Postgraduate Case Studies

    Bethany Levick

    My PhD is in disease ecology, understanding how infectious diseases spread in communities and in relation to their environment.

  • Tell us a bit about yourself

    I first came to Liverpool in 2010 to start an undergraduate degree in Tropical Disease Biology. I was offered my PhD place during my honours year, and after working briefly at LSTM as a research assistant I started my PhD in October 2013.

    What is your PhD in?

    My PhD is in disease ecology, understanding how infectious diseases spread in communities and in relation to their environment. I use field records from different populations to understand microbes they are infected with; gerbils infected with the plague causing bacteria Yersinia pestis from pre-Balkhash desert in Kazakhstan and humans with epilepsy living in an area with high numbers of filarial worm (Onchocerca volvulus) infections.

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    Why did you choose to come to Liverpool?

    As an undergraduate I wanted to come to Liverpool to be in an exciting city, and the chance to study something unique. I chose to stay for my PhD to stay in a University with a great number of experts and diverse research across infectious disease.

    What have enjoyed most during your PhD?

    I have enjoyed becoming part of the scientific community, through conferences and being part of the organising committee for the British Ecological Society parasites special interest group. I’ve had great opportunities to meet people and chat about wider scientific challenges in disease ecology as well as my own research. I have also been able to make the PhD my own, and try out new things

    Have you engaged in any extra activities undertaken during PhD?

    I always love a chance to chat to people about science, and I’ve been involved with public engagement and outreach throughout my PhD including working with Science Grrl, the Big Bang fairs and the British Science Association. I’ve taken part in some great outreach events through the University like our Meet the Scientist events, and most recently I was invited to speak about plague research at the Victoria Gallery and Museum as part of the Light Night cultural event.

    How do you achieve a work / life balance?

    Even when things get really busy I try to make a little time for things I enjoy like running and baking, and to remember that some time away will make me more effective when I am working. I have a great support network of family and friends who know sometimes I will be a little lost in my work but are there for me when I need a break!

    What do you want to do long term?

    Keep doing something that excites me! I feel lucky that I get to work on a problem I find so intriguing every day, and I hope I get to keep that in my future career.

  • Kieran Hand

    My PhD focusses on a truly devastating disorder named Immunoglobulin light chain amyloidosis.

  • Tell us a bit about yourself

    I completed my undergraduate degree in biology at Sheffield where I focused on the lipid membrane interactions of the aggregation-prone protein alpha-synuclein using surface plasmon resonance spectroscopy. This really grabbed my attention and it’s why I moved to Liverpool to complete my masters of research in structural biology. I’m now undertaking a PhD in the amyloid group here in IIB. All of this was not however, before I had dabbled in secondary school ICT teaching, light and sound technical support roles for music venues, before I then stumbled into producing graphic art for wedding venues and clothing retailers, and finally having a brief stint in ghost writing and sound recording for classical musicians.

    What is your PhD in?

    My PhD focusses on a truly devastating disorder named Immunoglobulin light chain amyloidosis. It’s part of a larger group of protein conformational disorders termed proteinopathies that sees the deposition of native precursor protein as insoluble fibres term amyloid. While light chain amyloidosis is not as well characterised as other diseases of this group such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,

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    they share common similarities in protein misfolding pathways, toxic species and fibril architecture. Over recent years, this area has definitely developed momentum, it’s much more widely recognised and this has resulted in funding from a greater number of sources. It’s a really exciting time to be within this area of research.

    Why did you choose to come to Liverpool?

    I definitely felt the available PhD was a direct continuation of the work that I had become thoroughly engrossed in at undergraduate level. I wished to be part of a structural biology group that complemented this with techniques commonly used in other disciplines and that’s exactly what Liverpool provided.

    What have enjoyed most during your PhD?

    My group. Sincerely a group of passionate, crazy (very), hardworking (very) folk that really know their trade. Quite a lot of scientists I’ve met focus on a particular technique, but I feel those times are coming to a close and joining a group that know and use a plethora of techniques to answer biological questions is something I’ve wanted ever since I started my final year undergraduate studies. What I also enjoy is that this group is also a team. From going to conferences and presenting as a group to everyday laboratory occurrences and social events, that really makes a difference during the course of my studies.

    Have you engaged in any extra activities undertaken during PhD?

    As far as public engagement goes, I think it’s really important to present the idea in the simplest form. I believe it was Albert Einstein that said if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough (or words to that effect) and as I’ve found, that really rings true. It sounds trivial, but one of the greatest ways to communicate science is using a poster, and so myself, and members of my group have participated in many events that not only communicates science to other scientists but also to schools, and non-scientists alike. As part of the BBSRC doctoral training programme I have also completed a 3 month internship at the biopharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. This was a really an excellent opportunity that presented me with a completely new perspective on science and how the skills learnt in academia can be applied to an industrial setting.

    How do you achieve a work / life balance?

    Now this is a difficult one. Sometimes the experiments can occur at a steady pace, but there are always times where “the science” dictates ones sleeping patterns (he says jokingly). It requires a lot of dedication. In some ways it’s more of a physiological test, but it has very high job satisfaction when that experiment works and beautiful images are achieved and biological questions are answered! I’ve been involved in music for a long part of my life, and modern technology allows me to carry that with me, so sometimes it’s as easy as zoning out and you just get the work done without even realising it.

    What do you want to do long term?

    I really want to stay in science. I think I found my calling during my 3 month placement at Eli Lilly, and so I feel currently, industrial science is for me but I definitely wish to collaborate with my group after I complete my studies, possibly with complementing in vitro experiments with computational/ bioinformatics work. Over the past few years I’ve also become very interested in property restoration and design. I haven’t had much experience in this area, but everyone has to start somewhere and I’d love to peruse this after a day in a laboratory and build up a portfolio!