Name: Dr Joe Rainger
Age range: 30-35
Research institution: The Department of Medical & Developmental Genetics, University of Edinburgh
Research career length: 8 years including graduate studies
Research Council: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Brief summary of research: The genetics of eye development and birth defects in eyes
Scottish Certificate of Education Highers BBBBC: Chemistry, Mathematics, English, Geography, Physics
PhD at The MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh
Masters by Research (MSc) at The University of Edinburgh
BSc Honours in Biochemistry at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
Worked as a chef in restaurants in Edinburgh and London for six years prior to undergraduate degree
Postdoctoral researcher at MRC Human Genetics Unit and the Centre for Regenerative Medicine
The eye is one of the most wonderful structures in nature. The ability to see, relies significantly on the various structures within the eye developing at the appropriate time and in the correct sequence. Joe Rainger is attempting to understand the role genes play in contributing to eye development, through research he hopes will one day lead to treatments for a range of eye deformities.
I had sufficient qualifications to get into university after school, but left after one term and worked as a chef in restaurants in Edinburgh and London for six years. It was then I realised that I wanted a more academic challenge, so I applied for a general biology honours degree course at Heriot-Watt University. I loved it and ended up moving into biochemistry and leaving with a first class degree.
I then applied for a PhD at The MRC Human Genetics Unit (HGU) in Edinburgh, but wasn't very confident that I would get one of only six places, since I was a bit older and there were loads of candidates from very prestigious universities. I had had a summer job with laboratory experience and had also carried out a research project at The University of Edinburgh during my final summer as an Undergraduate . I was also relaxed enough to be myself at interview, and I’m sure both this and laboratory and research experience helped me get the place. The HGU gave me a taste of a variety of different research areas, including researching normal eye development and how deformities arise in mice and humans, which formed the basis of my PhD project.
My research helps to find genes that cause severe eye deformities at birth. Identifying these genes helps us to understand the processes that become disrupted during eye development. This knowledge can help families where these conditions occur, to be better informed and make decisions. We expect our work to lead to medical treatments or even possible future cures. Learning about how eyes are made has also given us a greater understanding of other areas of biology.
There is probably no such thing as a typical year for a researcher but I would typically spend most of my time reading other’s work and performing experiments in the laboratory and visiting other labs to run experiments that may be particularly difficult, drawing on others expertise or making use of their specialist equipment. Sometimes this can even involve trips overseas.
I publish research data in academic journals and present my work at local, national and international meetings. I am actively involved in promoting public engagement with science, including giving talks demonstrations to schools. For the future, I would like to have a stint working in a leading research lab overseas, before starting my own research group in Scotland, but for now I am seeking funding to further my research.
Being a researcher affects my overall approach to life. The fundamental point for me is to not believe anything at face value without engaging your brain and thinking more broadly about something and taking into account all sides of the argument.