As every pathway to a PhD is different, we asked some of our PhD students about their individual journeys - from finding funding to advice they would give to someone thinking about applying for their own PhD. 


Lauren Headley

Lauren Headley

What is your PhD about? 

The methods of diagnosing and assessing asthma are pretty complicated and can be invasive and aren’t always accurate. So for me, the goal is to make a sampling method where we can just analyse it and tell people you need to be on this medication or this isn’t going to work for you, just to simplify the process, making it much easier for patients and doctors and ultimately not see people suffer. 

Who are you funded by? Was it easy finding your funding?  

I went on the FindaPhD website which found my MRC/Asthma UK joint PhD on it. It was one of the more straightforward applications I’ve done. I had to send over my CV then have a Skype interview. How easy it is all depends on the funding you’re applying for and the research group.

What were you doing before starting your PhD? 

Before coming here I did my undergraduate degree at King’s College London which I extended into an MSci that was Integrated Physiology and Pharmacology for ResearchHowever in order to do the BSc I had to do an Access course as I didn’t actually have A Levels. I applied to a few universities for two different courses and I got offers from King’s and London Southbank which I thought was miraculous. It always seemed like it was A Levels or nothing, I was offered a place and I really enjoyed it. 

Why did you choose Imperial? 

After completing my BSc in Pharmacology at King’s College London I actually had a PhD lined up in Australia. It was my dream to go out there but my husband said he didn’t want to go! I told him that I would apply for this PhD at Imperial, thinking I was never going to get it so we could still go to Australia…but then I ended up getting it! It’s been such an amazing opportunity; I never could have dreamed of coming here.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a PhD? 

Go for it! The skills that you learn are so transferable, and if you enjoy learning and education, a PhD is perfect.

Read more from Lauren who visited her old school to inspire the next generation of women in STEM.


Karim Boustani

Karim Boustani

What is your PhD about?  

For my PhD I’m looking at the role the antibody response plays in asthma and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) – a lung disease that scars the lungs  and specifically why some types of antibodies are increased in patients with these diseases. I want to investigate why we find some types of B cells in the airways in the first place. If we can understand how these cells are contributing to inflammation and disease, we can hopefully target them with treatments.  

Who are you funded by? Was it easy finding your funding?  

I am funded by an Asthma UK studentship as part of the Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma. After completing my MSc in Immunology at Imperial, I knew I wanted to study respiratory immunology at PhD level so I decided to apply.  

What were you doing before starting your PhD? 

I did my undergraduate degree London in Biochemistry at Kings College London and then I moved to Imperial to do an MSc in Immunology.

Why did you choose Imperial? 

I was already at Imperial for a year doing my MSc and I really liked it, and I knew I wanted to work within the field of immunology and lung inflammation. I knew Imperial had an excellent department so I thought I’d apply.  

Do you have any advice for someone considering a PhD? 

The advice that I would give to anyone thinking about doing a PhD would be to get a feel of the lab and supervisor beforehand if possible. If you can, go and meet with the principal investigator, go for an informal chat, go and see the labs, and see if they have all the equipment and funding you might want or need.  

Read more from Karim in his blog on LGBT diversity in STEM.


Helen Stölting

Helen Stoelting

What is your PhD about?  

My PhD centres around remodelling of the lung during asthma or allergic airway disease during early life, looking at both school-age children with asthma, but also pre-school wheezing in the chest which happens before thatA lot of children who have pre-school wheeze go on to develop asthma later in life, but some of them don’t and at the moment we don’t really know why that is. 

Who are you funded by? Was it easy finding your funding?  

The British Lung Foundation (BLF). My MSc research project supervisor already had funding secured for PhD students through her larger research grant and she helped guide me through the application process which was really helpful.

What were you doing before starting your PhD? 

I did my undergraduate degree in Molecular Biomedicine at the University of Bonn in Germany and then I took a year out to do some internships at Bayer, a German biomedical company, and also worked in some university labs. This was a really helpful experience as it made me realise that I don’t want to work in industry! I really enjoyed the project I did as part of my MSc in Immunology at Imperial. I had half a year of lectures and then completed my research project with Professor Clare Lloyd, whose group I am working in now. 

Why did you choose Imperial? 

It was actually more down to chance! I knew I wanted to study Immunology and in Germany there are a couple of universities that are renowned for Immunology, and one of those was where I did my undergraduate degree. I knew I didn’t necessarily want to stay in the same city or at the same university so I started applying to places abroad and Imperial’s MSc just looked really interesting. They had a scholarship which was easy to apply for, and even though I didn’t get it, I still came and I don’t regret it. 

Do you have any advice for someone considering a PhD? 

It’s difficult to say now because I’m still quite early in, but I think your heart has to be in it. There will be some difficult times somewhere along the line and if you’re not enjoying research, don’t do it. But I do think anyone can do it if you set your mind to it.  

Read more about Helen and her research.


Nicoletta Bruno

Nicoletta Bruno

What is your PhD about? 

I’m looking at steroid resistant asthma in particular, both in animals and humans. I’m looking at the asthma types that are not strictly related to allergy and that are more resistant to the current therapies. It’s more about identifying which mechanisms are going on because there’s not much known about it, and when we learn more it will make a difference.

Who are you funded by? Was it easy finding your funding?  

I found my MRC-Asthma UK studentship on the FindaPhD website. It was a fairly easy application process – I just had to send a cover letter and my CV, and the interview was quite straightforward compared to other interviews I’ve had.

