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Past Questions

  1. Hi, I am from Pakistan and I want to study at the University of Birmingham - can you help?

    Hi there, That's great news! Birmingham is a fantastic city to live in and the university is one of this highest rated in the country and an excellent place to study and spend your time :) Was there anything specific you wanted to get help on or ask? What level are you at? Would this be for undergraduate studies, a masters, or a PhD? I'm happy to help with whatever you need, if I can! Jen

  2. Can you give me a brief overview on the interview process at the university for the IDTP and doctoral courses? How can I become better prepared and what can I expect?

    Hi there, I must admit I wasn't actually sure what the IDTP is! I had to look it up haha. But it sounds like a great programme. What I would recommend is that whatever you decide to apply for, that you show dedication to it. For example, for the IDTP, try to identify some areas of research that you could see yourself working in, whether it be in immunology, cell biology, neuroscience or some other aspect of biology or otherwise. Read some recent papers on the topic to show that you are interested in it and try to be relatively specific about what you are excited to achieve through the programme. Is there a particular skillset you would like to develop or get experience in such as microscopy or flow cytometry or immunoprecipitation. If you can demonstrate that you have thought about how the programme could help you reach your goals then I think that will impress the interviewers. If applying directly for a PhD with a specific research group; read their most recent papers and any seminal papers they have and really try to show them you have read up their work and have a real interest in their research. In terms of how to sell yourself, focus on aspects of your previous training or experience and try to relate it back to the work that the lab you're interested in does. So for example if you are applying to a PhD in a neuroscience lab, focus your application letter, your CV and in the interview on any neuroscience modules you studied, or how any practical lab experience you gained relates to their work. The most important thing is to show enthusiasm and a real passion for science and for research. Willingness and eagerness to learn and grow your skills goes a long way, along with a positive attitude. For my PhD, I approached the lab directly through email. Then when I came in to visit the lab I had an informal interview that was basically like a meet-and-greet. I was shown around the labs and met with other PhD students and the post-docs in their lab, so you may well have the same experience. I hope that was helpful. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you want any further information or help with applications etc. Good luck! Jen

  3. Hi Jennifer, I just wanted to as for advice regarding my career prospects. I am a postgraduate student in Zoology and I did my education in India. Now I am residing in the UK. I was a house wife for the past 10 years, with few voluntary roles. I would like to return to my career especially in the field of Histology. Would it be possible to enter the Histology field here in the UK with an MSc in Zoology and few certifications from India? What are the routes that I must take? I have Nayarit equivalence certificate too. Can you please guide me in this? Thank you so much.

    Hi, In response to your question, it really depends on what you envision yourself doing as a final career. Obviously with histology the majority of work would probably be clinical and therefore I would recommend looking into training through the National Health Service. They offer a lot of training programs that lead directly into a career in your chosen target area and the training program, although quite rigorous, looks fun and gives you a lot of opportunities once you graduate. Check out this website; it is certainly an advantage to have a Masters degree. I think the fact your degree is in Zoology is not necessarily detrimental, as long as you had a good range of training and experience in other aspects of biology such as basic biochemistry, cell biology, immunology, anatomy etc. As long as you can demonstrate that you have the capacity to undertake the training and have a solid background of general biological knowledge then I can't see why you couldn't be considered for the training. If your focus is something more research-based then the best route would be to search around for labs that are doing research that interests you and contact them directly to see if they might have any upcoming PhD programmes available. Show that you are really interested in their work and that you have read a number of their recent papers (you could start the email referencing a most recent paper to show you have read it and talk about how it fascinates you), then explain your training and the experience and skills you have. It may also be possible to gain experience through approaching your local GPs office and seeing whether you could shadow their team or speak to any of their staff about how they got to the position (in particular if they have on site histologists - somewhat unlikely as that is probably carried out offsite through the NHS). I'm sorry I can't be more directly helpful, I'm afraid histology is not really my field of expertise. I'm happy to help more though with anything such as looking over applications or emails or your CV. Don't hesitate to reach out. Jen

  4. Why did you choose the University of Birmingham?

    By my final year at Manchester, there was no question over which area I’d like to focus on, as the way the body prevented and fought off infection had always fascinated me, so I started to investigate which universities had the greatest talent pool of immunological research scientists and Birmingham came up time and time again as world leaders in Immunology. I found a number of researchers whose work particularly appealed to me and contacted them directly to find out whether they might have PhD funding available for that year. After some informal interviews, I decided upon a project that crossed two disciplines: immunology and epigenetics, giving me a grounding in the two areas and a fantastic range of practical techniques. Completing my PhD at Birmingham gave me the opportunity to volunteer as a STEM ‘researcher in residence’, visiting a local high school one afternoon a week for six weeks, speaking to students about my work and career path, promoting science and higher education. I also led an after-school group in which the students designed and implemented unique projects, working towards a Science CREST Silver Award. I was invited to speak about my experiences at numerous ‘Researchers in Residence’ training days and at a postgraduate networking event at the University of Birmingham and to promote the scheme, which gave me invaluable experience in communicating science to a wider audience.

