Case study

PhD student — Chiara Naccarati

Chiara speaks about the work involved in her PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry, including the highlights and frustrations

How did you get your job?

The PhD position within the School of Food Science and Nutrition was advertised on the website of the University of Leeds. I applied, sending my CV and covering letter. Following my application I was contacted for an interview with my potential supervisor. He subsequently offered me the position.

I enjoy knowing that my research will shed light on little known topics and might contribute to improving the life of many people

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My degree in infection and immunity is very relevant. The theory and laboratory skills I learned are essential for me on a daily basis.

What are your main work activities?

There are two types of activities that I mainly carry out. The first is laboratory-based research and the second is information extraction, using informatics tools. The two activities are closely related, since the information I extract through the online search of databases and public repositories is vital for me to design and set up the laboratory-based research.

I also regularly take part in research seminars with the research group and occasionally I attend scientific conferences.

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

In the first two years of my PhD I focused mainly on collecting background information in the research area of interest. In the last two years of my PhD I have used the information to set up methods and design experiments.

In the early stages of my PhD I mainly worked on understanding what was already known and published on the topic of interest. Lately I have worked on broadening the available knowledge, producing data for my own publications.

I would like to stay in academia. My aim for the future is to find an interesting and challenging post-doc position. I am also very interested in the teaching side of research, so I would like to take further qualifications, enabling me to teach in university.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I mainly enjoy the fact that it is never the same or boring. When an experiment works according to what I had expected, it is an exciting moment because it means that I can add a piece of knowledge to my area of interest. When an experiment produces results which are not in agreement with my expectations, although it can be extremely disappointing and frustrating, it allows me to re-think my experimental approach and to move in a different direction, to use my creativity.

I also enjoy knowing that my research will shed light on little known topics and might, one day, contribute to improving the life of many people.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

When experiments go wrong, it's definitely challenging. When you have spent several months planning an experiment and investing resources and expectations on the project it is quite hard to deal with a bad result, or sometimes no result at all.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

A PhD is a very committing experience. Be ready to go through very hard times and quite a lot of disappointment. Though, if you can cope with the stress, you will have a great experience. You will achieve the highest academic qualification and, what's more; you will learn what it is like to be an independent researcher.