Emma Burman, BSc Biological Sciences

Emma Burman

My Work Placement 

My placement was initially with a startup company called Puridify. A few months into my placement Puridify were acquired by GE Healthcare which provided me with a unique experience. At this point, I had worked in 3 different lab environments: academic, as part of a startup and as part of a global industrial company. I learnt a lot of transferable skills and developed myself as a scientist.  I think that attaining work experience as part of your degree is important because it makes you more employable upon graduation and gives you the chance to experience working in an industrial environment.

Since completing my year in industry I have volunteered within the Faculty of Biological Sciences to support students making their applications to industrial placements. I find this to be rewarding because I know how much the students appreciate to talk to someone who has already been through the process. 

The Jennifer Rowles Summer Studentship Scheme

One of the highlights for me during my time at Leeds was when I was carrying out a lab project with Dr Ian Wood as part of the Jennifer Rowles summer studentship scheme. The project allowed me to explore the epigenetics underlying microglia activation. Inflammation and activation of microglia have been strongly linked to neurodegenerative diseases which is a field that interests me. During my time in the lab I also volunteered at the Great Yorkshire show and engaged with the public about my project and taught them about neuroscience.

Why Biological Sciences was the right fit

The Biological Sciences course exposes you to a broad range of biological sciences topic in your first year of study and allows you to gradually specify as you progress through the course. This was perfect for me because I knew that I wanted to study biological sciences but was initially unsure what area I wanted to specialise in. Leeds also have a fantastic employability team that provide resources to help you decide what you would like to do after completing your degree and advise you when applying to industrial placements. 

My own research project

The element of my course that I enjoyed the most was my practical dissertation project with Dr Edwin Chen. I enjoyed being able to apply the knowledge that I had learnt in lectures to a laboratory-based research project. My dissertation project focused on the molecular mechanisms underpinning a group of pre-leukemic disorders called myeloproliferative neoplasms. 

These are a group of pre-leukemic disorders caused by mutations within hematopoietic stem cells that facilitate the overproduction of myeloid lineage mature blood cells. My project focused on a mutant form of a protein called calreticulin (CALR) and how CALR contributes to the oncogenic phenotype. I built on previous work that had been done in the lab. 

My project looked at whether perturbing intracellular Zn2+ levels could be combined with JAK2 inhibition (the current front-line treatment) to improve MPN therapy. It is known that CALR can bind to Zn2+ but it was unknown whether this interaction with Zn2+ was necessary for the oncogenic transformation. Practical skills that I developed during my project included mammalian tissue culture, flow cytometry, lentivirus production, CRISPRi, western blotting and quantitative PCR. 
I enjoyed it so much that I have just accepted a PhD position at the UCL Cancer Institute working in the same field.

I’ve secured a PhD position 

I have just accepted a PhD offer at the UCL Cancer Institute funded by cancer research UK. After my PhD I can see myself as a postdoctoral research scientist. Dr Ian Wood and Dr Edwin Chen have both helped me with my PhD applications and provided advice and support throughout my decision to pursue a PhD. I am very grateful to them both as they were incredibly helpful.

During my PhD interviews, I had a lot of interest in my dissertation project and was asked to explain it. I learnt a lot of key skills from my research project that will benefit my future research career. These skills include practical techniques but also my confidence to present my work and talk to others about science. I have learnt to be more independent in the lab and how to organise my time efficiently to increase my productivity in the lab.

Facilities on offer at Leeds

The library contains different areas to suit different people’s styles of working. I personally like to work in quiet areas, but there are also areas designed for group work and computer clusters if you need to use specific software that requires a licence. As well as my dissertation and summer project I have also attained some unpaid laboratory experience in Professor Richard Bayliss’ lab which he kindly organised for me. I like that at Leeds the staff are approachable and will encourage you to seek out new experiences to develop your skillset. Another example of this is my education internship which I carried out with Dr David Lewis on young people’s attitudes towards animal experimentation. My work placement allowed me to improve my data analysis skills. 

Neural Networks Society

I joined the neural networks society to explore my interest in neuroscience. This gave me exposure to topics that are not covered in my biological sciences course and the opportunity to meet new people with similar interests to myself.