Toby Allington resized

Toby Allington

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An Open Day revelation 

I was unsure which degree to take until I attended the open day. I was considering Maths, Biology, and Medicine and went to lectures on them in that order. After attending the Biology one, I was won over by the exciting lab facilities, field trips, and career opportunities, so I cancelled my remaining talks and went home early. I enrolled in the MBiol integrated Masters course, as I knew I was going to like academia due to my passion for learning and realized that if I changed my mind, it is easier to drop out than it is to get into the Masters program. 

Developing as a scientist 

Scientific thinking is the priority of every aspect of my course. We are taught content in our first and second year to give us a foundation while developing research and literature skills before our third and fourth year, where we are doing independent research with unknown results. Most modules revolve around free-thinking and critiquing science. The way the course built me up to where I am now has been subtle and enjoyable, but also prepared me very well to continue in the scientific field. 

Scientific thinking is the priority of every aspect of my course.

Inspiring lecturers 

The lecturers are brilliant. Every lecturer will be thrilled by a student asking an insightful question at the end of a seminar or talk and will engage in a great discussion. They are all clearly passionate about their research but also have an open mind and would love to tell you more and listen to your ideas. 

The joy of discovery 

My final project is about plant parasite resistance in coffee. Focusing on one species of nematode that infects the plant roots, I grew different varieties of coffee and infected them, noticing some plants were more resistant than others. I sequenced the RNA of the most resistant and most susceptible plants and looked at the genes being expressed in the roots and leaves to get an idea of what might make one plant more resistant. I identified numerous candidate genes that could be associated with resistance and did some phenotyping to verify this. Some genes were associated with cell wall biosynthesis, and I ordered mutants in the model species, Arabidopsis, and infected them with nematodes to see if disrupting these genes' expression increases infection.  

I also took an interest in the production pathway of the biochemical, nerolidol. I am seeing how nematodes directly interact with this compound, as well as what applying it to infected roots does. 

Gaining real research experience in the labs 

The labs are perfect. You get to use expensive equipment that real researchers use daily. This sets you up with appropriate skills for your future, as well as being really cool to learn for the first time. I have taken advantage of the wisdom of my lab during my project. Getting stuck into my work and the literature around it let me come up with exciting new theories to discuss with my supervisors. This was the most exciting when I discovered nerolidol's potential role in parasite resistance. No one had looked into this yet, so my supervisor ordered me the chemical and made sure I had adequate equipment to do my experiments. 

Overcoming challenges 

The thought of writing one piece of work worth 80 credits as my master's research project is daunting. I am in the lab every day working towards this, but it is hard to feel 'on-track' since it is such a credit-dense final write up. Focusing on just doing good science throughout my project helped deal with this anxiety a bit as I know that if I get good results, I can write something well. This allowed me to focus on following research threads and pushing the edges of the field instead of worrying about my deadline.  

My supervisors support me by encouraging me to write up as much as I can as I go, as I get results from one experiment, writing good notes on it before I progress to the next. 

I got an academic scholarship in my first year and recieve a hardship fund continuously. This enables me to focus on university not side jobs . 

Transforming passion into excellence: studying for a PhD

I secured a PhD to continue studying Plant Science at Royal Holloway through the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Scheme (LIDo). My project is industry sponsored by Syngenta and will involve me using their facilities across Europe to collect data for my thesis as part of a placement year. I will be researching gene families in tomato species associated with better flavour by assessing volatile biochemical production within novel genetic lines of domestic tomatoes with the hope of working towards better products for consumers to enjoy, perhaps encouraging a healthier, vegetable-full diet. 

The integrated master's program set me up perfectly to pursue a PhD; my supervisor and personal tutor assisted with my application, gave me great advice and provided thoughtful references. All of the research and lab skills that developed throughout my degree certainly helped make me a more qualified candidate for a PhD and importantly, my lab project and the future prospects of the research in my thesis gave me impressive talking points to discuss in my interviews. Perhaps most potently, my master's project made me feel confident in my ability and passion as a scientist - having a year working on a long-term project ensured I knew another four years of study was for me and showed me exactly what I should be looking for in a lab (a friendly workspace with great communication and teamwork).

The integrated master's program set me up perfectly to pursue a PhD; my supervisor and personal tutor assisted with my application, gave me great advice and provided thoughtful references.

The broadness of the Biology course at Leeds is what drew me towards it in the first place so as you may imagine the most exciting part about my PhD is the focus on interdisciplinary research. During my first year, I will have regular lectures and seminars relating to all areas of STEM so that I am further moulded into an open-minded, flexible scientist. As part of my project, I will be using biochemical techniques and I am ecstatic to be learning how to use this new equipment.

The MBiol in particular is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a cutting-edge scientific research project. It provides a fast way to develop technical skills and scientific thinking and is an excellent taste for a job in research. It not only helped with my employability but made me confident that I want a job in science. The most outstanding part of the program was my supervisor who oversees a welcoming and friendly lab of researchers, I wholeheartedly recommend pursuing a research project in a field you are interested in with a lecturer who works for your personal learning style.