Developing into an independent researcher

Veterinary parasitologist Dr Nicola Beesley is taking advantage of various development opportunities at the University on her path to becoming an independent researcher.

Based in the Institute for Infection and Global Health (IGH), Nicola’s research focuses on parasites that infect animals, particularly liver fluke. This parasite infects sheep and cattle, impacting animal welfare and costing the UK agriculture industry around £40m per year. Liver fluke has developed resistance to the drugs used to treat it and tackling this is the focus of Nicola’s work.

“Liver fluke spends part of its life cycle within a snail and Liverpool has a relatively unique resource since we have a colony of these snails, established by my PI Professor Jane Hodgkinson. The availability of these snails increases the variety of experiments we are able to perform, and I am often found in the ‘snail room’ washing or feeding the snails! This is always a good conversation starter,” Nicola says.

Drawing on experience

Nicola was named IGH Young Investigator of the Year in 2014 for her PhD paper on the population genetics of liver fluke in Great Britain. Her work found liver fluke to be genetically diverse with high gene flow, which has implications for the spread of drug resistance

Since 2016 she has worked as a PDRA, developing an ‘omics’ (genomics, transcriptomics and metabolomics) skillset. She uses these techniques to further understanding of drug resistance in liver fluke including how resistant and susceptible parasites respond to the drug triclabendazole following treatment.

Nicola says: “As I look to start developing myself as an independent researcher, I want to combine my veterinary background and ‘omics knowledge to study the interaction between snail and parasite. This is a new and exciting area of research that will allow me to develop myself as an independent researcher.”

Panel membership and peer review

Taking part in interview panels and peer reviewing has proved to be a useful development tool for Nicola.

“The experience of interviewing candidates for a new postdoc position helped me to identify things I could improve about my own application and interview skills,” she said.  “Peer review of papers and abstracts is also really valuable in improving your own approach. I think postdocs are somewhat of an untapped resource in these areas and can help spread the workload whilst also learning new skills themselves.”

Developing skills

Nicola successfully applied for a place on an Introduction to Leadership in Academia Course funded by The Wellcome Trust which she says had many benefits including helping her to identify the sort of culture she would hope to foster in her own research group. She plans to create a document detailing what she would expect from colleagues and what they can expect from her in return, aiming to alleviate some of the mental health and wellbeing issues highlighted by PhD students.

In December 2019 she travelled to China for a Newton Funded Bilateral Links workshop aiming to build collaborations centred on shared research and innovation challenges directly relevant to Newton partner countries’ social welfare and economic development. Here Nicola was able to begin building international collaborations, another important part of her journey to becoming an independent researcher.

Nicola also accessed the development opportunities offered as part of the University’s annual Making an Impact programme. She said: “I found Making an Impact 2019 a really valuable experience, which allowed me to easily access a number of different personal training opportunities and network with some interesting people. I nominated the team behind Making an Impact for a University of Liverpool Staff Award, for which they were shortlisted and commended.”

Nicola credits her supervisors, Professors Jane Hodgkinson, Steve Paterson and Diana Williams as hugely helpful in giving her career guidance and advice on applications.

“At the end of last year I successfully applied for a Career Development Award from the Technology Directorate,” she said. “This is another step on the road to independence but is testament to Jane, Steve and Diana’s support and guidance.”

Supporting fellow alumni

As an alumna of the University of Liverpool having graduated in 2009 with a BVSc in Veterinary Science and a Masters in Veterinary Parasitology, Nicola is passionate about alumni relations.

Nicola invited alumna Nadia Soliman to the University to give a seminar on leadership, after attending her session at the Wellcome Trust course.

She said: “I have been on the University of Liverpool Veterinary Alumni Association since 2013. In 2016 I received a Staff Award as Volunteer of the Year for my alumni work and I’m proud to be a Liverpool graduate and back working at my alma mater! Inviting Alumni back to give talks on their career paths and running one-to-one CV clinics is something I have done for the veterinary students at their annual careers fair and at the Research Staff Association conference too.”

The University provides high quality development opportunities to empower every individual to foster their potential. You can learn more about The Academy’s staff development offering here.

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