Science Policy - It is definitely better than a PhD - Le Hai and KCL Careers and Employability

So it’s Easter, and you can’t wait to go home to see your beloved parents. However, while you know that you have been doing “great” at school and have nothing to worry, you still feel anxious about the thought of having to endure those long and awkward family dinners, where your aunt Mary, whose son Jonny is studying Medicine or Engineering or whatever, asks your mom deprecatingly what you are going to do with your “Bioscience” degree. Now before muttering under your nose something generic like “PhD or Master or whatever”, how about take a look at what our KCL alumni, Dr. Rebekah Carr, Dr. Parwez Samnakay and Mr. Matthew Chisambi, have to say about their work in the field of Science Policy.

Dr. Rebekah Carr- HM Treasury:

After completing her MRes and PhD at KCL’s Department of Developmental Neurobiology in March 2015, Dr. Carr faced a challenge of finding a job and choosing between academia and research as many of her predecessors. However, instead of walking down the conventional path, she has decided to take the one less travelled by Bioscientists, and has been working on Science and Innovation Policy within HM Treasury ever since. Her job as a Policy Adviser includes advising and briefing Ministers on policy issues, meetings and events as well as working with other government departments with spending proposals. Albeit a long and busy job, she described it as interesting and stimulating. Dr. Carr landed at her current position when she first applied for an 18-month graduate development program. Throughout this rigorous placement, as she explained, one could not only be exposed to many different aspects of policy making but also create a positive impact, while still being in a science-related atmosphere. The busiest times are usually around fiscal years, where one might have to work over 37-40 hours per week, but in all cases those overtime hours are paid and compensated. Furthermore, similar to academia in many ways, while there is a fair amount of time spent behind desk, if one is good with time and work management, they can choose to show up to as many meetings or conferences as they want. Having a PhD and coming from a science background have definitely been a great advantage for Dr. Carr; however, her advice for getting into the competitive Graduate Development Program is to always try putting a positive spin on transferable skills one might get from lab work, as well as showing commitment about science policy during the interview. As for her future plans, Dr. Carr admits she will be working there for a while; however, she is confident that she will have the option to change the environment; since one advantage of working in the Treasury is that there is always opportunity to try out other departments and sectors.

Relevant links: Graduate Programme- http://www.hmtreasurycareers.co.uk/the-graduate-programme/about-the-programme/

Dr. Parwez Samnakay- Government Office for Science,

Before completing his PhD in plant biotech in Rothamsted Research Institute, Dr. Samnakay holds a BSc and MSc in Molecular Genetics and Pharmacology from both King’s and Imperial. However, the main reason that has deterred him from continuing with research and academia after completing his doctoral studies is the lack of human interaction. Thus, through the Civil Service Fast Stream for Science and Engineering, Dr. Samnakay began his job as a Policy Officer at the Government Office for Science. The job revolves around “helping the Government Chief Scientific Advisor provide the best science advice to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and also ensuring that science is transmitted effectively across Whitehall through several mechanisms, which include the Prime Ministers Council for Science and Technology, and the Chief Scientist Network”. Furthermore, during this time he has been actively involved with Foresight projects, and stakeholder management. On getting a PhD, Dr. Samnakay emphasized that one really has to be passionate about factual science as it is intense and does not always work out in the end. Hence, he is a strong advocate of graduate schemes such as the aforementioned 4-year Fast Stream for Science and Engineering, as they do not only pay better, but also provide many relevant experiences and future opportunities. For instance, the first year placement on the same program involves working for many institutes, including, but not limited to Department of Health, Department for Transport, Ministry of Defence, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Another way of getting into the system is to apply directly as a science specialist through external recruitment and government organisations or internship positions through civil service projects such as Foresight, where the starting salary is roughly around £25k. As for future plans, Dr. Samnakay is content with his job, and is determined to continue contributing and having a positive impact on the field of science and science policy.

Some of the qualities important for Science Policy application:

Relevant Links: Fast-stream Science & Engineering Programme: https://www.faststream.gov.uk/science-engineering/

Civil Service Jobs: https://www.civilservicejobs.service.gov.uk/csr/index.cgi

Foresight projects: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/foresight-projects

Matthew Chisambi- Hammersmith and Fulham CCG

Mr. Chisambi graduated from King’s with a BSc in Pharmacology with Extra Mural Year. However, confused about his future job, he chose to teach Science for two years at TeachFirst before joining Deloitte as a strategy consultant. There he had an opportunity to apply his expertise and transferable skills he had learnt during his undergraduate studies such as writing report, research and compile data for his clients. After Deloitte, he worked for a year for Royal College of General Practitioners as Senior Research Officer on Healthcare Policy before committing to his current job as an Urgent Care Programme Manager at NHS Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commission Group. Similar to Drs. Carr and Samnakay, Mr. Chisambi’s job revolves around designing projects and supporting CCGs to monitor, manage and improve performance across the entire emergency and urgent care interface, as well as ensuring that different programs are delivered in an effective and integrated way across the NHS trust. Nevertheless, despite being successful at his job, Mr. Chisambi reiterated throughout his talk the importance of investing in oneself; as while competition is fierce in this line of work, there are also many learning opportunities available. Therefore, for his future plans, he is looking to finish his Master’s degree in Health Policy from Imperial and to continue working on his passion as a health care professional

