As part of Postdoc Appreciation Week, we met with some of MDR's fantastic postdocs and fellows to discuss their research, experiences and COVID-19.
Speaking about Postdoc Appreciation Week, the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction's Postdoc and Fellow Champion, Dr Véronique Azuara said: "Postdoc Appreciation Week recognises the significant contributions that postdocs and fellows make to research, discovery, teaching and institutional culture in the department. Being a postdoc is not a career by itself but a “stepping stone” stage in a career. It can be incredibly productive but also challenging in balancing the different demands of the job and keeping a perspective on the road ahead. It is fantastic to read these three unique interviews of postdocs and fellows within our department, underlining the remarkable energy and talent they bring."
Dr Tanweer Beleil, Research Associate, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction
After a ten-year career break, I joined Dr MacIntyre and Professor Bennett’s team as a research associate at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London. This opportunity was made available to me after being awarded the Daphne Jackson Fellowship, sponsored by Imperial College London and the Genesis Research Trust.
Finding an opportunity in academic work, after such a lengthy break, was not easy, but I was determined and driven by my passion for research in the field of preterm birth. This specific area became very close to my heart after my traumatic experience of having a premature daughter who was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three.
Preterm birth is the largest cause of death of under-fives worldwide and survivors often suffer significant motor and sensory deficits, respiratory disorders and/or learning disabilities. The focus of my fellowship research is understanding the role of vaginal infection during pregnancy and determining whether and how an infection in the vagina can move up the reproductive tract to reach the amniotic sac and fetus. This will hopefully provide us with a better understanding as to how reproductive tract infections can cause preterm birth. Detailed knowledge of the mechanisms causing infection-associated preterm birth will enable advancements to be made in early diagnoses and the development of patient specific, targeted treatment approaches.
Being part of Imperial is a great experience. In addition to doing my research I get to be involved in inspiring areas such as being part of the patient-public involvement & public engagement in our research team, “Imperial As One” promoting equality, diversity and inclusion and an academic tutor involved in coaching and teaching.
The unprecedented circumstances of the lockdown were extremely challenging to say the least; increased childcare responsibilities, homeschooling for my 3 children and working from home to name a few. However, for me, it was also a time of reflection and get my priorities right in balancing attention to the wellbeing of my family and my research demands. It was a time to appreciate the blessings of having a family and the fantastic support system that I have in place, from my amazing and encouraging PI, colleagues, mentor, DJT adviser and the various workshops organised by PFDC. The skills and coping mechanisms that I’ve gained from attending the Springboard Women Programme came very useful at this time. It felt good to reciprocate, I made time to support and mentor my undergrad tutees in 1st year medical school as they went through the stressful time of doing their exams during lockdown.
Dr Evangelos Triantafyllou, Research Fellow, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction
After completing my undergraduate (Athens, Greece) and postgraduate (Bath, UK) studies, I joined the Liver Immunology group (King’s College London) led by Dr Harry Antoniades as a Research Assistant. His great enthusiasm for research and mentorship motivated me to study a PhD in Immunology (King’s College London) investigating the mechanisms of immune-mediated injury in acute liver failure, with part of my doctoral work undertaken at the University of Birmingham. I next moved to Imperial College as a Research Associate to continue post-doctoral research within the same group, having been awarded funding from Rosetrees Trust and, later on, an Imperial College Research Fellowship (ICRF).
I am currently an Imperial College Research Fellow based at the Section of Hepatology and Gastroenterology (Dep. of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction) and Centre for Inflammatory Disease (Dep. of Immunology and Inflammation). Working between two departments (and campuses) is sometimes challenging, however, it has offered me the chance to meet both clinical and basic scientists with multi-disciplinary research interests. My current work focuses on the role of peripheral monocytes and tissue macrophages in patients and experimental models of acute and chronic liver injury. Our translational research aims to develop novel immunotherapeutic strategies to prevent the immune paresis and high susceptibility to infections that are encountered in liver disease patients.
My experience at Imperial College has been very positive so far! The Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre (PFDC) have provided invaluable support through the courses/workshops (Time management, Assistant Supervisor, Lectureship applications) they organise and the one-to-one meetings (Fellowship application, CV) they offer. These have enabled me to improve lots of my skills and provided the knowledge required for my next academic steps. I highly recommend taking advantage of this support! Also, as a departmental Post Doc Representative, I've had the opportunity to co-organise with the PFDC such workshops and coffee mornings, which have proved to be ideal for networking and sharing interests and experiences with other fellow scientists.
The pandemic has clearly reduced the output of many academic labs globally and “threatened” institutional budgets and postdoctoral funding sources. This has negatively impacted most postdocs’ career prospects, creating even more uncertainty in academia! On the positive side, given that I couldn’t conduct any lab experiments, I spent most of my working-from-home time performing data analysis, writing papers, having virtual meetings with my team and attending online scientific seminars.
Dr Mariana Norton, Research Associate, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction
I undertook my BSc in Biomedical Sciences at Imperial College London where, following a SfE summer studentship position at Professor Murphy’s laboratory, I became fascinated with how the body detects nutrients and relays this information to the brain to regulate energy and glucose homeostasis. This led me to undertake a PhD, funded by the Mohammad Ghatei studentship, where I was fortunate to work with brilliant, inspiring scientists. During the last year of my PhD I came across some exciting findings that I am currently investigating during my post-doc, which is funded by Diabetes UK.
Staying in the same lab from PhD to postdoc has allowed me to hit the road running with my project. Additionally, by collaborating with other labs I have continued to expand my research skills. For example, I spent ten weeks at Duke University, North Carolina, learning new laboratory techniques and more. However, trying to mark the difference between being a post-doc and PhD was tricky at first.
When lockdown was announced we had to abruptly stop experiments and transition from the lab to the desk. This was a steep learning for all and has created even more uncertainty and competition for funding. However, the desk time did give me more time to reflect on my data, catch up on my reading and plan future experiment. It was also nice to see how everyone came together to help each other.
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