Why study life sciences in Scotland?

Why study life sciences in Scotland? This is a question I first encountered in high school when applying for my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow. Now, I find myself as a final year PhD student in the Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences and I am yet to find a reason to tear myself away!

My research focuses on how cellular signals in the brain are altered in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. Having graduated from my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to secure funding for an industrial PhD studentship to work in the laboratory of Professor George Baillie. I am funded by AstraZeneca, a global biopharmaceutical company that was established to contribute to cutting-edge scientific research. Undertaking my postgraduate studies in collaboration with them was an exciting prospect, as it would provide me with access to innovative technology and world-leading scientists with a shared goal to publish our research in high impact journals. As part of my PhD programme, I will participate in a 2 month lab placement with my industrial supervisor at the AstraZeneca labs in Boston, Massachusetts USA. This provides an invaluable opportunity as an early-career researcher to experience a commercial laboratory, strengthen ties within industry and expand my technical skillset. Attendance of scientific conferences is also strongly encouraged, which is fundamental for the exchange of ideas.

Out with my own PhD programme, The University of Glasgow has provided me with opportunities to connect with the life sciences sector on many levels. The GLAZgo Discovery Centre is a hub of AstraZeneca funded PhD students and staff based in the Institute of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation. This partnership brings together knowledge from both academia and industry to provide a unique basis for identifying new therapeutic targets. This allowed me to collaborate with bioinformatics specialists who have contributed to my research in a way that would not otherwise be possible. I have also participated in a number of competitions run by the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, including ‘Impact in 60 Seconds’ and ‘Science Den’. These promote development of skills independent from laboratory work such as public engagement, entrepreneurialism and intellectual property. Through this, I have networked and trained with Scottish life science companies including BioCity Scotland and Aridhia.

Looking forward to life after my thesis submission, the diverse opportunities available to me during my time as a PhD student have provided me with an insight into academia, industry and the bridge between the two. This will no doubt aid in my efforts to secure a job within either field, and give me a foundation to advance in a number of career paths.

By Ellanor Whiteley
PhD Student Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, College of Veterinary, Medical and Life Sciences

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