My interest in science only came about after having a family. I had a child who was hyperactive and a premature baby who needed a special diet. It wasn’t the diet itself that interested me, but how the food and medicines that we take every day affect our bodies. I didn’t know anything about human biology, because when I was at school women were not particularly encouraged to do science. So, when the children finally went to school, I undertook an ‘Access to Science’ college course based on biochemistry and genetics and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I was told not to apply for a BSc. degree at the University of Manchester because mature students from access courses hadn’t previously been accepted. I applied anyway, was accepted and achieved a 2.1 (Hons) in biomedical sciences and went on to do a PhD in cell biology. I chose this degree because it wasn’t restricted to a single speciality, so as well as covering topics that I was interested in, including pharmacology, biochemistry, molecular biology, neurobiology and cell biology, I recognsed that this would give me the chance to apply for a wider range of research positions in the future. Undertaking a degree and PhD with a growing family is difficult and you need to have a good support network, but having selected a career path I was interested in, rather than falling into it, meant this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Science is like one big continuous puzzle and we are trying to solve just a little piece. Research is both exciting and challenging, but as a career choice it is actually very competitive, so you need to be dedicated and enthusiastic. Most importantly, you need to choose the right place for you and your research. Presently I am an academic fellow in the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine at the University of Leeds. I am a cell biologist and I study how endothelial cells (specialised cells that line the blood vessels) maintain vascular health, focussing on molecular pathways that control blood clotting and inflammation. Hopefully one day we will be able to manipulate these cells in order to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease. Here at the University of Leeds, I am supported by a coach and a mentor, as well as the Institute as a whole, which means that I get the best possible advice regarding my future progress.