- Course: MBiol Biological Sciences
- Year of graduation: 2023
- Nationality: British
Welcome to a bustling, student-focused city
I was initially attracted to Leeds due to its reputation for high research impact and the wide variety of courses offered within the Faculty of Biological Sciences focusing on molecular and cellular biology. I loved how flexible the courses were, with options to switch to the Integrated Masters, attend a university abroad, or work in industry for a year.
I decided to attend one of the university open days and was impressed by the extensive research facilities on offer! All the staff were very welcoming, and the students spoke highly of their experience at Leeds. During the open day, I explored the campus and instantly fell in love with the student union. The union has everything a student could need including the Refectory to get food, a Co-op, two student bars, and even a Joblink centre to support students who want part-time work whilst studying! During my time at Leeds, I have become a regular at Old Bar, often going for a drink after orchestra rehearsals.
Having a campus so close to the city appealed to me, and it soon became clear that Leeds is a vibrant student city, and not somewhere I would easily be bored!
There are many shops and places to eat, as well as several bars along Call Lane. Although a city, Leeds has many green spaces, including Woodhouse Moor Park and my favourite, Roundhay Park. Leeds is only a short train journey away from Knaresborough, Hebden Bridge and Harrogate, all fantastic places for a day trip outside of the city.
Be sure to follow your passions
Initially, I found choosing a course very difficult as, although Biology was my favourite subject during A-levels, I was never particularly interested in Ecology-based topics. After researching the different courses available at Leeds, I was excited by those offered by the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. When I attended the open day talk on Biological Sciences, I knew this was the perfect course for me!
I have always preferred learning about science at the cellular level and the opportunity to start on a relatively broad course and specialise in further years based on my developing interests appealed to me. There was also the opportunity to choose discovery modules ranging from languages all the way to beer-making! I applied for the four-year integrated Masters as I was keen to undertake the extended six-month research project.
There was also the opportunity to choose discovery modules ranging from languages all the way to beer-making!
During the first couple of years, I attended many lectures covering a range of topics, including molecular oncology, bacteriology, and virology. I enjoyed most modules, but the molecular virology modules fascinated me, prompting me to pursue a final-year research project on this topic. During my third and fourth years, I had several group projects with students from different courses, such as Biochemistry and Microbiology.
This multidisciplinary approach to teaching was great, as it enabled us to investigate scientific questions using a much wider range of techniques. Working with students on different degree programmes encouraged me to approach problems in different ways and prepared me for working in a lab where people have different expertise.
During my first year of study, I was awarded the Dean’s Excellence Scholarship. This was an automatic scholarship awarded to undergraduate applicants based on their A-level results. This scholarship supported me during my first year, providing the financial means to focus on my studies, making friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities, including the university orchestra.
Collaboration is the key to success
There have been many highlights throughout my time at Leeds! I enjoyed the small-group teaching in tutorials and skills-based modules. During these sessions, I developed a wide range of skills, including critical analysis of scientific literature, and problem-solving and presenting skills.
I also enjoyed the group projects, particularly in the third year, where I had the opportunity to collaborate with students from different degree programmes.
I also enjoyed the group projects, particularly in the third year, where I had the opportunity to collaborate with students from different degree programmes. During this project, we worked in the research labs, and used a range of techniques, including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), surface plasmon resonance (SPR), and both confocal and widefield microscopy! We then collaborated to produce a group report in the style of a scientific paper and to present our results to other teams.
Another highlight of my course was attending the lunchtime virology seminars, where PhD students, post-docs and research technicians presented their current research. It was very exciting to hear about the cutting-edge science occurring at the university!
My favourite part of the course was writing a literature review on bunyaviruses and using this to support me in my final-year research project!
A research project tackling a real-world problem
My final-year project involved researching a bunyavirus called Bunyamwera virus. Bunyaviruses infect diverse vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants, and several members are associated with severe human disease.
Bunyaviruses are typically spread by arthropod vectors, including mosquitoes, sandflies, and ticks. Worryingly, the geographical range of these vectors is increasing due to global warming, causing the emergence of bunyaviruses in new regions. In 2017, the World Health Organisation identified several bunyaviruses as high-priority pathogens likely to cause epidemics, highlighting the urgent requirement for effective antiviral drugs.
A highlight of this project was using a widefield microscope, which allowed me to visualise fluorescently labelled proteins in virus-infected cells!
During my project, I investigated bunyavirus-host cell interactions. Specifically, I researched how Bunyamwera virus hijacks coat protein I (COPI) vesicles, which are important for transporting proteins and lipids in cells. Throughout this project, I was taught several molecular virology techniques and had regular meetings with my supervisor, Dr John Barr, who offered guidance and advice. My lab group also had weekly lab meetings where we discussed our results. Lab meetings were a great opportunity for me to learn about wider research occurring in the lab, and to ask for advice when unsure about an experiment. A highlight of this project was using a widefield microscope, which allowed me to visualise fluorescently labelled proteins in virus-infected cells!
The facilities at Leeds are state-of-the-art. During my project, I used the aforementioned widefield microscope, which enabled me to capture fluorescent images of virus-infected cells. I then processed these images and analysed them to help answer my research question. Using the widefield microscope was definitely a highlight of my project!
As well as the extensive laboratory facilities on offer at Leeds, there are also four libraries. My favourite library is Laidlaw, where I became a regular customer at the ground floor Caffè Nero during dissertation write-up season.
On the road to a PhD
During the summer of my third year at university, I undertook an eight-week research project at the University of Leeds within Dr Juan Fontana’s lab under the supervision of Dr Samantha Hover. This project was part of the Dean’s Vacation Research Scholarship, funded by the University of Leeds.
During my project, I researched the role of cellular transport pathways within the mammalian lifecycle of Influenza A virus. I learnt molecular virology techniques and trained on the confocal microscope so that I could acquire fluorescent images of virus-infected cells. At the end of my project, I had the opportunity to present my work to other PhD students and post-docs- this project was definitely a highlight from my time at Leeds!
Throughout my time at Leeds, I have developed a keen interest in virus-host cell interactions. My summer internship and final-year research project helped me to realise that I want to pursue a research-based career in this area. I am very excited to continue researching bunyaviruses during my PhD at the University of Cambridge.
Thank you to everyone in the Barr and Fontana labs for making my time at Leeds so enjoyable and for helping me to develop the skills necessary to be successful in the PhD application process.
Adapt and overcome!
Like many students graduating this year, the greatest challenge throughout my course was undoubtedly the pandemic. Although this was a difficult time, I adapted to the online teaching approach offered by the university. This included live online lectures, which often had the bonus of guest appearances, most notably Professor Randall’s cats. Exams were delivered in an online, open-book format, which I preferred as they allowed me to focus on producing higher quality pieces of work with more original thought, rather than memorising information.
Due to social distancing measures, practical laboratory modules instead focused on experimental planning which proved useful for my final year research project, when I worked more independently to plan my experiments. I also attended the additional catch-up lab sessions when it was safe to do so.
Students have the same personal tutor throughout their time at Leeds; this was great as it helped me to feel comfortable approaching my tutor for support.
Throughout the pandemic, I was supported by my personal tutor, who arranged regular one-to-one teams meeting with all tutees. Students have the same personal tutor throughout their time at Leeds; this was great as it helped me to feel comfortable approaching my tutor for support. If your tutor can’t directly help you, they will be able to direct you to somebody that can! My personal tutor was always happy to provide guidance throughout my time at Leeds and encouraged me to apply for summer internships to further my interest in virology.