This post today marks the end of the third season of Scientist in the Spotlight! Say what?! Yes – I have interviewed at least one scientist from around the world every month for the past three years. So there are now a bank of around 50 scientist’s stories in this feature covering all sorts of backgrounds and research areas and much more. Please go and read all about them here!
It is also that time of year where I announce the Spotlight September will be back where these feature interviews take over my blog for the month of September, and I also catch up with those I had interviewed over the past year to see where they are now. But unfortunately, I won’t be able to manage that this year because September is wedding month so things on here might be a little quiet….
On a more positive note though, it means that I can interview this year’s Spotlights next September which means that there is more time between their feature and the follow up so we will be able to get more of a feel of how their science journeys are progressing… especially for those who get interviewed in August.
So, that’s a bit of background and a PSA from me! But there are still so many stories from scientists, engineers and mathematicians that I have lined up to share with you once I’m back sharing with the start of Season 4 in October. And I’m very excited for who I have lined up already – and how I will hopefully be evolving this feature in the near future!
But you don’t have to wait that long to learn the science journey of a brand new scientist. As this month’s Scientist in the Spotlight is right here! And I am thrilled to introduce you to the wonderful Lauren C. Lauren, aka Loz, is a first gen student who grew up in Coventry, England. She studied Biology at the University of Leeds before completing a Masters in Molecular Medicine. She is now studying for her PhD at the William Harvey Institute in London where she studies how ageing and age-related disease affect the human immune system. So, let’s get to know Loz a little more in today’s feature!
Thanks for agreeing to be a part of Soph talks science Loz! Welcome! Let’s start with your STEM story – how did you get to where you are now?
Loz: My route into STEM research is probably a little different to most. I didn’t grow up knowing that I wanted to be a scientist. In fact, I almost didn’t continue with science after the age of 16. It was only because a teacher took me aside and said they thought I should pick a science subject A level seeing as science was my best grade at GCSE. Originally, I had chosen my subjects based on what my friends were taking. At that age for me school was a time to hang out for friends, I hadn’t really put much thought into what I would do afterwards. Eventually though I swapped English for Biology.
Even then I wasn’t sure what to take for my undergrad. I knew I wanted to go to uni, but mainly for the experience and the chance to be independent. I enjoyed all of my A levels pretty equally, and Biology turned out to me by worst grade so if I had based my decision on my best grade I would of ended up doing a History degree – literally could not imagine my life no if I had gone down that route! What made me choose Biology in the end was the fact that my biology teacher offered to help with my application. Once I got to uni though everything changed. I LOVED my undergrad course and knew I had made the right decision! In particular I loved my end of year research project so after that I went on to do a masters in Molecular Medicine and this year confirmed to me just how much I loved science. I especially loved learning about the human body and how research can help fight human disease. Fast forward to today, I’ve now worked in research for 6 years and despite being a bit clueless for a while I’m so grateful for the path I ended up taking.
So, we know you are an immunologist. What exactly is your PhD research about?
Loz: My PhD research is focused on a type of immune cell known as a T cell. The aim is to study how ageing and age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes affects T cell function. Its already well known that our immune function declines as we age and much of this is attributed to a decline in T cell function. Therefore, if we can gain a better understanding of how T cell function is altered during ageing, we may be able to prevent or reverse this. This is essentially what I’m trying to achieve in my research!
What is a typical day like as an immunologist?
Loz: My days usually consist of a mixture of lab work and data analysis. Almost all of my experiments start with me having to first find and consent someone willing to donate blood. From the blood I then isolate the immune cells and set up downstream experiments. These experiments range from short term experiments that I might do on the same day or some longer-term cultures that last around 5 to 7 days. I rarely use the T cells after this time point as they go a bit weird.
In between steps during my experimental protocols I try to be productive and do some data analysis from previous experiment – oh and I make sure I squeeze in lots and lots of coffee breaks!
We hear a lot about our immune cells, but that actually involves a lot of different cell types. Maybe you can give us a beginner’s guide to our immune cells and their roles?
Loz: Yes, this is absolutely correct, the human immune system is actually comprised of many different immune cell types, which are categorised into two different arms of the immune system; innate and adaptive. Innate immune cells act as our immediate responders to invading pathogens or injury. The most abundant innate immune cells are neutrophils and macrophages. I often refer to these as grenades, because they’re fast to react however their impact is short lived and they are unspecific and can cause damage to surrounding areas or tissues. Adaptive immune cells, which include T and B cells, are more comparable to ninjas! They may take longer to kick into action, but they are highly specific and minimal damage will be done to the surrounding area.
I’ve actually summarised all of this in a Science Scribbles YouTube video, so if anyone wanted to learn more they should watch it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY2AwraSVAk&list=PLaIp8T-eyN5hNzDIp2k6T1aN7vPvzaWUm&index=2
As someone who is writing up their PhD thesis right now, what are your top tips and advice for other PhD students out there?
Loz: I would definitely start writing before you get to the end! At my university all PhD students are required to do an 18-month upgrade report, which ends up being a mini thesis. This has made everything so much easier for me now as I already had like 1/3 of it written. Now I’m not saying everyone needs to formally write a report like this before the end, but I would suggest at least getting some rough drafts of chapters together. That way when you get to the end you will know exactly what you need to do.
