Just five answers to five quick questions!
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Today we have third year student Danny Ward talking about his PhD experience!
1. Who are you?
My name is Danny and I am a third year PhD student based in the JIC Molecular Microbiology department. I was born and grew up in greater London, originally in the town of barking, and then later in the town of Upminster towards the end of primary school. I studied biology, chemistry and IT for my A-levels.
This then led to me undertaking an undergraduate degree in biological sciences at the University of Reading. For my bachelors research project, supervised by professor Simon Andrews and Dr Ben Neuman, I worked on iron storing nanocompartments from the extremophile archaea Pyroccocus furiosus.
This followed by a masters degree in Biotechnology at the University of Leeds. For my main masters research project, I was supervised by Professor Michael McPherson, where I worked on developing a Clostridium difficilemedical diagnostic kit using non-antibody binding scaffolds known as Affimers.
2. What is your PhD about?
For my PhD, I am working in the lab of Dr. Jacob Malone. In a sentence, I’m trying to understand how bacteria infect their hosts so that we can design better control mechanisms in future. To do this, I am focusing on Pseudomonas bacteria. Pseudomonas syringaeis a prominent plant pathogen that causes devastating effects around the globe. It also serves as a model organism for other key pathogens and so we can learn a great deal by studying it leading to far reaching impact.
Some bacteria, like Pseudomonas syringae, infect their host with a molecular nanomachine called the type III secretion system. It looks and functions like a tiny biological syringe. The bacteria will stab their target host cells, which in the case of P. syringaeare plant cells. The bacteria will then deliver a whole host of nasty toxic ‘effector’ proteins. This helps to establish bacterial colonisation and infection.
I’m working to try to better understand this type III secretion system, its role in virulence, and how its being regulated by intracellular bacterial signalling molecules. To try to solve this biological question, you can usually find me at the lab bench where I will be carrying out plenty of molecular biology, plant infection assays, and in vitro biochemical and biophysical work. I still have two more years of my PhD to go…so watch this space!
3. What is your favourite PhD moment so far?
One of my favourite parts to my PhD would have to be my PIPs placement. I was lucky enough to get the chance to work with BecA-ILRI and Pwani University in Kenya. For 3 months, I was able to gain experience with international capacity building, science communication and science education. This was my first time in sub-Saharan Africa and I have to say, I absolutely loved every second of it! One moment that I don’t think I will ever forget is spotting a Rhino off in the distance in Nairobi national park. It felt completely magical, these are very rare animals in this day and age sadly. Hopefully I will one day get a chance to visit this wonderful country again soon.
If you are interested in learning more about my placement, I wrote a weekly blog while I was out in Kenya: https://kenyapips2019.home.blog/
4. What do you do to switch off from PhD?
I think its so important to keep up with your hobbies and interests outside of the lab. A big hobby of mine, especially so being in Norfolk, is being outdoors in nature. I love exploring a new place! I’m also into the gym. Keeping fit and active is a good way to destress and switch off from the busy PhD life for a little while.
I also enjoy science communication and public engagement. I like getting to speak about science and my research to those interested, I find it very rewarding and stimulating. While it might not be everybody’s cup of tea to get up on stage or behind a stall and start talking about science, I think its great! I get to meet new people and attend a wide variety of events all while getting to speak about areas in which I am passionate about.
5. What advice would you give a new PhD student?
One piece of advice links well to the last question. Just because you are doing a PhD, doesn’t mean you should give up all your outside hobbies and interests…quite the opposite. This is a good opportunity to try out new things and meet new people. At times a PhD can be very challenging. By having activities and passions outside of the lab, it can really do wonders. It’s a nice way to make new friends and to detach from your PhD for a little while.
Another piece of advice would be not be so hard on yourself. Again, a PhD can be very challenging. Many experiments won’t work, the science may seem like its written in a different language and stress can be high. Just remember that you are doing great! So many others (myself included) experience the same feelings throughout a PhD and it can be easy to let it get to you. A PhD is a real roller coaster journey filled with ups and downs. Its perfectly normal for things not to work and that’s ok, that is the very nature of science. If we knew that everything was going to work first time in the lab, it wouldn’t be research anymore!
PhD Profile was concocted by Shannon Woodhouse. If you would like to be featured on PhD Profile, please email or find Shannon on Twitter @shwoodhouse.