BSc Biomedical Science to Neuroscience PhD
Name: Deyl Djama (he/him)
Job Title : PhD Neuroscience
A levels/ equivalent: French Baccalaureate - Scientific Stream
Undergrad and post grad degrees
BSc Biomedical Science - King’s College London
MSc Translational Neuroscience - Imperial College London
Favourite science fact : One neuron may receive up to 7,000 inputs on average.
Journey in 3 Words: Rewarding, Challenging, Stimulating.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
One of the main reasons I decided to pursue a career in science was the exciting nature of the scientific process and discovery. I’ve always been fascinated in how the brain works and science was one of the best career options that allowed me to fulfil that child-like curiosity!
Briefly describe your PhD research:
My PhD research revolves around understanding how a novel Huntington’s Disease gene therapy impacts the functional and structural characteristics of a particular class of neurons. This mainly involves developing functional assays to quantify changes in functional & structural connectivity.
What were your perceptions of being a scientist before you started your Bsc and how did your Bsc experience contribute to the scientist you are today?
"Before my BSc my main perception of being a scientist was from films & cartoons - which usually portrayed them as villains hungry for world domination! It was only during my BSc I was able to formulate a more accurate picture of what it means to be a scientist. Luckily, my BSc final year project was very fruitful as I started to feel like a mini-scientist contributing to a project the lab was working on. This got me hands-on experience working on a live project (preprint was recently released!) and showed me what it's like to work in research. The rapport I built with my BSc final year project supervisor enabled me to land a PhD a year later! This showed me the importance of genuinely enjoying research and building genuine connections as they can change your life! This also showed me the importance of having great mentors and supervisors, as the lab culture and student-supervisor dynamics played a major role in how I enjoyed & perceived research, which further increased my passion for science. It was very inclusive in the sense I felt part of the team making a real contribution, as opposed to being seen as the stereotypical clumsy undergraduate student who needs constant supervision. This also had a massive impact in building my confidence and independence as a researcher, which was crucial going into my Master's program."
How impactful was your internship to your career journey? And what advice would you give to finding internships
I carried out a short internship during the summer between my 2nd and 3rd year. It was impactful in the sense that it allowed me to learn a range of techniques which made me more comfortable working in the lab more efficiently, and it started to get me thinking about how to formulate research questions and test hypotheses which I found very beneficial for my BSc project the following year.
If you want to carry out an internship in academia it’s really important to reach out to potential supervisors individually and familiarise yourself with some of the work they do by reading their papers. They’re often able to put together some funding or would direct you to other groups. Reaching out to lecturers in your department might be a good place to start as I completed my internship with my Neuroscience module lead! You’re obviously not expected to know it all, but it’s important to show motivation and genuine curiosity and most of the time they’ll help you progress down the line with references and lab recommendations.
Are there any regrets from your masters?
Not really! But one thing I would’ve done differently is focus more on developing stronger computational skills and coding languages.
How did you know a Phd/ research was for you?
Doing a PhD fitted into my “5 year plan” when I started my MSc because I knew I eventually wanted to do research, and a PhD is crucial for such a career. My interest in research was based on my general curiosity about the brain and how it worked so carrying on further research seemed like the obvious path to go down!.
What are the best and worst parts of doing a phd
Best part of the PhD is having the academic freedom to research different areas that you’re interested in and contribute to our understanding of how the world works. Also having the opportunity to teach, motivate & mentor undergraduate and master’s students is very rewarding. The worst part about the PhD is trying to maintain hobbies outside of the lab because your schedule may wildly vary depending on the experiments you’re running, so it’s quite difficult to have a “fixed” schedule. Also having “too much” academic freedom may be an issue in some cases because you may lose track of the aim of your thesis! So keeping that balance is quite important.
A PhD is often described as a marathon… not a sprint, How do you stay motivated ?
This is very true. As I’m almost two years deep into the PhD, I find it important to reflect on what you’ve done so far and the progress you’ve made and the mistakes you’ve learnt from. Because it can be overwhelming looking towards the future. So, I try to focus on what’s within my control and do my best. I also find meeting up with friends every now and then is crucial for general well-being. Because, most of the time, all you need is a good laugh with friends!
With the current academic climate …Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This is quite a difficult question as I now find myself at a crossroads. The PhD opens up many pathways within academia & industry, and you can also carve out unique niches. So I’m still trying to understand what I think would be the best path to go down, but definitely something research related.
Outside science how would you describe yourself
Outside of science I find myself on the introverted side of the ambivert spectrum. Although I enjoy going out with friends, some of my main hobbies include getting lost in museums & learning about world history & philosophy.
When considering your career path, how much has your potential salary affected your decision?
It has slightly affected it, but for me it has always been about the work itself and if I find it enjoyable or not. Salary is obviously important, as well as knowing the worth of your skillset, but if you’re not happy with the work itself, I’d find it difficult remaining in such a role.
How do you navigate mentoring and networking within your space? Do you have a mentor and are there things you have learnt along the way?
I don’t have official mentors, but my supervisors across the years have given me great advice and guidance when considering different career paths. They really helped me expand my network of scientists and some of the cool stuff other groups are doing. I also found having more senior PhD students in your network that you can personally relate to is very beneficial as they have a wealth of experience and are able to give you the big picture.
One of the main things I’ve learnt from both groups in my network is the importance of being constructively honest. There’s a lot of things we don’t know in research and as we embark on a journey to answer those questions, it’s important to be able to have a safe environment to have discussions and back and forths about the project. If you don’t have that safe environment where people can share ideas and constructively challenge ideas, lab members may feel like the environment is hostile and they’re being undermined. This stifles progress and creates unnecessary tension and discord, which may drive people away from research and harm their wellbeing.
What is your biggest pet peeve about how the world perceives science?
People usually want to see the end product and are not aware of the time and effort that goes into science & research. So at times people may be a bit too impatient when it comes to why we haven’t found a cure for disease X for example. And in order to find a cure, we need to understand the basic biology & mechanism first etc… so I think by helping people understand what goes on behind the scenes may help manage the public’s expectations.
How have your passions and interests changed since you started thinking of careers? Was there a defining moment for you?
I’ve definitely started to focus more on outreach within my career plan and trying to give back to my community in any way I can. There hasn’t been any drastic changes to my interests and the career options I’d consider, but I have started exploring niches within my interests which has opened new and interesting pathways.