What first inspired you to pursue science at third level?
I have always been a curious person. I never just accepted anything, I always wanted to know how and why something was the way it was. So I suppose you can say I’ve always had the essential traits of a scientist.
I chose to study biology and chemistry for my Leaving Cert because I knew early on that I would ultimately study science at third level. The minute I walked into our first biology class in fifth year I fell in love with the subject. I remember the first thing my teacher, Ms O’Doherty, said to us that September in 2011 was “Congratulations, you’ve all picked the best and most interesting subject” – and she was right! I was hooked – I loved studying biology, to the point where I actively had to tell myself to stop and give time to my other subjects.
My two favourite topics in Leaving Cert Biology were “The Immune System”, which describes how cells and proteins protect us against foreign bodies and cancerous cells, and “Cellular Respiration/Metabolism” which describes the set of biochemical pathways that are used to extract energy from nutrients for crucial cellular processes like protein synthesis and DNA replication. Now, 9 years later I’m doing my PhD in the relatively new field of Immuno-metabolism, which has uncovered that changes in cellular metabolic processes can influence the activation and function of particular immune cells – merging my two favourite topics!
For me, Ms O’Doherty was one of the first and biggest influences on me and the decisions I’ve made regarding my career path. She instigated my love for immuno-metabolism, before it even emerged in the research field. I am so grateful for her guidance and enthusiasm which have led to me where I am now.
Any stand out moments or learnings from working with Prof. Luke O’Neill?
During the penultimate summer of my Undergraduate Degree I worked alongside Dr. Zbigniew Zaslona (Z), a post-doctoral researcher for Prof. Luke O’Neill. This was the first time I worked in a basic research lab and got to learn from scientists (both post-doctoral researchers and PhD students) making cutting edge discoveries. Z trained me to perform experiments independently, which after weeks of troubleshooting and hard work led to the generation of results that were included in a publication in the Journal of Immunology – my very first scientific publication.
Here is a link to the research article (https://www.jimmunol.org/content/198/9/3558/tab-article-info).
That summer, Prof. O’Neill was awarded with a Fellowship of the Royal Society, the oldest known scientific academy in existence. His lab, including me, were invited to a celebration that was organised by the Provost of Trinity College Dublin and held in the Senior Common Room in Front Square. Here we heard of Prof. O’Neill’s achievements as an academic, how he has contributed to biochemistry and immunology research and how this research has sparked the formation of multiple biotech companies leading to the generation of targeted therapies for inflammatory and metabolic disorders.
This summer was certainly a turning point for me and my career. Having spoken with Prof. O’Neill, I decided that I wanted to do a PhD in immuno-metabolism, realised that I would love to pursue a career in academia and I uncovered another layer of excitement in science – the excitement of discovery.
Why the interest in Human Health and Disease?
I chose to study Human Health and Disease because of its interdisciplinary nature, to gain an understanding of a broad range of scientific themes and to inspire and direct me to where I am today. Looking back, I can appreciate how this course has helped me further my career, but would also look impressive to employers in a variety of sectors. For me, the research project provided invaluable laboratory experience but also taught me transferrable skills in giving presentations, statistical analysis and project management, giving its graduates that advantage to succeed in many professions.
What does the future hold for you career wise…in a perfect world?
In a very perfect world, I aspire to lead my own research team.
When I complete my PhD I will apply for some research grants to complete my post-doctoral training in another lab possibly in England. Here I will broaden my research network and gain new skills with an up and coming cutting-edge technology. I hope to bring these skills back to Ireland to further Irish Research and Innovation. Trinity College Dublin is currently one of the leaders in Immunometabolism research in Europe with Principal Investigators such as Lydia Lynch, David Finlay and Luke O’Neill. I hope that I can contribute to Trinity’s research status some day with my own discoveries.
What advice would you give to a young person still at school who is considering a future in science?
I would say what Ms O’Doherty said to me – “It’s the best and most interesting subject”. I will always encourage young people to pursue a career in science. It’s very exciting, every single day is different and you’re constantly learning. In the first year of my PhD I got one piece of advice that has stuck with me. “It’s important to work hard, but you must work strategically”. As a scientist it’s important to plan experiments and understand what each experiment will tell you – there’s no point in mindlessly doing experiments that will not contribute to your understanding of your research project. If you’re excited and prepared to work hard and strategically, then absolutely go for it!