Niamh Teague

Niamh Teague

About your course/programme

Why did you choose to study your course?

I was introduced to the field of precision medicine and genomics in my final undergraduate year modules and quickly became very interested in its rapidly expanding benefits in healthcare and research. From there, I knew I wanted to concentrate my further study on genomics. The topics surrounding this course are varied, which allowed me to develop new skills such as coding and statistical methods. This course is also unlike any other I have seen. It combines the subject of biology that I already had a likening for with computational and analytical skills that will allow me to pursue a career in genomics and precision medicine.

What do you enjoy about your course?

I enjoyed that there were subject areas that I had never been exposed to before such as genetic epidemiology and biopharmaceuticals. I enjoyed the ability to focus on one particular subject area for my project for a few months. I enjoyed getting to know the people also on the course. I particularly enjoyed the cancer biology module as I had never focused on the genetics of cancer biology specifically and also the big data and rare and common disorders module as I was able to understand how gene-altering technologies are applied.

What have been the highlights of the course so far?

I have become competent in the coding language of R and the use of Linux. Although this year the course was entirely online, there were many group projects and opportunities for group discussion which allowed me to feel very much involved in the course and as part of the cohort. I came to this course with minimal mathematical background, but over the course, I have become confident in statistics.

 What has been the greatest challenges throughout your course so far?

Learning statistics, as my undergraduate degree focused entirely on biology and medical sciences. At the start, I found learning through online teaching difficult because this course was compiled of subject areas that I was new to. However, through the support from lecturers and module leads these challenges became easier.

How do you think the MSc has improved your understanding of data analytics as applied to genomics?

This course has greatly improved my understanding of data analytics in genomics. Before studying this course, my knowledge of this area was limited to two undergraduate modules. I now understand how to analyse large genetic datasets and get interpretable and meaningful results that can be applied. I also further understand how data analytics works in the industry.

What is your research project about and what has it involved?

My research project is about the association between telomere length, naevus count and melanoma risk and whether telomere length can predict melanoma risk and naevus count. This project has involved identifying whether variants associated with telomere length are also associated with melanoma and/or naevus count associated variants and vice versa. Demonstrating a correlation between the traits to further show an association. This was all completed using R. For participants of the Leeds Melanoma Cohort, I then calculated polygenic risk scores of various melanoma-related traits including telomere length, naevus count and pigmentation. I then regressed melanoma case-control status onto these scores to see how well variants associated with melanoma-related traits could predict melanoma risk. This was done in a programme called ‘plink’.

How do you think doing a research project has benefited you/will benefit you in the future?

A research project has allowed me to focus on an area I am interested in and develop the skills specific to this kind of research. This project has honed my time management and scientific communication skills, which will benefit me in the future. I have also had the time during this project to identify areas in which I may want to pursue in the future. This was also my first large research project so I can take the experience and skills gained from it with me.

What do you think of the projects available in terms of interest and relevance to the course and future research careers?

I think there was a great range of projects available that covered many subject areas from genetic epidemiology to gene expression analysis which allowed the use of skills in a variety of coding languages and -omics. They were all relevant in some way to subject areas we had studied in the course, if you liked a particular module or part of a module, there was a project which encompassed that. I also think they were all relevant for future research careers as they all related to real-world scenarios and many built on research supervisors were already pursuing.

About the University

Why did you choose the University of Leeds?

The University of Leeds has a reputation of being one of the best universities for research in particular scientific research. It is also in the QS top 100 universities in the world.  I also liked the campus although I did not get to experience much of Leeds Uni in person due to the pandemic.

What key aspects of your experience at Leeds would you highlight to students thinking about coming to do the same course?

The course is small so there are lots of opportunities to get to know the whole cohort and collaborate and share ideas. There is also a sense of community at Leeds even though it is a big university.

What are your career aims (short term/long term) and do you think the MSc has prepared you for this?

The MSc has definitely prepared me for my future career aims. I have developed many new skills here and have improved on my existing skills. I would like to go into either the field of data analytics or science communication. I will take what I have learned in this course at Leeds with me.