Hi! I'm excited to chat to you all - I work on Ebola, but I find all viruses and evolution fascinating. Feel free to ask me anything!
Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
BA in Biological Sciences, MSc in the Control of Infectious Diseases
Science birthday parties for kids!
University of Edinburgh
Favourite thing to do in my job: Bounce ideas of my colleagues and work together with them to make something
Second year PhD student in Edinburgh
I’m 23 and a second year PhD student from London(ish).
I live in Edinburgh with my friend, who is also a PhD student. I also live opposite three other PhD students so it’s basically like an episode of Friends at all times (but with more coffee).
In the office we have about 150 stick insects which keep trying to escape.
I love going to pub quizzes, cooking and eating with friends (I’m a recent vegetarian and a terrible cook so I’m always trying to improve), and I play the violin in two orchestras (one small and relaxed one, and one big and difficult one). I also write a blog called Viral Verity for people interested in epidemics and virus evolution!
My preferred pronouns are she/her.
I use genetic information to ask questions about the spread and evolution of Ebola virus in West Africa
Viruses have genetic information stored in the form of RNA (like DNA but less stable) which changes over time. We can use these changes to ask questions about how it spreads through time and space in outbreaks, and work out what would stop it from spreading in the future.
I work on the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, and at the moment I’m writing a model to simulate individual people moving around and infecting each other, and the genomes will give me the data on how often they do that. I am also working on a new simulated outbreak to prepare for a workshop with public health professionals which we are running in Ghana in December. I’m making the epidemiological side of it, so where people live and how they interact with each other, and how often they died.
My Typical Day
Coding coding coding
I get in around 9.30am and check on my model runs. Some of my models take around a month to run, so I need to check that they are running as they should be so that I don’t get to the end of the month with no data!
The lab group goes for coffee at 10.30, which is a good opportunity to chat to other PhD students, professors etc. It’s often useful to chat to other people doing computer projects because they will usually have heard of an exact answer to the problem in the code you’re having!
Back to the computer, I usually work on some chunk of code that isn’t working. We sometimes have journal clubs as well, where you discuss a new paper, or I also teach undergraduates.
In the afternoon we have a lab meeting about once a week/every two weeks to chat about what we’ve been doing. Sometimes we play the board game pandemic (we all work on virus outbreaks of one form or another!) – we die quite often.
Recently I’ve also been to several conferences to present my work and see other people’s. Conferences are one of the best parts of being a scientist, it’s basically summer camp but for nerds
What I'd do with the prize money
Supporting an existing public engagement program with schools across Scotland
There’s an already existing programme called Byte-sized bioinformatics that runs out of the University of Edinburgh. A team from my department goes to schools across Scotland and shows kids and teachers how to do practical bioinformatics (the study of genetic data) – bioinformatics is part of high school biology in Scotland, but the best bit about science is doing it yourself! Facilitators go in and use Raspberry Pi’s (tiny Linux machines that you can programme to do whatever you want) to show what the theory that is taught in schools looks like when you do it yourself.
I would use the money to fund some of these visits. Because this programme happens across Scotland (including the Shetland Islands!), transport can be expensive for the volunteers who are taking part, and they may need to stay over night. This money would allow schools that are further away from Edinburgh to get the same opportunities as those that are closer and easier to get to.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Loud, enthusiastic, sarcastic
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I spent two months researching how to report typhoid fever outbreaks in Uganda
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
The Ebola outbreak was on the whole time I was an undergrad, and I felt really powerless! I wanted to do something that might help in the future.
What was your favourite subject at school?
History, then Biology (a bit later on)
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really to be honest
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A stage manager in a theatre
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Black Keys
What's your favourite food?
Pretty much any form of potato, especially roast
What is the most fun thing you've done?
When I was working in Uganda, me and three friends hired a (very old) car with a roof tent, drove across the country, and camped in a national park in among the hyenas and zebras!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy, to have adventures, to win awards (I love that external validation)
Tell us a joke.
A couple of biologists had twins. They named one Jessica, and the other Control