Blog posts

My reflections on returning to medical school after recovering from depression

Thivyaa reflects on taking time out of medical school and how it gave her the opportunity to refresh her perspective and gain valuable life experiences.


To say that medicine is intense is an understatement. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that even pausing to take a breath can feel like a luxury we cannot afford. But as I have learnt over the past few years, the consequences of neglecting our minds and bodies are too dire – for both ourselves and our patients – for us to continue in this way. Here, I would like to share what I have learnt during my journey of recovering from depression, reflect on what it is like to take an interruption of studies (IoS), and highlight the importance of self-care.

During the academic year of 2018-2019, I took time out of medical school. The previous few years had been a disaster with regards to my mental health. I had become too unwell, but in an attempt to ‘be strong’ I had continued with second year, only to then fail. And so I was advised to have a ‘break’ and come back to repeat the year in 2019-2020. (more…)

Celebrating transformational changes in academic support within the medical school

Dr Kathleen Leedham-Green discusses our School of Medicine’s recent transformation in academic support.


The problem: some students working hard without reaping the rewards

Our medical students generally work extremely hard, so why were some flourishing, while others were struggling with the academic load or even failing their assessments despite putting in the effort?

In the words of one of our students:

“I’ve worked so hard. I’m exhausted. I’m a straight A* student. I can’t believe I’ve failed”

This was the question that was at the heart of the recent transformation in academic support led by Mike Emerson at Imperial College’s School of Medicine. (more…)

‘We answered the call to volunteer at the Lighthouse ‘mega-lab’ for COVID-19 testing’

The team of volunteers celebrating reaching 1 million samples tested. (Image credit: UK Biocentre)

Four Imperial researchers recount their experiences of volunteering at one of the mega-labs built to scale up COVID-19 testing in the UK.


Since March, the UK Biocentre laboratories located in Milton Keynes has become one of four Lighthouse Labs (the others are in Glasgow, Alderley Park in Cheshire and Cambridge) – the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history. Every day the team process and analyse around 30,000 swab samples from across the country to test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. They use a combination of manual processing and high-throughput robots to inactivate the viral samples, extract the RNA and analyse them with a technique known as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to detect the presence of the virus.

The UK Biocentre labs were uniquely placed to help in the testing efforts, as in normal life they are usually home to around 30 staff processing and archiving clinical samples from hospitals around the UK. 200 volunteers across academia, civil service and industry answered a call to support with COVID-19 testing, including several PhD students and postdocs from Imperial. As their secondments draw to a close, we speak to some of the volunteers to hear about their experience: (more…)

Navigating LGBTQ+ discrimination in academia: where do we go from here?

Originally published in The Biochemist, Karim Boustani and Kirk Taylor discuss their experiences of being LGBTQ+ in bioscience, the various types of discrimination that LGBTQ+ scientists may face in academia and some of the existing initiatives and campaigns in place to combat this.


Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this article, we want to make clear that this piece is written from the perspective of two cis gay men and anyone reading this should realize that our experiences are not universal. Everyone within the community has a different journey and we cannot speak about anyone else’s experience.

We would also like to define a few terms that will be used throughout the article to help you understand the points that we make, although we would like to stress that, in this area, definitions are contested (Table 1). We use the term LGBTQ+ to refer to anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, or anyone who is sexually and/or gender diverse. Sexual orientation refers to whom people are attracted to and form romantic or sexual relationships with. This can be to people of the opposite sex or gender (heterosexual), same sex or gender (homosexual), both sexes or genders (bisexual), more than one sex or gender (pansexual) or lack of sexual attraction to any sex or gender (asexual). Gender identity refers to how we subjectively perceive our gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex we are assigned with at birth. Society has created a gender binary, which includes expectations of masculinity and femininity, which is applied to sex, gender identity and gender expression (i.e. the way you express your gender through clothes, hair or makeup). It is important to note that some people do not identify with this binary (e.g. non-binary individuals) and some people do not identify with some or all aspects of the gender assigned to them. As scientists, we must also recognize that our choice of indicators for biological sex categorizations are unstable (on this topic, we would encourage all to read Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling’s “Science Won’t Settle Trans Rights”). Transgender (or trans) refers to individuals whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the expectations of the gender they were assigned at birth. Being trans is not associated with a person’s sexual orientation. Those who do not identify as trans are described as cisgender. LGBTQ+ discrimination may be based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. (more…)

My PhD analysing hundreds of poo samples from preterm babies

Dr Holly Jenkins provides an insight into her research looking at bacterial communities in the guts of preterm babies from analysing stool samples.


Every year in the UK, one in 13 babies are born prematurely. A premature birth is one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. It is one of the leading causes of neonatal morbidity and mortality – that’s why research is extremely important. I decided I wanted to pursue a career in neonatal research because of the amazing clinical and scientific work that is helping improve the care and lives of babies born too soon.

From 2015 to 2018 I completed my PhD in Professor Neena Modi’s leading neonatal research team, based at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  The team is comprised of clinicians (doctors, nurses and midwives), scientists, statisticians and data analysts, all of which are researching different aspects of preterm and term births. (more…)

COVID-19 and fungal lung infections – a case study on aspergillosis

Jenny Shelton highlights the potential for invasive and chronic fungal lung infections with Aspergillus fumigatus in COVID-19 patients and the dangers posed by growing antifungal resistance.


