My UEA Story: Jessica Meades
Name: Jessica Meades
School: Biological Sciences
Research area: My PhD is in cardiovascular research and early stage drug discovery. The title for my research project is ‘The Allosteric Modulation of P2X Ion Channels’.
Bio: My project focuses on purinergic signalling in the body and I’m interested in finding novel drug compounds that have therapeutic potential to treat high blood pressure. Specifically, I am studying a purinergic receptor called P2X4 – a ligand gated ion channel (LGIC) activated by extracellular ATP. I do this by utilising a variety of methods to study the effect of novel drugs on this receptor via calcium signalling and electrical recording techniques. Additionally, I can test the effect of these drugs on flow-dependant vasodilation in mouse arteries – this allows me to a see if these drug candidates can indeed stimulate artery dilation by activating the P2X4 receptor. In the future I aspire to work for a pharmaceutical company in cardiovascular research but I would like to keep my options open. In my last year of study I will undergo a placement with my industrial partner Merck which will hopefully better prepare me for deciding which career path I will follow after completing my PhD.
What is life as a postgraduate student at UEA like? Describe a typical day
At the start of my day I commute into work by bike. I always enjoy this part of my morning (if it’s not raining too hard) as it gives me time to recite my aims for the day. After this I would either go straight to work or head to the UEA Sportspark gym for a morning workout. Once at the office I go over my plan for the day with a cup of coffee and then get stuck into work. Most of the time this involves hands-on lab work with some afternoons reserved for reading and data analysis. My work schedule is often changing to suit when I plan my experiments so it is very flexible. During the day I like to listen to our lab radio or chat with my colleagues when I’m having a break. Ultimately, as the working week comes to an end I like to head to the pub with my colleagues to celebrate another week of successful (or not so successful) research!
Why did you choose UEA?
I chose to study for my PhD at UEA for a number of reasons. My main reason was that the project and techniques involved sounded very exciting to me, not to mention the collaboration with a pharmaceutical company. As to why I chose UEA, I was already very familiar with UEA, having studied here as an undergraduate, and therefore already knew what a wonderful place UEA was to study. In particular, I love how close UEA is to large parkland and the lake, as well as the facilities provided such as the Sportspark. I am also very fond of Norwich as a city, with its beautiful architecture, many independent shops and cafes and stunning art galleries, one of which is just next to my office (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts).
Any tips for choosing a project / supervisor?
Finding a good supervisor for your project is extremely important. I had the good fortune to know my supervisor before starting my PhD from my undergraduate degree but this won’t always be the case. The best advice I could offer would be to get in touch with the PhD students/ postdoctoral researchers already in the lab you wish to join or chat to them during the interview stage. They will give you an idea for how the lab operates and what the supervisor is like to work with. As for choosing a project I can only recommend you choose a project that excites you!
How is postgraduate study different to undergraduate study?
Postgraduate study is a completely different experience to undergraduate study. You are pursuing your own project so it is expected that you read up on your subject and show genuine enthusiasm for your research topic. Compared to your bachelors, you’ll have lots more freedom to explore your topic but it can be very easy to get lost in your research. I try to keep my work schedule as close to 9 to 5 as I can so I get that important work-life balance, but this can be easily forgotten when you think your close to a breakthrough in your research! You will also be earning your own income as opposed to a student loan and will experience more opportunities to meet new interesting people who share a passion for your research discipline through networking events and conferences.
What’s the social side like? How do you find the Postgraduate community?
Towards the start of my project the UEA provided ample opportunities for me to meet other PhD students in science, either through induction days, training workshops or other events tailored to postgraduate students. This helped me to expand my friend group at work beyond my lab and gain an appreciation for what other PhD students were studying at the university. Although my work load has increased I would say that my social life has only gotten better as a postgrad than as an undergrad. Being based on campus it is easy to meet colleagues after work at the scholars bar or take part in postgraduate events such as weekly yoga class.
What is writing your thesis or preparing for a viva like (if you’ve got there yet!)
I haven’t started writing my thesis just yet but I do try to write when I can to ease the load for my future self!
What would you say to someone thinking of coming to UEA?
Speaking as someone who has studied at UEA since starting my bachelors I can tell you it is a fantastic place to study and would encourage anyone contemplating coming to UEA.