I’m Catriona, an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Prize Fellow at the University of Manchester. My overall research interest is in developing novel therapies for brain repair and my current project is focused on using biomaterials to increase the efficacy of a stem cell-based therapy for stroke. I recently completed my PhD on the EPSRC and MRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) Regenerative Medicine programme at the University of Manchester. When I’m not in the lab, I can be found doing craft, running, scouting and cuddling my 15 year old rescue cat, Marzipan.
I’ve taken a slightly more unusual route into science in that I first studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen. My love of science and desire to help people were what motivated me to apply for medical school and I had my heart set on becoming a clinician scientist. However, as the degree become more clinical and I gained a better understanding of what being a doctor would be like, I began to doubt whether it was the right career for me. Between my 4th and 5th years, I took a year out to do an intercalated BSc (Hons) in Neuroscience with Psychology. When I initially applied for this, I was thinking it was the first step along the path to becoming a clinician scientist and unknown to me at the time, it would entirely change my career path. Beginning the BSc was definitely a steep learning curve. I went from a medical degree where I hadn’t done any basic science since 1st year into a class of final year science students with 3 years of teaching behind them. I had such a phenomenal year (in part down to the wonderfully supportive lecturers) and realised that actually, my passion was for science.
So, during my final year of medicine, I began applying for PhD programmes. The regenerative medicine programme in Manchester really appealed to me because the field is so multidisciplinary. They were specifically looking for candidates from engineering and medicine as well as basic science backgrounds. The first 6 months were taught and that was invaluable in giving me a good grounding in stem cell biology and the translation of regenerative medicine (taking therapies from the lab bench into the clinic).
Looking back, I absolutely don’t regret studying medicine. Yes, if I had done a science degree straight after high school, I may already have a PhD and be a post-doc. However, having a medical degree in such a translational field of research is a big advantage as I can think from the clinical perspective as well. I also gained a number of transferable skills that I think have made me a better PhD student including communication skills, time management and how to handle stress.