Research in Medicine

By Elaine Duncan

I’m Elaine and I’m a first year PhD student at the University of Glasgow. In my research, I am trying to make a new animal-free model which could be used to develop new medicines to treat type 2 diabetes.

At school, I always knew I wanted to do “something science-y” – I just didn’t know what! I did some work experience in a hospital and although I liked the idea of helping people, I learned I was far more interested in the science behind-the-scenes rather than the direct patient contact. I did a very broad undergraduate degree at university where I eventually specialised in genetics, and then applied for a graduate job with Charles River, a company that works on behalf of clients to develop new medicines.

I absolutely loved working in drug discovery! Despite not knowing much about the field before I started, I stayed with the company for 3 years and grew so much as a scientist and a person. The decision to leave and start a PhD was very difficult, however I came across an opportunity that felt perfect for me. As a student on the LifETIMECDT programme, I get to work on my own research project while also receiving training as part of a team of other students with the shared goal of improving the drug discovery industry.

I work in a tissue culture hood to stop my cells becoming contaminated

I’m only a few months into my PhD journey, so most of my time has been spent learning new techniques in the lab and reading to better understand the background to my work. So far, I’ve been growing the cells I want to use in my model and designing biosensors to tell us whether or not the drugs are working. In the future, I hope to combine these elements to make a model which can be used to screen lots of potential new medicines.

Looking at cells through a microscope

If you’re interested in a career in research, the best thing I can recommend is to talk to people who work in the area and, if you can, get some experience for yourself. Biology is a practical subject and I believe an ability to think creatively and troubleshoot problems is far more important than being able to remember a list of facts. There are lots of work experience programmes for school and university students, and shadowing researchers is a great way to find out if you enjoy the environment.