Then during the intense writing period, I would suggest changing your scenery every now and then. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get bored of your surroundings after a week or two and this tends to affect productivity. Finding a writing buddy can also be good, even if you’re not together in person you can talk about progress and help keep each other stay accountable for progress.
So, you mentioned Science Scribbles on YouTube. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to set up their own YouTube channel?
Loz: YouTube is great! I watch so many videos on YouTube – sometimes their educational, other times they’re just of cute dogs!! – but starting your own channel is a challenging. Initially, I started my channel so that I could turn some tutorial style lessons I taught in schools into fun and interactive videos that could be shared with a wider audience. I have so much fun creating my videos, but it is very time-consuming and I’m currently in the process of rethinking the format to save me time and increase video output.
My advice to anyone wanting to start their own channel would be to plan ahead. Come up with a list of video topics/ideas and do lots of research on these topics. If the videos are designed to be educational then you want them to be as accurate as possible. My other piece of advice would be to try to and create the content for multiple videos in bulk. I usually try to plan 3 to 4 videos at a time – this usually takes a couple of weeks – and then on a free evening or weekend I will film the videos, record the voiceovers and edit them. This gives me 3 or 4 videos to post on the upcoming weeks while I prepare for the next batch. Personally, I find it much easier and more productive doing it this way rather than 1 at a time.
You also more recently set up Science Scribbles as an Etsy store – what motivated you to do that and what can we find there now and in the future?
Loz: Yes! After deliberating for about a year I finally took the plunge and invested into my Science Scribbles store, which sell science-themed merchandise such as stickers, postcards and bookmarks. It’s such a great creative outlet for me but as well as that the main motivation behind the store is to try and encourage younger generations of girls/women to also pursue a career in STEM. I have LOTS of plans for the future, other types of merchandise but I’m also working hard to get Science Scribbles out on the streets as well as online. I haven’t officially announced this yet, but I’ve teamed up with a popular science festival, which I’ll be exhibiting at in October.
On top of all this, you also do scicomm on Instagram – first of all how do you balance everything? And how do you go about planning your content?
Loz: I love scicomm on Instagram, mainly because I’m a very visual person and because I love a good old selfie. To help me balance everything I usually try to be organised and plan my content in advance. The majority of the time I post about things that are currently happening in my life, which is why you’ll see a lot of posts about thesis writing at the minute! But even with lots of planning sometimes I end up too busy to take photos or properly edit them and the captions. Instead of stressing I’ve learnt to take a little break even if this means not posting for a long time. I’ve realised that nobody actually cares if I end up posting less often and it gives me time to create better content rather than rushing it.
My favourite thing about social media for scicomm has been being able to connect with so many scientists from around the world. Since starting my account around 18 months ago I’ve made so many online friends and many of those have now turned into real life friends too (you included :)!
Aww shucks ha! So when you’re not in the lab, doing scicomm or working on Science Scribbles, where would be most likely find you?
Loz: Outside the lab you’ll usually find me having fun with my friends and family. I live in Cambridge, but all of my friends are dotted all over the country, so I spend most of my weekends travelling to either London, Coventry or Manchester! I love a bottomless brunch followed by an afternoon of activities like crazy golf, bowling or karaoke!
What are the next steps for you in terms of your career but also your scicomm?
Loz: Career wise I’m hoping to stay in the scientific research for a while, although I haven’t actually managed to land a specific job yet. I was actually very torn about what to do after my PhD, but I’ve now settled on the idea of a post-doc!
I will also be spending a lot of my spare time on my scicomm projects and these are something I really want to try and grow over the next few years. I have so many new video ideas for YouTube that I can’t wait to get started on and I want to continue to grow Science Scribbles as much as possible. I feel like this is definitely just the beginning of my scicomm journey and I’m so excited for everything still to come!
And finally, where in the world should be my next travel destination and why?
Loz: ROMEEEEE! Although I’ll be jealous as I really want to go back. I love rome because it’s a great city break but it also has great weather (I like hot climates, sorry if you don’t). Plus being in Italy gives you an excuse to eat pizza everyday, and pizza is everything!
I completely agree with Rome! I loved my trip there – you can find out what I got up to in this post from my travel blog. But for now onto the quick fire round with Loz:
Chocolate or crisps? – Crisps
London or Cambridge? – Ooo tricky, I love both but at the minute I’d have to say Cambridge.
Tea or coffee? – Coffee 100%
YouTube or Instagram? – Instagram
City or countryside? – Similar to the second one, I love both and am definitely a City person but at the minute I love being in the countryside.
Huge thank you to Loz for being August’s Scientist in the Spotlight and for helping me to wrap up Season 3. I’m so lucky to have met you online in this incredible scicomm community and who knows we might be city buddies soon….
Who do you want to see featured in Season 4 of Scientist in the Spotlight? Maybe it’s your lab mate, maybe it’s your fave scicommer or maybe it is you, let me know your suggestions in the comments below! If you have any questions about immunology or anything you have heard from Loz here too ask your questions in the comments too!
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