Name: Kimberley Bryon-Dodd
Research institution: MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, University College London
Research career length: 3 years
Research Council: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: London, England
Brief summary of research: Neurobiology
A-levels: Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Sociology
BA Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at the University of Oxford
Currently studying on the PhD programme at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, University College London
“The feeling that you get when you solve a problem that you have been working on for a long time is very satisfying. I think for me, the idea that perhaps one day something that I have discovered may make a difference to the world is what drives me.”
The human brain is made up of around one billion neurons - specialised cells that talk to each other by sending signals. Understanding how the neurons control which signals they send is important for understanding processes such as memory and learning. I am trying to explore how neurons send these signals at the molecular level, using a simple worm (called Caenorhabditis elegans or C.elegans). By finding out how neurons communicate in the worm, we hope to be able to reveal more about communication in the human brain.
My Grandfather was interested in science, which probably played the largest role in my decision to become a scientist. He used to spend hours happily answering all my questions. During my A-levels, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, initially studying French, religious studies, sociology, biology and chemistry. During this time, I realised that I wanted to do biochemistry at university, I dropped French and religious studies and picked up maths. I went on to study Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at Oxford, during which time my tutor suggested doing a vacation project to gain some experience. I undertook different projects each summer vacation. In my final year, I chose to work on nematode worms, which I enjoyed a lot and prompted my decision to do a PhD . I applied for the 4 year PhD program at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology. It is a rotational PhD programme, which means I worked on three 12-week projects in different areas and then picked the one I thought I was best suited to.
My work currently consists of a lot of microscopy and chemical analysis. Once a year I present what I have been doing to the whole department and also to other scientists in my field at a London ‘worm meeting’. I attend an international conference once a year and perhaps two internal conferences at the university. We also have student retreats each year where the PhD students go and meet up with students from abroad - this year in Tuscany, Italy. I write for a science news digest company and take part in public engagement activities to promote an interest in science.
Last year I went to Los Angeles for a week for work, and this year I am going to Heidelberg in Germany for a long weekend. During my PhD, I was lucky enough to get selected to work in a lab in San Francisco for six weeks as part of an exchange run by my programme. Afterwards I spent two weeks travelling around California, including Yosemite National Park, which is breathtakingly beautiful.
Doing a PhD opens so many exciting avenues that it can be difficult to figure out what you want to do afterwards. After completing their PhD, many people decide to stay in academic research and do a postdoc. Some people move to research in industry or go and study graduate entry medicine. Other people leave research but stay within science either as a science communicator, working for research councils in policy or grant management or do medical writing. Some others leave science but do careers, which still use a PhD such as patent law, where they are looking at patents for scientific devices. I am still in the process of deciding.