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Congratulations to Naomi Moris on being awarded a JRF at Newnham College

last modified May 02, 2017 11:45 AM

Perspective from Naomi Moris, 2012 BBSRC DTP student, upon completing the Programme.

I joined the BBSRC DTP at the University of Cambridge in 2012, in the first cohort of students on the Programme here. The opportunity to do rotation projects really appealed to me, as although I had experience working as a Research Assistant, I wasn’t completely sure which field or project I particularly wanted to work on. I did my first rotation at the Babraham Institute, on human embryonic stem (ES) cells, and my second rotation at the Department of PDN, on fruit fly development, where I enjoyed the in vivo application of developmental biology. Despite thoroughly enjoying my rotations, I decided to do my actual PhD project elsewhere and joined Professor Alfonso Martinez-Arias’ lab in the summer of 2013. My rotations were an invaluable experience that allowed me to explore different areas of science, but critically, they let me discover which parts of biology I most enjoyed (and which I didn’t) and, as a result, I was able to join Alfonso’s lab with a clearer idea of the questions I most wanted to pursue.

My PhD project was co-supervised by Dr Cristina Pina from the Department of Haematology, and involved examining mechanisms involved in early cell fate decisions in mouse ES cells. I’d certainly recommend the co-supervisory system to anyone starting out a PhD project which is at all cross-disciplinary. For me, it really helped to have supervisors that were experienced in different aspects of the project, and having that close mentorship definitely encouraged me to develop a more well-rounded project.

I did my PIPS in a start-up company based in Cambridge, working on developing a bioinformatic platform for NGS data analysis. I found it a big change from working in academia, especially since I was working on app development, which meant a lot of programming! The atmosphere of a busy start-up was great, I learnt lots of new skills, and pitching during client meetings made me more confident about communicating my work to others. But although I was glad to have had the challenge, it became clear to me that I wanted to stay in academia and I came back to the lab with a renewed sense of purpose.

I submitted my doctoral thesis in September 2016 and successfully defended it in a viva voce in November. I then continued in Alfonso’s lab as a Postdoctoral Research Associate for a year, allowing me time to finalise and submit a paper with my results. It also gave me some time to explore other avenues of research within the lab; applying questions like those in my thesis to a new project using a 3-dimensional ‘organoid’ culturing system, examining the mechanisms of pattern generation in a context which is more similar to a developing embryo. This new project allowed me to make fellowship applications, and I was fortunate enough to be elected a Junior Research Fellow at Newnham College in February 2017, officially starting in September.

Although people can often be quite negative about the opportunities for progression within the academic route, I would encourage anyone starting out that is possible to stay in academia after a PhD, if that’s something you really want to pursue. Funding applications can be very competitive, so the more you can take opportunities to equip yourself with skills and experience, the better your chances. I definitely think the BBSRC DTP provided me with such an opportunity, and, ultimately, the possibility of continuing a career as an academic researcher.