Tag: PhD

‘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…)

Being a caregiver while caring about a PhD

Republished by permission from Springer Nature: Nature Career Column, Being a caregiver while caring about a PhD, Luke Yates, © 2020

Luke Yates discusses how he coped with his wife’s long illness during his PhD programme.


In summer 2008, a year after I started my PhD programme, my wife Samantha was admitted to hospital with a severe chest infection. Sam had cystic fibrosis, and the infection wreaked havoc on her lungs. After a protracted hospitalization, she could not breathe unaided. Furnished with a canister of oxygen and breathing apparatus (a mainstay from then on), along with a substantial amount of antibiotics and other medications, she left hospital, and we carried on with our lives as best as we could. Sam went back to her job teaching a school class of 9–10-year-olds, and I continued pursuing my PhD in clinical medicine at the University of Oxford, UK. But she experienced another infection, which ended with her doctors wait-listing her for a double lung transplant. In January 2010, Sam gave up work, and we began to hope for a life-saving telephone call.

Caring for a loved one who had cystic fibrosis and was waiting for a transplant, while I was trying to complete my PhD programme, seemed impossible. In the laboratory, I was always on tenterhooks, thinking “Today could be the day we get the call.” This uncertainty and anxiety, together with the pressures of research, made my graduate studies tougher than most. As for planning my experiments and conducting research, I needed limited working hours so that I could provide physiotherapy, drug treatments and help to my wife. And I had to get home at a specific time because I shared caregiving responsibilities with Sam’s mum, who tended to her during the day. On top of all this, I had a daily commute of more than two hours. We couldn’t move closer, because we needed to live near our family. (more…)

What is environmental inequality and why should we care?

Charlotte Roscoe highlights the problem of environmental inequality and explores how potential solutions such as urban green spaces may help to close the gap.


Whether it’s standing on picket lines with Mind the Pay Gap signs, whether it’s the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter, or surging child poverty across the UK: one thing inequality probably doesn’t mean to you, is city planning. Yet over 80% of the UK population live in urban areas, and the built environment is unequally impacting our health and wellbeing.

Not all urban neighbourhoods were built equal

Urban neighbourhoods designed in the past few decades of vehicle priority tend to be the most damaging to health. Car parks and roads have swallowed up our public spaces, and despite government strategies to reduce vehicle emissions via charging schemes, vehicles continue to dominate our streets.

Perhaps you’ve read headlines such as: “Traffic noise revealed as new urban killer”, or, “Each car in London costs NHS and society £8,000 due to air pollution”. These shocking news stories feature robust scientific evidence from the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, that both traffic noise and air pollution are linked to ill health, and even death.

Newsflash – traffic is bad for us! (more…)

How research is helping to understand and break the self-harm cycle

Rachel Rodrigues sheds light on her research on understanding the brain mechanisms that motivate people to self-harm – can we untangle the circuits to break the cycle?


Many of us will know someone who has self-harmed or may even have personal experience of it. This isn’t surprising considering how common it is, particularly in adolescence and young adulthood. Unfortunately though, only about 20% of young people receive help from clinical services for their self-harm, and as much as 50% aren’t receiving any help, even from people close to them, meaning that they are having to cope with it on their own.

For some people self-harm could become more frequent and intense over time and coupled with it also being the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts, this lack of intervention for self-harm is concerning. The aim of my PhD research within Imperial’s Mood Instability Research Group is to find out why young people continue to self-harm. We hope to translate our findings to improve interventions for self-harm. (more…)

There’s a whole world inside of you: a guide to microbiome research

Kate Gallagher provides an insight into microbiome research; a promising area of science that may pave the way for new treatments for a number of conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to cancer.


You may be familiar with the age-old phrase, ‘you are what you eat’. Whilst I can assure readers that despite ingesting an inordinate amount of Reese’s pieces, you probably aren’t nuts, recent developments in research into the gut microbiome are beginning to tell us that the population of microbes inhabiting our gut may be much more powerful than we’ve previously given them credit for.

What is the microbiome?

The term microbiome refers to the additional set of genes arising from the diverse and unique array of microbes that have established themselves in a variety of habitats throughout our body. This is not to be confused with the term microbiota, simply referring to their names and quantities. These communities of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts can be found in significant proportions in regions such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts, your oral cavity, and skin. Overall, bacterial cells in our body match the number of human cells at a 1:1 ratio, meaning the microbiome has a significant contribution towards our genetic diversity, harnessing great potential to aid our understanding of a number of medical conditions targeted by decades of research. (more…)

Banking on brains: the quest for new methods of treatment for Parkinson’s

Parkinson's

For World Parkinson’s Day, Ben Tilley highlights how brain tissue donated to Imperial’s Tissue Bank is instrumental in finding new methods of treatment for Parkinson’s. 


My personal journey with Parkinson’s disease (PD) research started six years ago. It was the summer of 2012, and while enjoying the London Olympics and preparing myself to start Medical School at Imperial College London, my father was developing symptoms of PD. When the diagnosis was made I knew what my career goal would be; I had to study this disease and I had no ambitions other than to become a neurologist in the future. (more…)

Making the leap from PhD to postdoc

Following the annual Rising Scientist Day, Drs Myrsini Kaforou, Alex Thompson and Claire Byrne recount their experiences of becoming fully-fledged early career researchers and share their best advice for prospective postdocs.


The annual Rising Scientist Day at Imperial’s Hammersmith Campus offers PhD students the chance to share their research both with their peers, and a more general audience. In addition to poster presentations and networking opportunities, the showcase featured talks from those who had successfully made the transition from PhD to postdoc. (more…)