Megan Thompson is a PhD student who has just entered the second year of her four-year project.
I’m in Rob Clarke’s lab, based in the MCRC building, and the lab is focussed on researching breast cancer and normal breast tissue.
Before I started my PhD I studied Biochemistry at the University of Bristol followed by a research Master’s degree looking at differentiating blood stem cells into neutrophils. Although my masters wasn’t to do with cancer, it really made me realise that I wanted to continue in research and that I was particularly interested in stem cells.
To sum up my PhD briefly, I’m looking at breast cancers that have become resistant to hormone treatment. It is thought that resistance arises from breast cancer stem cells and I’m looking at the actions of a protein called Notch4 in these cells. Notch has mainly been researched in the model organism Drosophila, but links have been found between treatment resistant breast cancer and one of the human isoforms, Notch4.
On a day to day basis I spend about 50% of my time in the lab, with most of this in the tissue culture lab working with various breast cancer cell lines. A lot of the time is spent on the upkeep of these, making sure they have the best conditions and preparing them for experiments. Apart from this, I perform assays such as one called an Aldefluor assay which involves staining cells with a fluorescent marker. The time in the main lab involves molecular biology processes such as Western Blots and PCRs. Recently, I have spent a lot of my time staining cells for immunofluorescence imaging because a key part of my PhD project involves looking at the movement of my protein of interest within the cell.
The time spent not in the lab is made up of lab meetings, in which the lab members share what they’ve been up to recently, as well as planning experiments and replying to emails. Any other spare time is taken up with writing reports and keeping up with the literature. I also spent a large proportion of time at the beginning of my PhD looking through online databases to search for mutations found in my protein of interest in breast cancers.
Outside of my day-to-day normality, I’ve also presented my work at various conferences around the world, with a particular highlight being a conference in Cyprus last June. The university also organises events with opportunities to present and network with other scientists, both within my field and in other fields of research. I also spend some of my time helping in undergraduate practical lab sessions which is really good teaching experience, as well as being fun and a good way to earn money alongside your PhD!
The flexibility of my PhD has allowed me plenty of time to explore my other interests including bouldering, surfing and walking in the Peak District. There is also a good group of PhD students in my year that are very supportive and we’ve all become good friends.