PhD student Grace Roberts sat in a science lab at the University of Leeds.

Grace Roberts

What research are you undertaking? 

I use molecular and cellular methods to understand the role of the macro domain of the chikungunya virus nsP3 protein in virus replication.

What is the purpose of your research?

The aim is to discover the function of the macro domain as we know it is crucial for virus replication but we don’t know what it actually does. It would further the understanding of the disease as we currently don’t have any treatments or vaccines for chikungunya and better understanding how the virus replicates would help develop these.

How will this apply to real world applications?

Chikungunya is an emerging disease that was recently confined to Africa and Asia but has recently caused outbreaks across the globe. There are currently no treatments or vaccines against the disease and therefore the more we understand about the virus, the easier it will be to develop therapeutics. 

Macro domains are found in the proteins of all species on the planet. They are also in multiple RNA viruses. So this research could further the understanding of many different viruses.

What facilities and specialist equipment do you use to help you carry out your research?

I mainly work in our biosafety category 2 lab but I am also fully trained in our biosafety level 3 facility, which is where we use live virus. I also use confocal microscopes in the bio imaging facility.

What do you particularly enjoy about your research?

I like how we have so many opportunities to learn new skills and use cutting edge equipment. Even if we don’t have something immediately available, there will be the opportunity to collaborate with someone in order to do things. Leeds has a very friendly and helpful working environment, no matter the problem, there is always someone in the know who you can ask for help.

Why did you choose to undertake a PhD? Why did you choose to do this at the University of Leeds?

I chose to do a PhD because I was a research technician and, though I enjoyed my job and worked in science, I wanted more input and ownership of my project and wanted to be challenged a bit more.

I chose Leeds as I wanted to do virology and Leeds is one of the best and biggest virology departments in the country with many leading scientists in the department. 

Who is your supervisor? How have they helped you with your research so far?

Mark Harris and Nicola J Stonehouse are my supervisors and they have been incredibly supportive and helpful throughout my project. I especially like how they have let me determine the direction of my project and have given me the space form my own ideas.

What are your plans after you complete your PhD?

I would like to do postdoc for a while but I am particularly interested in scientific communication and outreach so would like to pursue a career in that field.

About the University

Why did you choose the University of Leeds?

For the reputation of the virology department. I also love the city – it has such great culture, especially for food and drink!

What have been the highlights of your time at the University of Leeds?

One was when I presented my work at an international conference in the biggest conference centre – I was so nervous but it went so well and I know I couldn’t have done it without the support and guidance of my lab and my supervisor.

Also, it's not an experience per say but the friends I have made whilst studying my PhD are incredible and I know we’ll stay in touch forever!

What are your ambitions for the future? Do you have specific career plans? Has the University helped you with these goals in any way?

I think I want to do a postdoc when I finish but I’m also very interested in outreach and science communication. I think it’s important for the public to understand science but also to enjoy it. So I’m hoping to form a career in science outreach or education. Being at Leeds has helped this immensely – there are a lot of opportunities to do outreach, such as the Leeds Festival of Science, and there is plenty of support from supervisors and the outreach team.