Communicating your research is a big deal and the masters certainly prepares you for that
Why did you decide to study Translational Oncology, and why Sheffield?
“I had always found cancer biology interesting and it’s a rapidly expanding area of biomedical research. After I graduated from my Biomedical Science degree, I spent a year on a supermarket graduate scheme, but I always knew I wanted to come back to academia and to the MSc(Res) Translational Oncology course in particular. The grad scheme basically paid for my masters.
"The MSc(Res) Translational Oncology at Sheffield offered both a taught component and a six-month research project with dissertation. I felt that this aspect of the course would benefit my long-term career aspirations.
What did you enjoy most about the masters course?
“I’d just done basic lab skills in Biomedical Science, so I didn’t have any transferable wet lab skills. I could use a pipette, that was about it. So the masters having both a taught component and a six month research project was a real selling point. I know for a fact that PhD supervisors really like that element of the course too; six months is quite extensive and you can get a lot done. Spending that time on research just consolidated the fact that I wanted to be in a lab again.”
How has the course helped you in your career so far?
“The masters gave me a feel for tissue engineering, which is the field I’m in now. Basically, I rebuild tissues from the cells up. I isolate cells from patients or by buying cell lines, then I remake the mouth outside of the mouth. I work with any sort of epithelial tissue. I worked on an oral cancer project during my masters, which is how I got the bug for it and how I ended up completing my PhD in the School of Dentistry.”
What are you working on now, and what are your future career plans?
“I was fortunate enough to win the prestigious Senior Colgate Prize awarded by the British Society for Oral and Dental Research (BSODR), for my PhD research on the use of tissue-engineered models to study oral cancer progression. I even got to compete internationally at the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) in Vancouver for the Hatton award. This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase my research.
“While I was writing up my PhD I was offered my first postdoc. It was quite tough to do at the same time, but it was really useful - I started working on skin models, where before I’d only done work on the mouth. After that project I was employed by a Japanese company called Roto. I was able to go to Japan three times, which was amazing. Getting to travel for conferences is an amazing perk of the job.
“I’m currently employed on an NC3R grant to look at how drugs permeate through the mouth. I’m now at the stage where I’m applying for my own fellowships. I’d like to stay in academia if I can. The pull of industry is definitely there, but I enjoy the teaching aspect. I demonstrate anatomy for dentistry students, which is something I really enjoy.”
What skills or knowledge have you gained on the Translational Oncology course?
“Definitely the confidence aspect of presenting. Most people don’t know how much you have to present in academia. Communicating your research is a big deal and the masters certainly prepares you for that.
“It also gives you really good foundation skills in poster and dissertation writing. If you go to do a PhD you’ll feel like you’re already starting on a different footing from everybody else. The lab skills in general were also great - I'm doing things now, like analytical chemistry that were not in my remit (I’m not a chemist!) so I’m learning all the time. That doesn’t stop. I like that I’ve gone from doing no lab based skills to having a lot, particularly with tissue engineering; I feel like now I could be given any type of cell and be confident looking after them.”
What would you say to a student thinking about studying this course at Sheffield?
“My advice for someone considering studying Translational Oncology is that if you are interested in cancer biology and ‘bench to bedside’ research, then this course is perfect.
It is rare to get a six-month high-quality research project that includes being supported by top-class researchers in excellent lab facilities, so it’s definitely worth it.
The skills you learn are not just transferable to science and academia but to other graduate employment avenues. In fact, I would recommend that students try - as part of their career development - working in different areas.”
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