Ultimately, if you are still interested in improving your future, Careers and Employability have some more great events and even not Life Science-related for you to come. Make sure to go over and check out their page: https://kcl.targetconnect.net/home.html

If you wish to write for our blog, please contact us on: enquiries@kclbsa.com

Why should you consider a career in Biotechnology industry? - Le Hai and KCL Careers and Employability

So you are a first year student, and you just got out of high school. Your parents, your neighbours, your friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s cousins are all proud of you for studying in London, but you try to act cool whenever they tell you how bright your future will be. You are now enjoying life from the other side, away from your parents. You are having a few laughs with your newly found mates: fresher week, Guys’ bar, the fact that DNA on KCL’s original banner is not right-handed (thanks for the useful information Prof. Brian Sutton). However, after a few nights out, a strange voice pops up at the back of your head: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, but because you are too busy trying to get the number of that Italian girl from your tutorial group, you brush it aside and let your future-self deal with it.

Second year comes, and you feel much more mature than your first-year self. After all you have just moved to a new apartment with your mates. And even though you guys promise to not party as much as first year, deep down you know otherwise. So you just go with the flow through the school year, and even though that strange voice starts to appear more often, you try to silence it with more booze and Netflix and chill.

Now is your third year. It’s 1 in the morning and you are sitting there with a half empty bottle of a cheap Sainsbury’s Sauvignon, scrolling through Facebook, laughing at your sell-out high school friends, for getting a job at JP Morgan and HSBC. However, the familiar nagging voice pops up again, but this time it awaits your answer. You realize how much you hate your past-selves for procrastinating, and you need a change.

Fear not, KCL BSA and Careers and Employability have some interesting suggestions for you this academic year, starting off with a Biotechnology Industry talk, but first you need to get a shower, and for those of you who are still sceptic and waiting for that faithful sign to change yourself, here it is:

 

On October 4th, three companies came to provide insights in Life Sciences careers, Immunocore, Oxford Biomedica and Segulah Consulting Limited, all of which are pioneers in their fields of biotechnology and biopharmaceutical. In case you have missed the talk, lovely staffs from the Career and Employability have provided us with a few words on what are the advantages and some these companies’ tips on how to get into the industry. You can also follow the links to see more of these companies’ works.

3 Highlights from the Biotechnology Industry Panel October 4th 2016

1.       Shape the future  - working In Biotech means being part of a growth industry where there is no set model to follow. It’s an environment that rewards focus and commitment and presents many challenges along the way. It’s for those who are tenacious, engaged and love to collaborate. Look to developments in gene and cell therapy, epigenetics and immunotherapies for examples of where the growth (and therefore job opportunities!) are. One of the speakers was Director of Translational Research at ImmunocoreMore about their work here

2.       Make your own luck – each of the industry experts recommended current students to be bold about making connections with people already working and/or researching in fields that interest them. Their suggestions were to act early, use LinkedInEventbrite and all opportunities to find opportunities to make connections. They really meant it – as they were generous with their time after the event to talk with individual students. So don’t be put off by long job titles and impressive PhDs. They mentioned collaborating and giving back as being part of what they and others enjoy about their work. The Life and Health Science Careers Event on 22nd November (hosted at the amazing Crick Institute) will be a great opportunity to act on this advice. Booking details are here to have the chance to meet Unilever, GSK and many, many more.

3.       It’s just fascinating – the ideas being explored and brought to clinical trial are intriguing, as are the issues which surround the public and regulatory responses to them. Two speakers used great slides to share what they do and how it works. You can find those here, along with speaker profiles from the event.

                Ultimately, if you are still interested in improving your future, Careers and Employability have some more events during the years for you to come, the full list is below. Remember to put on your diary the next event on 25th October 1630-1800 Pharmaceutical Industry: Inside & Outside the Lab, which will be held at Waterloo Campus, FWB 1.62. 