Virtually unknown just a few months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions worldwide. The pathogen responsible, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), infects alveolar cells in the lungs. Parallels are already emerging between severe COVID-19 infection and severe influenza. Influenza, or ‘the flu’, is also caused by a virus that infects cells along the respiratory tract and is associated with similar symptoms to COVID-19 but has a lower death rate (<0.1%). Studies have found that up to 65% of individuals hospitalised with severe influenza infection are co-infected with bacteria. A recent review found 9 studies, undertaken in China and USA, that reported bacterial coinfection in a combined 62 of 806 (8%) individuals admitted to hospital with COVID-19 infection  and the majority of patients (72%) received antimicrobial drugs.

Another secondary infection associated with severe influenza is invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA), which develops when spores from the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus grow in the lung and pass into the bloodstream to cause sepsis. IPA is diagnosed in up to 19% of individuals hospitalised with influenza,  with significantly higher mortality in the patients with IPA. (more…)

My experience of lockdown and maternity as a female academic

Dr Teresa Thurston shares her experience as a relatively new PI of looking after a new-born, homeschooling and keeping in touch with her lab during lockdown.


The pressure of the pandemic has been felt particularly hard by parents juggling work and childcare, often with fewer hours available for work. In some households, the burden of care work continues to fall disproportionately on women and this may be true for academia as well; journal editors have noted that early evidence suggests fewer paper submissions from women than men whilst under quarantine.

Every one of us has been hit by lockdown and many people are struggling to juggle work with kids at home. It has been more than 50 days since my family of five begun isolation. My husband came down with a fever and cough and went to bed and I picked up the kids for the last time. After telling our afterschool nanny not to come over, panic hit. I had no idea how I was going to cope. I was still recovering from delivering a 5Kg baby who was just four weeks old and now I was solely responsible for three kids and a sick husband. This was not going to be any ordinary maternity leave. (more…)

Embracing change as an immunologist in the time of Covid-19

Professor Danny Altmann explores how the pandemic has offered new perspectives on his research, leading to new collaborations and engaging with policy.


If any of us ever wished for greater prominence, respect, or public understanding of our scientific contributions to society, this is not the way we would have wished to achieve it. For so many at Imperial working in diverse aspects of infection, immunity and global health, this has been a time of much urgent soul-searching as to how we can best bring our skill sets to bear on the problem most effectively, whether as clinicians, disease modellers, vaccinologists or basic immunologists. It’s hard to turn on a news broadcast or open a newspaper without seeing opinions from Imperial colleagues, clinical and scientific.

At a time when the mantra is ‘policy led by the science’, this is absolutely as it should be. We often have it ingrained as scientists to keep our heads down lest we be accused of showboating or playing ‘Johnny-Big-Potato’ by making inflated claims about our research. Yet, this is a time when it’s OK and even laudable to stick your head above the parapet: when it genuinely matters, and people genuinely want to know, what are these different types of antibody tests, is antibody protective and how long does it last, which may be the most effective vaccines. This surely is the time to step up to the plate, whether by adapting the research focus of our labs to the current issues, by communicating and trying to clarify the nuances, and of course, by remembering our commitments to our students and trying to work out how to keep them stimulated and scientifically productive despite lockdown. (more…)

The place they will be born: Mohawk midwives and mothers

This time last year, as part of a pre-doctorate NIHR fellowship, Alison Perry visited a First Nations reserve in Canada to learn about the history of aboriginal women as mothers and the culture of midwifery.

On International Day of the Midwife 2020 we are pleased to republish her article from British Journal of Midwifery.


Just past ‘Bear Paw Gas and Convenience’ and not far from ‘Talking Earth Pottery’ sits Tsi Non:we Ionnakeratstha Maternal and Child Health Centre. The name is Mohawk for ‘the place they will be born’. A sign proudly announces that six babies have been born there so far in March. On the other side of the sign it wishes the community a ‘substance-free’ holiday. It is a First Nations birthing place and a small slice of cultural healing.

Less than 24 hours in Canada, my taxi pulled off Sour Springs Road to drop me off on First Nations Reserve no. 40, roughly halfway between Brantford and Hagersville, Ontario, and more than 100 km south of Toronto’s financial district. I had travelled by plane, train and taxi to get there, and I was late for my long-standing appointment with midwife and manager of the birth centre, Julie Wilson. After almost 20 years in the UK, I was confronted with a kind of reverse culture shock, but I was also aware that I was going somewhere I had never been before. (more…)

Masks and health: from the 19th century to COVID-19

Historian of medicine Dr Jennifer Wallis explores some of the parallels between 19th-century health concerns and the current pandemic, and introduces us to one of her favourite Victorian objects.


I spent most of Sunday afternoon sewing face masks out of old t-shirts, pretty inexpertly and with more than a few pricked fingers. In a recent article for the BMJ, Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues argue for the precautionary principle when it comes to mask-wearing during the COVID-19 crisis. They argue that ‘we have little to lose and potentially something to gain’ from wearing masks. A quick Google search for news items about masks yields a constantly growing number of results and questions: Who should be wearing masks and where? What should masks be made of? Can/should masks be fashion items? (more…)