Ever since I can remember I've loved science, and although it's difficult to sit at the dinner table and discuss work without it seeming I'm speaking another language, I maintain that I have one of the most exciting jobs in the world.
I am in my third year of a PhD at the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre (SDDC) at the University of Sussex. The centre is one of 24 dedicated drug discovery facilities in the UK, and represents a good example of the shifted landscape of UK drug discovery, whereby early-stage preclinical research is no longer conducted by pharmaceutical companies but at partnering academic institutions. This is great news for us students because the expanding academic groups offer an ever increasing wealth of knowledge and experience, creating an excellent and inspiring environment in which to learn.
Our group focuses predominantly on oncology, neuroscience and respiratory diseases. My projects have been in oncology, the branch of medicine devoted to cancer. This is an exciting field to work in, especially now as the group has recently been awarded a substantial grant by the Wellcome Trust for an oncology portfolio. At present I am focusing on the identification and development of small molecule inhibitors toward the treatment of clear cell renal cell carcinoma (a kidney cancer), a target of increasing and undisputed importance.
With extensive experience and a breadth of capabilities the SDDC has a pretty unique ability to undertake multidisciplinary projects at the interface of chemistry, pharmacology and biology which is necessary for efficient and productive drug discovery projects. In my project I've had the opportunity to sample a wide array of experimental techniques, for example in protein production and purification, x-ray crystallography and computer-aided drug design.
As I expect is abundantly clear, I have had a hugely positive experience of higher education. In my undergraduate degree I studied a combination of biology and chemistry, which along with preparing me nicely for my interdisciplinary project has meant that I have experience in both life science, psychology, and social sciences (LPS) and the more mathematically intensive geoscience, engineering, economics, mathematics/computer and physical (GEEMP) sciences. As is widely acknowledged, I have found that while LPS sciences enjoy a pretty good gender balance there is a scarcity of women in GEEMP sciences. There are many discussions about the reasons for and implications of this. Personally though, I have no experience of differential treatment regarding my gender, potentially with the exception that I get asked to do a few more outreach and widening participation events, which having had such a great experience myself, I am always glad to do.
Overall drug discovery is an extremely interesting and invaluable area of study and it's my privilege to play my small part. I'd encourage everyone to listen to those scientists around the table talking gibberish, they likely have something pretty cool to say.