1995-1997 Six Form College; 1997-2001 Cardiff University; 2001-2005 Nottingham University; 2008-2010 (part time) University of London
A level Biology, Chemistry and Physics, BSc in Microbiology, MSc in Clinical Microbiology and a PhD in Molecular Microbiology
Quality control in a pencil factory; Administration for a power company; Development technician in a cosmetics and toiletries factory; Research scientist in a clinical microbiology lab; Clinical scientist
Clinical Scientist in Microbiology
Public Health England
Favourite thing to do in my job: Seeing a project all the way through from getting an idea to seeing a working test in use and helping patient care.
I design the hospital tests that help doctors know if their patients have got an infection and what to treat them with.
I’m a microbiologist and that means I work with micro-organisms. Micro-organisms are living things that are so small you need a microscope to see them like viruses, bacteria and some fungi and parasites.
A clinical or medical microbiologist like me works with micro-organisms that can cause disease and make humans ill. The hospital laboratory where I work gets hundreds of samples from people with infections every day. The samples get taken by doctors and nurses and get sent to our laboratory. We get urine, poo, sputum (spit), skin swabs, nose and throat swabs, blood samples, pus, bits that surgeons have cut off and a whole lot more. It can be quite disgusting but it’s always interesting.
Once we get the samples we test them depending on what they are and what the doctor thinks is wrong with the patient. We have lots of different ways of finding micro-organisms in the samples: we can look at the sample down a microscope, we can grow bacteria or fungi on agar plates or, if the micro-organisms won’t grow on agar plates we can find their DNA and tell what they are.
Once we know what micro-organisms are in a patent’s sample we can find out what antibiotics or other drugs will help kill them and cure the patient.
My work is mainly to help design new tests so we can find more disease causing organisms, find them faster, find them more accurately or tell more information about them.
My Typical Day
I don’t have a typical day!
There are lots of different things I do during the day.
At the start of a new project I spend a lot of time finding out background information. I go to scientific conferences to see what other scientists are doing round the world, I read scientific papers and sometimes I just “google” to find out what’s out there on the internet.
Some days I get my white coat on and work in the laboratory doing experiments. I’ll be trying new things to see what works best. I also spend a lot of time in the lab when I have a new test method working but need to test it against lots of samples. We have to be really careful that we are 100% sure the results of the tests we do are correct because people’s lives might depend on them.
After I’ve done the lab work, I spend time writing. Scientists have to write up everything they do so that other people can understand what they did and why. If the results are really important I will try and get them published in a scientific journal so other scientists from all over the world know about my work.
On most days I end up giving expert advice. I work with the biomedical scientists who carry out the tests I have designed so if anything goes wrong we can work out the problem and fix it together. I also talk to doctors and nurses to explain the tests we do so they can send us the right samples from patients at the right time.
What I'd do with the prize money
Something to help more people find out how brilliant microbiology is
I still need to think about exactly what I’d do with the money.
I’d like to do something so that more people can find out about how important hospital microbiology labs are. When people are ill they often thank the people who have helped them – their doctors and nurses and even their pharmacist, physiotherapist or speech therapist. No-one ever mentions the help they got from the microbiologists because we are always tucked away in a lab. I’d like people to understand that there are hundreds of important people working away in hospital labs to help doctors do their job well.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Introverted, Persistent, Honest
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Seeing a test I have designed making a difference to a sick person’s treatment
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a scientist. I was inspired to become a microbiologist by an article in the New Scientist magazine about biofilms.
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Some kind of biologist
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was often in trouble at school – mostly for talking too much in class
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Something else that involved problem solving
Who is your favourite singer or band?
No favourite – I like indie rock stuff mostly
What's your favourite food?
Haribo Tangfastics (but only as a treat)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Attempting to surf
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) to be more patient 2) to have the people I love with me 3) to find the ultimate cure for acne