Aisah enjoys the variety of activities involved in a career in academia, ranging from designing, carrying out and analysing experiments to writing and teaching. Find out more about her role as an early career researcher
What degree did you study?
I graduated with a BSc Hons Pharmacology from King's College London.
How did you get your job?
In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I undertook an experimental project working with sensory neurons, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I then embarked on a four-year BBSRC PhD studentship focusing on vascular biology, which included an MRes in Integrative Biomedicine in the first year.
I was fascinated by sensory neurons and did my first postdoctoral project on the effects of a novel calcitonin gene-related peptide analogue provided by Novo Nordisk in experimental models of hypertension and heart failure. In 2016, I moved to the William Harvey Research Institute (WHRI), where I am now studying the role of C-type natriuretic peptide in angiogenesis and vascular remodelling in cardiovascular homeostasis and disease.
What's a typical working day like?
I spend most of my time in the laboratory, focusing both on in vitro and in vivo experiments, alongside analysis of samples of patients. A lot of my time is spent on planning each day carefully to maximise output as we work collaboratively, sharing procedure rooms, equipment and tissue.
I spend a lot of time analysing data, planning/designing my experiments, preparing for presentations for lab meetings or conferences, writing or catching up with scientific literature. I am also involved in teaching and supervising students in their experimental projects.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the flexibility associated with a career in academia and the range of work from undertaking and analysing experiments to writing and teaching.
I thoroughly enjoy the areas I’m studying and the team I work with, which is very important in producing a supportive environment and allowing me to gain an extensive training in cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology.
What are the challenges?
A career in academia can be tough. Contracts are sometimes short term, but this can help focus your research interests and explore funding opportunities. It is very important to study and research the support and training your university and local societies offer to early career researchers to develop your career portfolio.
In what way is your degree relevant?
My degree in pharmacology prepared me for my PhD, from learning basic science (biology, chemistry) to understanding diseases and using disease models. It also developed my understanding of experimental design, statistical analysis, clinical trials and drug development. These are all important for a career in pharmacology in either academia or industry.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
Your progress in terms of research in academia is often assessed by the work you publish. I am determined to establish myself as an independent scientist and am looking forward to using my skills to explore all sorts of avenues that are intellectually stimulating in an academic career. I hope that one day the research I have done or contributed to will improve people's lives.
What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?
- An experimental project in the final year of your undergraduate degree will help you decide whether working on the bench side is something you would like to do. This project may also identify an area of research you are passionate about and/or your mentor.
- Research courses thoroughly to make sure they meet your career aims. For example, I was interested in vivo pharmacology, so I chose an MREs in Integrative Biomedicine that allowed me to work with both in vitro and in vivo experiments.
- Consider doing a summer internship and/or a Masters in Research as this allows you to gain laboratory experience, as well as writing, presentation and analytical skills. The integrative approach allows you to employ your knowledge from the lectures in the laboratory, which is key.
What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?
- Having a mentor/mentors can help you progress in both your project and career.
- Collaborations and networking are also vital for a career in science. Network as much as you can by attending seminars, conferences and activities organised by your university or local societies.
- You will often hear that a career in academia is challenging but it can also be very rewarding. One completed drawn graph can make you smile for a long time and be very impactful.