Name: Kathryn De Abreu
Course: MRes Advanced Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, UK
A levels: Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science
UG Degree: BSc Biomedical Science
Journey in 3 words: Hard but rewarding
Briefly describe your role as a Research Assistant (RA): I was a project technician, helping oversee projects for my supervisor, training students in necessary techniques, collecting data, analysing and writing up findings. I worked on several plant species including tomato and Anthurium.
Pros and cons of being a RA:
· good training for postgraduate degrees as you learn how to conduct research and present your findings,
· you get experience in teaching students, which is a useful skill in academia,
· helps you to be organized in planning and executing your experiments.
· the work you do does not lead to a degree like a PhD, although the work can be used for one.
Motivation to pursue a plant physiology career: My plant physiology undergraduate project really interested me. We investigated how plants respond to zinc deficiency on a molecular level, and I always had a passion for nutrition. Seeing how plants respond to stresses fascinated me and I decided to pursue this field full time.
How would you describe your work/life balance?: My work/life balance was good as a research assistant, as you work set hours (like a 9-5 job). I would take time off from work to do yoga, or art therapy. I also liked doing outdoor activities like going to the beach. However, as I just started my MRes course, I think my work/life balance will be skewed but just means I have to ensure I take time off to rest!
Advice for people wanting to pursue an academic career: Always be curious and ambitious! Stay organized as this really helps you become an efficient researcher. Be persistent in the face of disappointment. Get as much work experience as you can, as this really works to your advantage. Always ensure to have a good work/life balance! It can be more counterproductive being exhausted rather than taking a little break.
Why not do a PhD straight away?: Although I had a good research experience during my UG degree, I was going into a field of research that was not along the lines of my UG degree, which was more clinically inclined. I decided to get work experience in the plant physiology field to fulfil my scholarship repayment service, and also do a Masters. The masters degree fully prepares you for PhD study, and makes the transition to PhD study easier. Getting a PhD is my end goal.
What is important when choosing a Masters?: Choose programmes that will ultimately help you achieve your career goals. If you want a career in the industry sector, a taught masters is usually more appropriate than a research masters. Research masters are very useful if you want to pursue an academic career path. Also, choose programmes that have connections with your preferred sectors (for example, a masters in biological sciences from a University that has strong connections with biotechnology companies).
Difficulties being a woman in science: You can be overlooked for opportunities due to gender bias. Sometimes you would not be given a certain project or be able to do a certain technique due to the perception that men will be more suitable for them, which is not the case. Once you are properly trained, you will be able to do the technique/project. I would encourage people to get into plant sciences through my IG blog, where I show people what it’s like to be a plant scientist. Many people are interested in my job, and I always try to motivate people who tell me they want a career in science but not sure where to start!