If you wish to write for our blog, please contact us on: enquiries@kclbsa.com

Extra Mural Year: An Extra Ordinary Opportunity

By Edward Cunningham-Oakes

Making the decision to take a year out of academic study is never an easy one. Sure, there are a lot of benefits that come with doing an extra mural year, namely gaining a wealth of experience, and the freedom to not be confined within the boundaries of Guy’s Campus, which, whilst familiar can become excessively comfortable after spending too much time there. However, whilst deciding you consider the two major costs; firstly, there is the fear that you will become unable to settle back down into an academic routine upon your return, and secondly, you have to come to terms with the fact that all of your friends and colleagues you met following several awkward introductions and impromptu flat parties will have already graduated. I am happy however to say that none of these fears came to light, and that I have no regrets about my placement, nor could I ever expect what eventually came with it.

The start of my placement was a bit of a turbulent one. I started my first day at the Institute of Infection and Immunity under Dr. Yanmin Hu at St. George’s, armed with only a pad, a pen, and a vague knowledge of the underlying principles of the project. If I’m being completely honest, I was barely proficient with a Gilson pipette (sorry Dr Snape, no reflection on your teaching I promise!), but slowly I progressed and managed to expertly disguise myself as a competent bioscience student. My initial experiments were testing combination therapy in gram negative bacteria with the aim of increasing their susceptibility to well established antibiotic classes using adjunct agents. However, after speaking to Yanmin about using gram positives to provide a bit of variation to my daily routine, I was soon working methicillin sensitive and resistant Staphylococcus aureus (here in referred to as MSSA and MRSA respectively). This is where my project took an interesting turn.

As I was screening various compounds against a range of antibiotics, I consistently found a large amount of synergy (synergy referring to the ability of two drugs to work cooperatively in order to elicit an effect) between a compound at that time known as HT013006 (even I wasn’t told what the compound actually was), and aminoglycosides. The first technique I observed this synergy with was a fairly standard technique in microbiology known as the chequerboard technique. This technique utilises a 96-well plate in order to test the ability of 96 different combinations of different antibiotic concentrations(with one agent tested at a range of concentrations starting from a pre-specified value across the 12 columns of the plate, whilst the other agent is similarly tested from a pre-specified value down to a concentration of zero). From this technique, we observed a strong synergistic effect between the aminoglycosides gentamicin, tobramycin and neomycin against over 100 strains MRSA and MSSA. From here, we continued investigations using 24 hour time-kill experiments on agar, which used similar concentration combinations to those used in successful chequerboards. However, unlike chequerboard experiments time-kill examines the ability of antibiotic combinations to kill bacteria, rather than just inhibit their growth. Again, this produced positive results, which was ideal.

The most exciting part of the project was creating a formulation for the drug itself. The compound HT013006, which for the purposes of my project was revealed to be Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), has been shown to have profound adverse system effects, such as renal and hepatotoxicity. However, this does not mean that it could not be used topically, as a large number of MRSA and MSSA infections are in fact afflictions of the skin. Indeed, experiments in vivo experiments using mice models showed that topical agents of combinations of NDGA with either neomycin, tobramycin or gentamicin all produced a profound decrease in the extent of staphylococcal skin infections following inoculation with either MRSA or MSSA. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to have this data go to publication.

To this day, I’m taken aback by how fast I went from being not quite so sure of myself in the lab to producing my own publication as primary author. I’m fortunate to have had a great supervisor, better colleagues in lab (special shout out to Caroline Moussa!), and just a bit of luck.

If I had one piece of advice to offer anyone considering the extra mural year, (or indeed any other opportunity in your life), it would be to just ride the waves as they come; you never know where it might take you, or what opportunities it might bring.

Edward is graduated with a BSc in Pharmacology in 2016 and was the President of KCL Biosciences Students’ Association in his final year. In previous years he has held the roles of Social Events Officer and Head of Operations on the committee.

He is now studying towards a PhD in Cardiff University.

Making animal research more open - Durr-e-Maknoon Tariq

In May 2014, King’s College London signed a Concordat on Openness on Animal Research along with 72 other organisations such as universities, charities, research councils and commercial companies which are involved in animal research.

This concordat was about being more open and transparent about the use of animals in research. The 72 signatories agreed to abide by these four commitments:

1. We will be clear about when, how and why we use animals in research;

2. We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals;

3. We will be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals;

4. We will report on progress annually and share our experiences.

These institutions hope that this step would lead to a better public understanding and acceptance of the importance of use of animals in research and would also dispel the myths about animal cruelty in the labs. The truth is that animal welfare is the top most priority and all the research is carried out under strict ethical code and guidance set by the UK Home Office. This will also make it clear to the public that animals are strictly used for medical research purposes as a last resort when there are no other alternatives and no animals are used for cosmetic testing as that is illegal in the UK.