  5. Why did you decide to undertake postgraduate study?

    My interest in biology began during my AS-level in Human Biology, which started out as the ‘fourth choice’ that I’d rapidly drop during the second year, but from my first class on disease and immunity, I was hooked! From there I went on to do my undergraduate degree at the University of Manchester, being lucky enough to secure an industrial placement year within a pharmaceutical company; Boehringer Ingelheim, in Germany – a year that was absolutely invaluable to me and something that I would encourage anyone to do. This experience gave me my first taste of life as a working scientist and I decided that it was the life for me! I was advised during this year that if I were to pursue this career path, going on to study for a PhD would be absolutely invaluable, regardless of whether I went on to work within industry or academia, so I made the decision to aim towards postgraduate study early on (which gave me the motivation to achieve the best degree that I could).

  6. How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

    Since the completion of my PhD and graduating from the University of Birmingham in 2010, I was fortunate enough to secure a postdoctoral research fellow post, also at Birmingham, investigating human immune responses to Salmonella infection. My boss took up a post as Head of Exploratory Research at Novartis in Siena soon after I started, which again gave me insight into pharmaceutical science and reignited my interest in working in industry.

    By the end of my postdoc, I had made the decision to make the transition into industry and applied for a position as a principal scientist in the Research and Development team at Abcam Plc, a biotechnology firm based in Cambridge, and was honoured to be offered the position, which started in January 2014. The leap from academia to industry has been a subtle one for me as I am still technically in research. I get to use a lot of the techniques that I picked up over my previous years and have already experienced many novel ones. I have also recently been made line manager for one of our technicians, and will have access to training for this role. The work is fast paced, and can change from day to day, and there are a LOT more meetings. There is more of a ‘team spirit’, though, and I feel well supported. Plus there are many benefits to company life: fixed (and more forgiving) working hours, a permanent post, access to the latest technology, plus lots of corporate perks (playstation, table football, free fruit/coffee/tea etc. delivered each week!).

  7. How did you grow as a person by studying at University? Did it change your life in any way?

    My years at university gave me fantastic experiences, allowing me to meet new people and gain independence living away from home, which I think has been one of the most important life lessons and given me the freedom to consider new opportunities across the UK and the world. The University of Birmingham gave me a good grounding on which to make the progression into the wider world of science. It is an exceptional place to study: an attractive campus, like a little oasis of calm on the outskirts of a busy city; with first-rate academics giving access to excellent facilities. I would recommend Birmingham to anyone.

  8. Hi Jennifer, I am going to study a PhD in Immunology at the University of Birmingham. Since I am new I would like to get some advice in terms of how should I put a study plan and steps in place that will enable me to study well?

    Hi, I am happy to offer any help that I can. I would say, in terms of putting in place a study plan, this is really the responsibility of both you and your supervisor. As a first year PhD student, you really won't be expected to organise or plan your work totally unsupervised - this won't really happen until you are well into your second or third year. The first year is all about reading around your subject area, learning the techniques required for your project and getting a good grounding for your PhD. It is quite common that the first year of your PhD is just background work that won't even go into your thesis!

    May I ask who your supervisor is? Have they been in contact and asked you to put together a plan for your work specifically?

    Regarding the second half of your question, the best recommendation I can offer for someone starting out is to treat your PhD more like a job than study. Try to be in the lab at least 9-5 Monday-Friday (although it'll probably be longer hours than that), but more importantly, try to remember to also have a life! Don't work every weekend, don't work every night at home. That's the best way to survive it!

    Please don't hesitate to ask me anything specific. Everyone's PhD is a very different experience, but it shouldn't have to be three or four years of torture haha!

    Best wishes, Jen

  9. Do my previous grades effect the next study life or my work matters?

    Hi there,

    While it is really important to work as hard as you can and achieve the best grades you are capable of, as you move forward in your career and gain skills and experience, grades from school and college become less important.  However, I would say that it helps progress further and quicker if you have slightly higher grades in the early stages of your career when trying to secure a role.

    In my experience, having worked for a biotechnology company for over 5 years now, the hiring process, at least in the company I work for, is much more about meeting a person face to face, learning about the experiences they have, sensing a willingness to learn and grow with enthusiasm about science and the work that we do.  A well constructed CV will help to make you stand out.  To transition into industry, we are looking for candidates with often quite specific lab skills and techniques, so highlighting the experimental procedures that you have familiarity with is important.

    Try to take advantage of any opportunities around the university - I made sure to get as much lab experience as I could.  I also participated in the Industrial Placement program, working for a year in a pharmaceutical company in Germany, which was totally invaluable!

    Lower grades shouldn't inhibit you entirely, you may just have to accept that your career path will progress at a slightly slower pace.  And in the meantime, try to treat your time at university as one step along that career path - it's important not to waste it and to work hard and to the best of your ability.

    I hope this helps :)

    Good luck!