Here’s a couple of questions I’m often asked when I tell people I’m a regenerative medicine PhD student.
What is regenerative medicine?
Regenerative medicine is a really exciting and fast moving field of research that aims to develop therapies to repair or replace tissues and organs damaged by disease or injury. There are a number of approaches being investigated to achieve this including:
- stem cell transplantation
- tissue engineering (combining cells with biomaterials)
- gene therapy
As such, regenerative medicine is a very interdisciplinary field bringing together stem cell biologists, engineers, chemists and clinicians to name a few. The field is translational, meaning we aim to take potential therapies from the lab bench into the clinic.
Is that like when scientists grew an ear on the back of a mouse?
*sighs* it wasn’t an ear. It was actually ear shaped cartilage made by taking a biodegradable polymer, adding cow cartilage cells to it and then implanting it under the skin of mice. If you to learn more, the paper can be accessed here.
What is a PhD?
It stands for Doctor of Philosophy, the highest academic degree universities award. It involves undertaking an original research project over a number of years (3-4 in the UK but closer t0 5 years in the US) at the end of which you submit a thesis and defend it (known as a viva in the UK).
Are you still a student?
Yes, I’m a postgraduate research student. However, I don’t think of myself as a typical student. Unlike undergraduates, I don’t spend my time attending lectures, tutorials, studying, sitting exams etc. and I don’t get the long summer holidays. I see my PhD as more of job because I do get paid (tax-free stipend) to work full time on my research project. I’ll take this opportunity to say I’m very grateful to the MRC and EPSRC for funding my studentship.
What do you actually do?
I think one of the best things about being a PhD researcher is that no two weeks are the same and I wouldn’t say I have such a thing as a “typical” day. Last week for example, I did a bit of lab work but was mostly at my desk working on a review article of my research topic which will make up the introduction section to my thesis. This week I’ll be doing more writing, planning future experiments and supervising a 6th form work experience student. Come September, I’ll mostly be in the lab working on a large study and barely at my desk. I made a video recently for a STEM Ambassadors remote activity for primary school pupils showing some of the things I get up to:
What do you do after a PhD?
Probably the two most common career paths are staying in academia with the hopes of becoming a lecturer and principle investigator (PI) in charge of your own lab or moving to industry to work as a scientist for a pharmaceutical company. Other options include medical writing, consulting, teaching, science communication and patent law.
What do you want to do?
Right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying the academic setting. I work with fantastic people and like how much freedom I’ve had to shape the direction of my project, something not typically possible within industry. I definitely want to stay on after graduation to do at least one post-doc (short for post-doctoral research associate). In the longer term, I’m undecided and weighing up my options.