My masters gave me a strong foundation in my field which has prepared me for my PhD

Timothy McGowan
Timothy McGowan
Now: PhD student at the University of Basel, Switzerland
MSc Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine
Timothy enjoyed completing his masters research project so much that it convinced him to continue his studies to the next level. He's now a PhD at the University of Basel, Switzerland investigating how muscle stem cells regenerate damaged muscle tissues.
Timothy McGowan

What did you enjoy most about your degree? 

I really enjoyed the opportunity to gain some hands-on experience in the laboratory during practical modules and my research project. It was great to try out some of the experimental techniques I had read about previously in my studies. However, overall, what I enjoyed the most was learning about the cutting-edge research in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine. During lecture modules, we were introduced to a wide range of fascinating topics by researchers from the University of Sheffield - many of whom have contributed significantly to discoveries in these fields. This was something that I found incredibly inspiring. 

What are you doing now and how did you get into that role? 

I am now a PhD student at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in Switzerland. During my masters at Sheffield, I really enjoyed the topic of my research project and this convinced me to pursue my studies with a PhD. Initially, I received an offer from an English university to complete a charity-funded PhD research project. However, after the first COVID-19 lockdown, the charity could no longer afford this project and I was informed that my offer had to be retracted. I then returned to my family home in Switzerland and started looking for new opportunities there. 

I came across the Biozentrum, which is a dynamic international research centre in Basel, and I found out they offer PhD fellowships to a maximum of 10 candidates per year. I decided to apply, and after a competitive selection process, I was selected as one of their 2020 Fellows. This means that I have funding for the duration of my studies and I have had the unique opportunity to rotate between different laboratories before choosing the one I would like to stay in for my PhD. I am now a member of the research group of Professor Markus Rüegg, in which I am investigating how muscle stem cells regenerate damaged muscle tissues.

How has your degree helped you in your career? 

My masters in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine gave me a strong foundation in this field, which has prepared me for my PhD. It helped me to develop a work ethic and numerous skills that I have to use daily in my current position. As my research project may take three to four years, I have to plan all my experiments in advance, meet regular deadlines, and communicate my progress to a wide variety of people. This might seem quite daunting at first! Luckily, as I had undertaken a research project during my masters and received great advice from my supervisor and other lecturers throughout the year, I felt confident that I could successfully embark on a longer research project for my PhD. Additionally, I think my masters degree challenged me to consider the context of my studies including ethical considerations and public understanding of science. These topics now play an important role in influencing my daily actions as a young scientist.

What scientific skills did you develop during your course? 

I developed practical skills in cell culture, various transcriptomic and proteomic techniques, and even some bioinformatics. Outside of the lab, we learnt numerous other skills including critical analysis of scientific research, data collection, and data analysis. 

What transferable skills did you develop during your course? 

I learnt how to plan projects, meet deadlines, and present my work to others. I also developed oral communication and team-work skills through the modules that required group debates and presentations. These are all important skills to have when you work in a research centre, which houses scientists from over 60 countries!  

What do you miss most about Sheffield? 

During my time in Sheffield I was lucky to meet some incredible people and make great friends. I really enjoyed the social atmosphere there! Sadly, as Switzerland is quite far and there have been many travelling restrictions in recent months, I haven’t been able to return to Sheffield and catch up with everybody. Hopefully we will soon be able to share a burger and beer in Bar One together!

Other than the social aspect, I also miss going to Firth Court. I was lucky to have my research project laboratory in that beautiful red-brick building. It was always an impressive place to walk into. In Basel, we have recently moved to a brand new high-tech establishment, which has had huge benefits for our research. However, I must admit, part of me longs for the history and character of a building like Firth Court. 

What would you say to a prospective student considering studying MSc Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at Sheffield? 

If you are curious about cutting-edge science, this course will definitely meet your expectations! The field of stem cell research is growing at a very fast rate. It has drawn the attention of scientists in academia and industry, as it can help uncover some of the mysteries of life and develop novel therapeutic approaches to combat disease. This course will put you in a great position to actively contribute to revolutionary scientific progress. Nonetheless, if by the end of your studies you are attracted to a career outside of science, you will have developed so many transferable skills that you will also be able to excel in a non-scientific profession. Overall I would say - go for it. Your future will greatly benefit from your time in Sheffield!

Weekly online events

Attend an online event when it suits you, all year round, as an alternative to an open day.

Every Wednesday, Sheffield Live sessions cover different aspects of University life. You can also meet your department and learn more about studying your subject.