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Programme Alumni

Meet our Alumni!

Two cohorts of students have completed the BBSRC DTP Programme at the University of Cambridge. They have had a tremendous experience within the Programme–bespoke training courses, research in different laboratories and thus opportunities to network and collaborate, a non-academic internship to experience life outside of Higher Education and cohort-building activities. In addition, we are proud of the experiences offered to them through their Department, College and the wider University.

Our alumni have remained in Higher Education in Postdoc and other positions and joined the scientific publishing, pharmaceutical and teaching sectors. Many also complete the Programme with an enterprising spirit and business development experience and have formed companies with fellow DTP or Cambridge colleagues.


Alumna Naomi Moris

2012 Cohort

Naomi MorisNaomi completed rotation projects with Dr Peter Rugg-Gunn at the Babraham Institute and Professor Sarah Bray in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. She completed her PhD research in the Department of Genetics with Professor Alfonso Martinez-Arias. Her thesis, Cell fate decisions at the exit of pluripotency. The role of epigenetics and transcriptional heterogeneity., was submitted in September 2016. Naomi completed her internship at Genestack, where she developed an interactive clinical report application.

Naomi's perspective 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. 


Alumnus Greg Mellers 

2012 Cohort

Greg completed rotation projects with Dr Nick Gosman at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and Professor Beverley Glover in the Department of Plant Sciences. He completed his PhD research with Professor Glover and his thesis, The evolution of morphological diversity in Gorteria diffusa, was submitted in September 2016. Greg completed his internship at Oxford Scientific Films, where he worked as a researcher for a BBC2 programme.

Greg's perspective upon completing the Programme:

Joining the BBSRC DTP in 2012 I had no idea where I wanted to do my PhD. I had an undergraduate degree in Plant Sciences and a master’s degree in Systems Biology so wanted to try and combine these two skill sets. At the start of the DTP, students have two rotation projects in different labs designed to give you a sample of the types of work in the University, as well as to broaden your knowledge of lab techniques. I completed my two DTP rotations at NIAB and the Department of Plant Sciences. In my first rotation I learnt how to carry out a GWAS with wheat pathogen effector protein experiments. This allowed me to use some of the R knowledge and more holistic approaches from my master’s degree. In my second rotation I worked toward understanding the generation of structural colour in Hibiscus trionum. This taught me tissue culture techniques as well as the key principles of molecular development that I had only studied in theory before.

I decided to stay on in the Department of Plant Sciences following my second rotation and began work on the South African daisy species Gorteria diffusa. This species is unique as it uses the only known method of sexually deceptive pollination outside of the Orchid family. The species has darkly-pigmented spots on the flower’s petals which vary in complexity. Some of these, with bubble-wrap like structures known as papillae that rise above the petal’s surface, reflect light in a manner that mimics female bee-flys. The young, male bee-flys perceive the flower’s spots as a female and will attempt to copulate with the spot, becoming covered in pollen and subsequently flying away only to be deceived again, facilitating cross-pollination. My PhD research centred on understanding the micro-evolution of this phenotype within the species as well as the molecular mechanisms underpinning the construction of such a complex phenotype. 

During the DTP scheme students are presented with an opportunity to undertake an internship in a scientific position outside of the University. For my internship I was lucky enough to work on a BBC2 documentary entitled “Carol Klein’s Plant Odysseys”. This TV show focused on the evolution and cultural history of four common garden flowers; irises, roses, waterlilies and tulips. It was a great opportunity to think about how to portray evolution to a public audience. The internship also taught me valuable presentation and communication skills, as well as how to navigate the Tube at rush hour!    

I submitted my PhD thesis in September of 2016 and then went on to do a short postdoc role in my PhD lab for three months. During this time I got the opportunity to teach the new student on my project most of the things I had learnt in my time there. During this period I applied for postdoc positions around the UK and in the US and was lucky enough to get a job at NIAB, back where I did my very first rotation in Cambridge. I now work on two main projects. The first is using South American wheat varieties in a search for improved resistance to Fusarium, a devastating pathogen in Brazilian farming. The second focuses on identifying genes responsible for variation in transpiration and photosynthetic rates of field grown wheat varieties. These projects bring together both components of my rotation projects and my molecular PhD research. The DTP therefore left me well trained to carry out academic research across multiple disciplines within Plant Science.

Hibiscus Trionum (Greg Meller alumnus profile) Jan 2018
Hibiscus trionum
Gorteria Diffusa (Greg Meller alumnus profile) Jan 2018
Gorteria diffusa