Case study

Assistant research scientist — Isobel Whitehead

Isobel works as a microbiologist for Microbiotica, a company working to transform medicine with microbiome science. Find out more about her role as an assistant research scientist

How did you get your job?

I studied BSc (Hons) Microbiology at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2019. I then applied for the job through a recruitment agency after finding it advertised online.

I attended two interviews, during which I was asked to provide and deliver a PowerPoint presentation outlining my skills and experience. I found my interviewers friendly and they quickly made me feel at ease.

What's a typical working day like?

My regular tasks include using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method to amplify DNA, extracting DNA for next generation sequencing (NGS), managing clinical samples, data maintenance and the culturing and isolation of bacteria.

The balance between my laboratory and office-based work varies depending on ongoing projects.

What do you enjoy most about being a microbiologist?

I enjoy being part of a fantastic team who are supportive and share my passion for microbiology, as well as working for a company that contributes to the development of new therapeutics that will improve the lives of many.

What are the challenges?

The main challenge is working in a high throughput environment and processing fresh samples quickly to ensure viability.

How is your degree relevant?

My degree had a diverse range of modules that provided me with a core understanding of microbiology. My final year research project in particular provided me with specific knowledge useful for my current role. Being practised in delivering presentations is another useful skill.

The opportunity to gain experience working in a containment level 2 laboratory was definitely beneficial.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Although I've only recently joined Microbiotica, I can see plenty of opportunities to invest in my personal development as a scientist, as well as to perform the work needed by my team. I expect to gain expertise in the fields of microbiology and genomics that will be valuable knowledge-based assets to me in the future.

The company's work is new and exciting and, as such, is currently attracting investment to fund continued growth. I therefore feel certain that there will be opportunities for career progression.

What are your top tips to other aspiring microbiologists?

  • Maximise the range of career opportunities available to you by working hard at university and acquiring a wide range of skills.
  • Apply for an industrial placement as this year out is excellent for self-development and provides many examples of relevant experience that inevitably generate discussions during job interviews. My placement motivated me to apply myself in my final year and made me realise that I wanted to pursue a career in industry, particularly in a research role.
  • If you have the opportunity to choose your research project or dissertation, pick a topic relevant to your interests and with your future career in mind because it may influence the next steps of your career.
  • Being able to fit in and perform within a team is very important. It also makes work so much more enjoyable. I believe that it helps to be able to demonstrate this to a potential employer.

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