What were you doing before starting your PhD? 

I studied my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology in Bologna, Italy, then I completed a MSc in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in both Bologna and in Munich, Germany. I then worked as a research assistant in Cambridge at the Sanger Institute for two years before deciding that I wanted to do a PhD. 

Why did you choose Imperial? 

It’s quite funny actually, I applied and didn’t really know that Imperial had such a good reputation for research! It was only once I started that I realised how lucky I was.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a PhD? 

It needs commitment and it can be stressful but it’s worth it. It’s good because you keep challenging yourself all the time and you have to keep up to date on what everyone else is doing. You need to be motivated because you don’t get paid much and you still have to work at weekends. But you get to work with clinicians and that’s quite unique as you don’t get to do that with many other places in Europe. Here you get clinicians working alongside pure scientists and you can learn from each other. 


Yunguan Tian

Yunguan Tian

What is your PhD about? 

I’m looking at genetics and environment, recreating the onset of pre-school wheeze and the progression to asthma. The approach of my project is to set up an animal model using virus to induce a viral response which will make the mice susceptible to asthma. 

Who are you funded by? Was it easy finding your funding?  

My funding is from Asthma UK which I came across on the British Society of Immunology website. I think the scholarship was also advertised on the Imperial website too. I found the application process very straightforward. I didn’t actually apply for this one initially but it was suggested to me that I apply for this PhD instead. I didn’t think I was ready for this but when I had a closer look into it, I thought it sounded really interesting so it all worked out well. 

What were you doing before starting your PhD? 

When I was at high school in Singapore I decided that I wanted to study at a university in London so I applied for an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences at University College London. I then did my MSc in Immunology here at Imperial and was a research assistant over at Imperial College’s Hammersmith campus before starting my PhD.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a PhD? 

Talk to postdocs because they are in a really interesting position – they’ve already done their PhD so can talk about their experience and at the same time they are still working up the ladder, so they are a very good source of advice. 


Tankut Guney

What is you PhD about?

Tankut looks through microscope

For my PhD I am developing three dimensional models of the airways called bronchospheres from human airway cells.  The inner lining of these bronchospheres change to functional mucous producing cells and beating ciliated cells as you would find in the human lung. The similarity to the human airways makes the model perfect for studying the development and treatments for diseases such as asthma and COPD.

Why did you choose NHLI?

I was originally working here as a technician while I was deciding where I wanted to do my PhD. I found the NHLI is a very well-funded incredibly well connected institute with some of the top experts in the field. This wealth of expertise allows for a particularly stimulating educational environment and the support was second to none-if you get lost in your project there is probably someone in the institute that can help you or knows the answer. Therefore I decided to stay. 

What is good about the student experience at NHLI?

As well as the educational benefits I mentioned earlier, the pastoral care at the NHLI is amazing. The supervisors here really care about the development of their students. As well as this there are multiple socials allowing academics to meet each other and encouragement to present your work at conferences.

Tank shows a boy an experiment

The institute itself supports outreach programmes to disseminate the knowledge acquired through our research to the public. Public engagement is really enjoyable and really worthwhile allowing you broaden your horizons by considering how your research is affecting those outside of the laboratory environment.

For example one of the outreach projects I am involved in is teaching experiments to A-level and GCSE students over the course of a day. I find that we have very interesting discussions and the students get to consider their own course from a different perspective.

Would you recommend studying at NHLI?

I am a bit biased I guess but I can honestly say yes!


Abel Tesfai 

Why did you chose NHLI?

Abel

I was initially drawn to the NHLI because of highly cited papers by Professor Peter Barnes and the general quality of research conducted by NHLI staff.  However, during my MRes at Imperial, I quickly became aware of Professor Jane Mitchell, who was trained under Sir John Robert Vane (Nobel Laureat) and Dr Gilberto De Nucci. 

This lead to an interest in sepsis and inflammation in a group largely defined by work on cardiothoracic pharmacology, as an overarching theme. Wanting to be at the forefront of research into cardiovascular and intensive care medicine, I chose to continue my research at NHLI. 

What is your PhD on?

My research is about 'Understanding the link between amino acids and vascular function in cardiovascular inflammation and sepsis'.

What is the best thing about studying at NHLI? 

The excellence in supervision and the relationships built with colleagues during my six month MRes project was a major pull for staying at NHLI beyond my MRes.  As a PhD student, I have become exposed to different facets of research ranging from standard in-vitro procedures to clinical research and even bioinformatics.

What does a student representative do? 

As a student representative, I am here to acknowledge the need for a cohesive student culture within Imperial. The beginnings of this culture are being realised through the NHLI committee but we will continue to do better to make being a PhD student as fun and inclusive as possible so as to enrich student experience and serve as a model for how the rest of Imperial College should operate. The real challenge is introducing students to one another and enriching the student experience.  This requires student representatives, working within the framework of a committee, to channel funds from Imperial College and help build an environment where these kinds of interactions are encouraged. Taking the initiative and developing activities for students, without the need for funding, is also a crucial role that needs to be undertaken.

Why would you recommend undertaking a PhD with NHLI?

Being part of cutting edge research and working with world leading experts in respiratory and cardiovascular medicine is the number one reason for being a student at NHLI and Imperial College in general.  However it’s also important to appreciate that the quality of supervision provided here helps early stage scientists find their footing. This will hopefully lead to the next generation of scientists who will be tasked with building on the work of their predecessors and finding innovative solutions to unanswered questions.