common, the treatment options are still limited. Women
are most likely to be given anti-inflammatory drugs, hormone-based therapies
(such as the pill or the coil) or undergo surgery to remove the lesions. These
treatment options are not ideal, especially surgery, as there is a high chance
the lesions will grow back.
My lab work is trying to find a way to deliver old and new
drugs directly onto the lesions. This will hopefully stop the lesions from
growing as well as reduce the side effects of these drugs!
My initial interest in pharmacology (the study of drugs)
began in sixth form. I knew that I was interested in science in general during
my GCSEs, so I picked biology, chemistry, physics and maths. I realised that
although Biology wasn’t my strongest subject, I found it the most interesting,
especially topics surrounding the human body and disease. I decided to look
into biomedical sciences for University, which I soon realised included a lot
of other topics, such as genetics, biochemistry and immunology. When I looked at
the list, I found pharmacology the most interesting subject as I wanted to
learn more about the production of drugs and treating diseases. I chose to
study pharmacology at Newcastle University.
In my final year at Newcastle I started my research project,
which was based on lithium action within the brain and how this can help treat
bipolar disorder. This made me realise that I loved the research environment; I
loved researching a topic where the answer was unknown.
Overall, my degree taught me a lot of research techniques
that can be brought into any research environment, of course, not all labs are
the same but University provided me with the confidence to learn and master
techniques that I’d never seen before!
I graduated from Newcastle in 2017 with a first class degree
in Pharmacology, and if I’m truly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do
next! I knew I wanted to carry on in research, but I wasn’t certain on where or
on what topic. I spent the year researching PhD topics whilst working within an
NHS virology lab as a research assistant. I found this PhD online and thought
it was right up my street! Not only was it a PhD based on drug design/delivery
but it was also based around an under-researched disease that affects so many
women. I had a skype interview with the supervisors and then was put forward
My lab group consists of people from different backgrounds,
whether that is pharmacology, cancer research or pharmacy. We all work
alongside other groups to gain a better understanding of disease and its
treatment. We all use a variety of different techniques throughout our
research, so every day is different. Personally, I find my day is split between
lab work, writing papers/reviews, planning future studies and teaching!
After my PhD, I don’t have a set plan on what I want to do
next! My opinions may change throughout the years and I could learn new skills
that change my perception on what I want my career to be!
If you want to find out more about endometriosis and its
effects on women, the BBC have recently produced a popular article explaining
what endometriosis is and the idea of the ‘gender pain gap’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-49925760/endometriosis-the-condition-that-can-take-over-seven-years-to-diagnose)
To learn more about the research that is happening in my
If you want more information about Biomedical
Sciences/Pharmacology you can find that here (https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00532/bsc-biomedical-sciences/)
and here (https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/what-can-i-do-with-my-degree/pharmacology)
Something that sparked my interest in the treatment of
disease was a podcast that talks about medical history, you can give it a
listen if you’re interested, too! (https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/)
If someone had asked me at the start of my final year of my
undergraduate degree, ‘do you fancy doing a PhD when you finish uni?’ my answer
would have been an outright NO! Yet, here I am, now in my second year of my PhD
in the role of exercise on cardiovascular disease risk in psoriasis. So what changed my mind? Well, it was only
when I entered my final year of my undergraduate degree that I actually started
to seriously consider my career options. My undergraduate degree was in
Biomedical Sciences and I wanted to find out what I could do with my degree
(aside from the obvious career pathways like Biomedical Scientist or scientific
So, after hours of trawling the internet, numerous career
appointments and countless chats with my academic tutors I had a much clearer
idea of what was out there. However, despite all this time and effort I
invested into researching potential future careers I still wasn’t 100% sure.
Although, I particularly liked the idea of becoming a medical writer because
writing is something I like doing and something that I enjoy. Also I had a lot
of time for my subject area as I found it interesting and enjoyed learning
about various aspects of science.
Another thing which interested me was intellectual property,
which was first brought to my attention in one of my pharmacology lectures. I
soon learned that I could become a patent attorney. The more I read about this
area of work, the more it appealed to me. This career path is an opportunity to
merge law and science. Naturally, because I don’t have a background in law
(like the vast majority of patent attorneys according to my research) this
career requires you to undertake training and sit examinations. This is
something which doesn’t really bother me too much (after all I’ve already spent
years doing it and a couple more won’t hurt!). Anyway, after reading up on
what’s required for this type of career I found that a PhD is ‘preferable.’ Now
I know this doesn’t mean a PhD is essential, however, I thought whether I
decide to go into medical writing or become a patent attorney, either way a PhD
will stand me in good stead.
So that’s when I took the plunge and began searching for a
PhD. I had a specific criterion already in mind in terms of what I wanted from
a PhD. The things I knew for sure was: a) I wanted to stay at the University of
Manchester, b) I wanted a PhD with a studentship so I didn’t have to worry
about funds for the next 3 or 4 years and c) I didn’t want a PhD that was
solely lab-based (I didn’t mind a bit of lab work but I hated being in the lab
for hours on end!). So with all this in mind I started looking at what was on
offer and began to pick out projects which captured my interest.
Eventually, I decided to apply for two PhD projects. I
realise this doesn’t sound like a lot but the way I saw it was a PhD is a huge
commitment and I wanted to be sure that my chosen project was something I was
interested in and something I wanted to dedicate my time and effort to. And so
for this reason I was very selective in terms of my applications for PhD
projects. Something else which really helped me decide on which projects I
wanted to submit applications to was going and actually talking to the
supervisors about the project and what exactly I would be doing as a PhD
student on their project.
So… out of the two applications I submitted I was invited
for interview for one of the projects along with two other candidates. The
supervisor requested that each candidate put together a presentation covering
various topics including: why did we want to do a PhD, why did we want to do a
PhD in Manchester and why did we want this specific project. Each candidate was
also sent a copy of the research proposal which we were asked to read and
comment on in our presentations. We had to say how we would structure our
approach/time to the work outlined in the proposal and also comment on how we
would perhaps improve the proposal and what other ideas we had.
The interview itself was, as you can imagine, nerve-wracking
and very stressful! However, it was a valuable experience. There were five
interviewers on the panel, three of which were my potential supervisors.
Personally, I found the interview particularly stressful as I was up against
two other candidates who both had a Master’s degree along with other research
experience, whereas I had just come to the end of my undergraduate degree and
was expected to achieve a 2.1.
Anyway, after the stress of my final exams and the PhD
interview I found out (just a few days after the interview) that I had been
awarded the position on the PhD programme. Naturally, I was over the moon and
accepted the place on the programme! Now here I am in my second year of my PhD
and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience so far.
Find out about studying Biomedical Science at the University of Manchester here. This blog was originally posted on the University of Manchester careers blog, which can be found here. You can find more information about careers in Biomedical Science here and here.