1. Name: Mafalda de Arrábida Farelo
2. Course/ job: PhD student in Immunology at University of Surrey, UK
3. A levels:Biology, Chemistry, Maths
4. Undergraduate degree and masters : BSc in Cellular and Molecular Biology, MRes in Biopharmaceutical Sciences
5. Journey in 3 words: Challenging, humbling, rewarding
6. Briefly describe your role: My PhD focuses on understanding how Dengue virus escapes our cells immune response. There are 3 billion people at risk of being infected by this virus, but unfortunately there is no treatment and the vaccines available are not reliable. If we discover how the virus avoids our defences, we can develop drugs that prevent that, and thus strengthen our natural immune response. I spend most of my days in the lab, doing experiments to find which pathways are targeted by the virus and the effect that it has in our cells. Other days are spent analysing the results or reading and writing.
7. What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
I was always curious and interested in sciences, but I fell in love with biology during high school in a genetics class. After that I always chose whatever course I liked the most, without really thinking of a career. To me, getting to where I am now was natural, just a series of steps towards what I like to study, trying to get some answers to my many questions.
8. How would you describe your work-life balance?
Doing a PhD in the UK is very demading. I have only 3 years (funded) to discover something new and the clock doesn't stop ticking. So, to be honest, I have a bad work-life balance, as work is my main focus and the reason why I moved abroad. On the other hand, I will take every chance I have to travel abroad and get some time for myself away from work.
9. What advice would you give someone wanting to study the same degree?
To be sure of what they want and to get information about the lab, environment there and supervisors. A good environment and supervisors are key to a successful and less stressful PhD.
10. How did you know a pHd was for you ?
During my masters degree, I spent 1.5 years doing research both in Lisbon and Amsterdam. I really enjoyed doing research, I learned a lot from colleagues and it was a very hard but rewarding experience. I thought it would be a natural step to continue research by doing a PhD.
11. What advice would you give someone wanting to apply for a phd
Volunteer in a lab. This will give you a lot of experience and you’ll meet a lot of people. Plus, you can have an idea if you’d like to do that for a few years or whether you prefer to wait. If you can do this at the lab where you’re thinking of doing the PhD, even better. Ask former PhD students of the lab you want to join, how was their experience and get informed about supervisors. A PhD is a long process, so you have to be sure when you commit to it.
12. What are the best and worst parts of doing a phd.
The best part is that you can ask questions and get creative about your research, which really makes it your own.
You’re literally pushing the boundaries between the known and unknown, and that’s a great feeling. But, you’ll also fail 90% of the time and question whether you’re fit to do it. This is the hardest part, having this fear creeping on you, while still trying to give your best.
13. Did you do an internship before your phd? If yes do you believe it benefited you?
Yes! I had two official internships, one during undergrad and another during masters, but I also volunteer in a lab as soon as I entered my masters. Internships are the best! You can be a straight A student, but that doesn't mean you’ll be good in research. An internship gives you an insight of the job and that’s where you really learn what is to be a researcher. There are many skills you only earn by having experience. I loved all my internships and I’ll be forever grateful to all the people I’ve met during these times and that taught me all I know. I don't think I would have been accepted into a PhD without having done these internships.