Name: Miss Ruth Helen Faram
Research institution: Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit, University of Oxford
Research career length: 4 years
Research Council: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: Oxford, England
Brief summary of research: Research into the function of a newly identified population of neurons in the rodent brain.
A-levels: Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, English Literature
BSc in Neuroscience, University College London
MSc in Pharmacology, University of Oxford
DPhil candidate and researcher, Dept. of Pharmacology, University of Oxford
It’s not just medical doctors who are experts in disease. People with a medical condition, can sometimes develop a fascination to understand more about the causes of the disease and how it might be treated. For Ruth Faram, having a neurological condition when a school pupil, ultimately led to her passion to work at the forefront of brain research.
It is well know that following a brain injury, little repair can take place because these nerve cells or neurons cannot grow back. However, I have been researching a group of cells located in a region of the brain that has been linked to the birth of new neurons. The cells I am studying may be involved in directing the newborn cells to the places they need to go, and by understanding the messaging signals used by these neurons, we may in the future be able to ‘direct’ immature cells to parts of the brain damaged by disease or ageing.
Whilst studying for my A-levels, I was diagnosed with a congenital neurological condition known as Arnold Chiari. I recovered fully, but the brain surgery and missed time at school meant I lost interest in my studies and my grades were poor. So I took a couple of years out, living at home, working, and visiting a school in Zanzibar, Africa, after which I decided that I wanted to know more about how the brain works. I started to read about neuroscience, becoming increasingly curious and passionate about the subject.
My parents encouraged me to do my A-Levels again, so I studied on an open learning basis, where I mainly taught myself, but attended tutorials once a week, travelling to two different colleges to do so. I knew at this stage that I wanted to do a degree in neuroscience, so I took the necessary A-Levels and worked as hard as I could. I was relieved when the hard work paid off, and I was accepted on the BSc Neuroscience degree course at University College London. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, especially the laboratory project. I then contacted the Pharmacology Department in Oxford and asked about their vacancies and opportunities for postgraduate work. Having first been offered a funded MSc Pharmacology course, I then embarked on the DPhil, remaining in the department ever since.
A college tutor once said to me that laboratory work can be as exciting as you want it to be. So I make sure I do something interesting each week, to answer a question or to get a result. That way, I never get tired of it. The most fulfilling thing about carrying out research is the degree of freedom you have. As a doctoral student, I have a supervisor who gives me guidance and advice, but I am lucky to have a generous amount of flexibility, especially since I am contributing to several projects at any one time.
For someone embarking on a research career, my advice would be: “Never be afraid to ask questions, they are the key to results! And remember that there is no such thing as a stupid question because you never know where the answer might lead.”
During my DPhil I have discovered that I love carrying out fundamental laboratory research, I thoroughly enjoy teaching, tutoring and giving seminars at degree level. Therefore, my ideal career path would be a combination of these things. I have also volunteered for a couple of years running at Cheltenham Science Festival and, through this, discovered how much I also enjoy talking about my work to the public. Hopefully communications can be part of my career too.