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Professional Profile : phd( sequencing the genome of Malaria from South East Asia)

1. Name: Damilola Rasheed Oresegun

2. A levels: Biology, Chemistry, Maths, English Literature

3. Your undergraduate degree (and masters if applicable ): BSc. Biomedical Science (w. a placement year); MSc. Applied Bioinformatics

4. Journey in 3 words: illuminating, Challenging, Malleable

5. Phd project:Sequencing the genome of a malaria from South East Asia

Working title: Bioinformatic elucidation and characterisation of the SICAvar genes in the Plasmodium knowlesi genome using Nanopore long read sequencing

Layman’s: Sequencing the genome of a malaria from South East Asia

6. Briefly describe your project :I am trying to use long read sequencing to find a family of genes in a type of malaria that is only in South East Asia. This form of malaria is interesting because it was used for decades in labs malaria research until they found that it has naturally moved from infecting monkeys (macaques) to infecting humans that come in contact with these monkeys. The difficulty lies in the fact these genes are repeat themselves a lot so are it's hard to sequence using the more used Illumina short read sequencing. Added to this is that I'm using clinical patient samples which makes the work more harder because all other information available are based on the lab samples. This means that my samples are slightly different because time will have allowed the malaria to evolve further in nature rather than in the lab.

7. What motivated you to pursue a career in science

Some people like horror movies because they get a thrill from being scared and it gets their blood pumping. Scientifically, when that happens, they get a release of dopamine and serotonin – both are ‘feel-good’ chemicals. That is why I’m doing science; learning interesting things like that. Learning about micro-organisms and the way they infect and survive, understanding the inner workings of their ‘life’. For me, science is the way I can deal with my over-curiousity about everything; it gives me an avenue to explore and understand ideas I randomly have. What I currently do will not change the world but I believe that increasing the knowledge available can possibly lead to something that will change the world.

8. Work- Life Balance

I find that the a work-life balance is something that is constantly changing and being adjusted. I work as an assistant warden (a.k.a residential assistant) as a part-time job which has allowed me to help younger undergrads in a variety of ways. Personally, to alleviate stress, I play games, listen to music, go for walks on the beach and do adult colouring books (I’m working through a GoT one currently). Although I still think my work-life balance is somewhat lacking due to different factors but I am working towards improving it.

9. How did you know a pHd was for you

Honestly, I didn’t. My journey up till this point is pretty convoluted and in retrospect I think I’ve been fortunate in many ways. My masters was the by far the most difficult thing I have ever had to do so far in my life and at the end of it, I did not feel like I was experienced enough to go into a work environment.

10. What advice would you give someone wanting to apply for a phd

Know what you want to study. Be ready to fail. Be ready to pick yourself up and try again. Be ready for frustrating moments and moments of epic self-doubt. However, also be ready for a time that is full of self-discovery, opportunities, and understanding. You will learn everything about a hyper-specific area of study that you will meet other academics, researchers about. In terms of skills and such things, I believe anyone can do a PhD; the main qualifier is determination, grit and the ability to adapt at a frightening pace. It’s definitely always good to talk to previous/current PhD students and visit labs. However this isn’t always available so I would just say that a PhD is a major commitment so BE SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS.

11. Outside of academics what benefits has pursuing a phd given you ?

I have had the opportunity to travel to Asia twice. In fact I recently just got back from Malaysia (October 2018). I have met people studying interesting things that will change the world, help people and increase the understanding of that area. Personally I have grown more confident in my skills and my knowledge. I consider myself one of the world’s expert in what I study as it is something that has never been done before. I have been able to develop a better sense of self, being more aware of my mind-state and the effects of my environment on my well-being. I have grown in my ‘soft skills’ – responsibility, accountability, time management, project planning etc.

12. What benefits did doing a placement have for your career and which tips would you give students looking / completing a placement year.

If I didn’t do a placement, I probably wouldn’t be doing bioinformatics. Well at the very least, it would have taken considerably longer. A placement acted as a way to focus what I wanted going forward. I found that whilst I truly enjoyed being in the lab and carrying out tests and the like, the routine nature of the work was monotonous. I found that I got bored very quickly, which led to a building up of resentment toward the work. I also learned the inner workings of the job sector which disillusioned me into the appreciation for that particular job role by the rest of sector. Most importantly, my placement year allowed me access to a dedicated team of bioinformaticians that I was able to talk to and work with which allowed me to gain a love for bioinformatics. Additionally, without my placement, I wouldn’t have had my first publication which was work that was adapted from my undergraduate thesis. So for me, placement while not directly beneficial for my undergrad course, it was essential for where I am now.

When looking for placement, especially for biomedical science or biosciences in general, I don’t think it’s important to know that you definitely want to work within that job role. If there is even any notion of working in that role in the future, I would advise to pursue a placement. It will provide a better idea of what to expect in that role. You WILL at the end of it, know whether it’s for you or not.

If you get a placement or are completing one, try new things, say yes to every single opportunity, talk to lab directors, section leaders etc. The aim of a placement apart from getting your portfolio is to get your foot in that door – whether you choose to go through it or not is down to you. Intigrate yourself with the people there and you will be able to utilise their connection later down the line. Honestly I cannot recommend placement enough, I would say that everyone thinking of doing a placement should apply to one without fail, it is always beneficial.

13. What are the best and worst parts of doing a phd

Best parts – You get responsibility for what you do. You determine what experiments to run, when to run them. You get to build better and somewhat more ‘human?’ interactions with lecturers, professors and principal investigators. Your opinion is sought after, valid and respected for your knowledge and understanding. You get to meet a variety of people both in your lab, office, school and wider university. You get to push that bubble of total human knowledge ever so slightly bigger everyday. Personally, I have gotten to travel, work with world leaders in malaria research and be a role model for my community.

Worst parts – Personally, I moved to less diverse environment than I was used to which was quite difficult to adjust to. I have had to deal with bouts of depression due to loneliness and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Being far from family, friends and feeling like I am missing out on so much. Constant moments of self-doubt about whether you can do this monumental task ahead of you.

14. Where do you see yourself after your phd?

After the PhD, I’m not entirely sure to be honest – I’ve just started my second year. Hopefully, I will have a few more publications under my name. However, I currently don’t see myself staying in academia due to internal politics present in the academia and also due to the demoralising process of grant writing and application. At the moment, I’m thinking going into industry, working for a biotech company or forming my own bioinformatics consultancy that is able to provide a service. For me, the truly great thing about what I do is that I could do all three as the only limiting factor for me is time required.


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