More information on the Concordat can be found here on King’s website: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/news/newsrecords/2014/May/Kings-College-London-signs-Concordat-on-Openness-on-Animal-Research-.aspx

More information on the Animal Welfare at King’s can be found here: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/health/research/facilities/bsu/welfare.aspx 

A glimpse into animal research at King’s - Durr-e-Maknoon Tariq

Hodgkin Building on Guy’s Campus seems like any other old university building. Although it looks beautiful and green (because of the ivy and moss growing on it) from the outside; inside, it’s dark, dull, damp and you can get lost quite easily into a maze of doors, stair cases and corridors, a lot of doors that you don’t have access to as a student. It is a regular old building when I go to it for my lectures, labs or tutorials but seemed quite different on one Monday in early May when I got a chance to visit the animal research facilities there.

I was led, up one of the stair cases, to the office of Kenneth Applebee who is the director of Biological Services at King’s College London. His job is to take care of the welfare of the animals and of the welfare of the staff working in these facilities. While waiting there, I got to find out quite a lot about the use of animals in scientific research from the perspective of a person who is involved in it. He talked about why it is important to use animals in scientific research, public perception of animal research and the laws and ethics surrounding it.

In U.K you can only use animals in research if the research is for medical purposes, it is done humanely and there is no alternative to it; you are not allowed to use animals for cosmetic testing. Kenneth said, “It’s difficult sometimes to explain to general public how we do it and why we do it”. Mainly, because most of the time, general public does not understand the difference between medical research and cosmetic testing. There is also a general perception that animals are treated very inhumanely and that people carrying out the research or working there somehow enjoy all this. About this Kenneth said, “You can’t say people enjoy animal research, you have to do it because you have to do it”. He also added, “Researching on animals does not mean you don’t respect them.” This is what I found as well. The staff working in animal facilities become quite emotionally attached to them. Kenneth also mentioned that everything is open to the public and they have even had school visits to the animal facilities.

After my conversation with Kenneth, I was led up another stair case, into an old fashioned lift and through a series of doors, this time, to the animal research facility where 37 marmosets are kept for research on developing new drugs for Parkinson’s disease. Here, I met Dr Sarah Rose who heads this research. Before we could go in to look at the marmosets, we had to wear special lab coats and plastic shoes over our clothes to make sure the research space is not contaminated. First, we visited the room where naïve marmosets are kept. These are marmosets that are not given Parkinson’s disease. They started making chirping noises and started running and jumping about in their cages as we entered. Dr Rose said that it wasn’t normal behaviour; the marmosets get excited when they see new people. Then, visited the other room where there was a special cage. The special thing about this cage was that the marmosets kept here were given Parkinson’s so that their behaviour can be compared with the normal marmosets and new drugs tested on them.

During my visit Dr Rose explained in detail about her research and the importance of using animal models. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that causes severe shaking in the body and leads to slowness of movement, dementia and depression. She explained that Parkinson’s is a disease that cannot be tested in a cell culture and so we need animal models. She said, “around 80 per cent drugs 

used in Parkinson’s have been investigated here”. She said that the research facility has strong links with the Parkinson’s Disease Society and they are “really supportive of the work for finding drugs that slow progress of the disease”. “It transforms people’s lives” she added. She also explained that the welfare of these marmosets is a high priority in their lab. “Good healthy animals are important for science”, she said. She explained that they have 24 hour medical cover and access to the vets and after every experiment, marmosets are given treats such as marshmallows and Scotch pancakes. She also mentioned that people working in this lab become emotionally attached to these marmosets, she said, “it takes a long time to get really good at looking after marmosets. Marmosets recognise people. Bit like a pet.” Regarding public transparency she said, “Everything we do is published. Everyone can see exactly what we do”.

After visiting the lovely and cute marmosets, one of the staff members offered to take me down to one of the basements of Hodgkin Building to the facility where the magical zebra fish are kept. Going down in the small, old, creaking lift, it felt like we would never reach the basement but we did. As the lift door opened you could smell the dampness coming from the zebra fish facility. This zebra fish facility has the capacity to hold 50,000 zebra fish and is the biggest of its kind in Europe. After putting sterile plastic shoes over my own and wearing sterile nitrile gloves, I was led into one of the aquariums of the facility by the Zebra Fish Facility Manager. The sight of the aquarium was unlike anything I had seen before. There were rows and rows of thousands of zebra fish kept in different compartments. Some were big, some were small and some even glowed! Zebra fish kept here are used for a range of different experiments by different researchers at King’s. The manager explained that the facility is like a zebra fish bank. Whenever, a researcher requires zebra fish for their research, they contact the facility Manager and are given the fish of the right size, age and specie. To manage this, King’s use state-of –the-art robot technology. Robot feeders are used to feed thousands of zebra fish kept here and to filter and clean all the water, there is a filter room located at the back of the aquarium which runs 24 hours day, 7 days a week and 360 days a year.

So next time you go past Hodgkin Building, don’t think it’s just any old regular university building, a lot of interesting research goes on in there.

To find out more about animal research, you can visit this website: http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/resources/video-library/33/marmosets-and-research-into-parkinsons-disease/