I did my undergraduate studies at Kent and I liked doing research – especially for my dissertation project – but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to jump straight into a four-year PhD programme.
I thought a Master’s by Research degree would give me a taster of what doing a PhD would be like. I had a look at other universities but I preferred Kent’s programme in Cell Biology. I also like how things are run at Kent and there are good facilities. It’s a very research-focused institution.
I’m looking at a pore which is in our mitochondria, in our cells. We think that this pore is involved in nutrient signalling and pathways that regulate cellular aging and cell death. It could be useful in prolonging the life of cells, which is significant for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. We know that this pore is very abundant in healthy cells but there is no direct link between the pore and cellular stress pathways – so that’s what I am investigating.
It is surprising how much independence you get. During my undergraduate degree, I was used to lectures, exams and deadlines. Starting on the Master’s, my supervisor said: ‘This is the project outline, this is what we want you to do – go off and do it.’ It is good and refreshing but you do have to discipline yourself to come in and do the work.
My favourite thing at the moment is microscopy. I’m using something that makes the cells glow so I can look at what’s going on inside them. It’s very exciting. It gives a real insight into what you’re doing and how it affects the cells.
Very good. My supervisor is usually in every day, so I know that if I have a question I can go and see him. He’s very relaxed and understanding when I get something wrong. On a Master’s by Research, you get a lot of contact time with your supervisor because you need support in the lab.
My lab is full of PhD students so you also learn a lot from them. In my first week, my supervisor assigned a PhD student to me to explain the protocols and how to carry out different experiments. Everyone is very helpful and interested in each other’s projects. When you come in, there’s always someone who’ll ask: ‘How is it going? Did you sort out the problem you were having?’ It’s really nice because if I can’t figure something out, there’s help available. We also go out and socialise and it definitely helps to break the ice.
There are good high-tech microscopes and services for analysing the data you get, as well as really helpful technicians. The postgraduate labs have more expensive pieces of equipment: there are electronic devices and high tech computers and there is also the NMR facility.
I live in Woolf college which is purely postgraduate accommodation and it’s really good. You can get a single room with an en-suite bathroom and a shared kitchen. And the walk from my room to my lab only takes around three minutes.
I’m already quite busy. If I’m not in the lab, I’m working part-time or seeing my friends. At the moment I’m learning Japanese, and I’m planning to join the Japanese Society because I really like the language. I’m also a student rep on the Staff-Student Liaison Committee.
The Graduate School organises sessions on pre-viva talks and thesis-writing, as well as a range of other topics. As a Master’s by Research student, we don’t have any deadlines, except for the final thesis. I plan to go to the sessions on thesis writing, as I think they will be really helpful for me.
Having this year is a good stepping stone in terms of figuring out whether a PhD would be right for me. If I don’t go on to do a PhD, I’d like to do something scientific such as work for a pharmaceutical company. I’m also considering scientific insurance. There are so many opportunities. Having an MSc will definitely help me to get a job. It adds a completely different skill set to your CV, which is a big bonus.
As a research student, you only do lab work with no coursework and no exams. This means you have to be good at self-discipline. And you also need to be happy to make mistakes – because you will and that’s fine! It’s real science. Not everything will go smoothly all the time but you learn a lot.