Inspirational Women: Charlotte Cooper

Charlotte Cooper, winner of The AstraZeneca Award for the Best Pharmacology Student 2011, answers questions about why and how she became a pharmacologist. Charlotte was interviewed by the Women in Pharmacology (WiP) student representative Liang Yew-Booth.

Why did you choose to study Pharmacology at university?
I was always fascinated by human biology, so I had thought that I wanted to study Medicine. However, during volunteering experience in a UK hospital and a couple of hospitals in Kenya, I realized the huge importance of preclinical research in the discovery and development of drugs to treat diseases. I therefore went to study Medical Sciences at the University of Leeds, where I further discovered my passion for Pharmacology and my eagerness to understand the precise mechanisms of action of drugs in the body.

What did your undergraduate dissertation project involve? Why did you choose to do that particular project?
My final year project investigated the potential role of orexin, an excitatory neuropeptide, in the central control of respiration, with a particular focus on innervation of laryngeal muscles in the upper airway. This project therefore involved an in situ preparation that enabled nerve recordings, which was technically very difficult; this was actually one of the reasons that I chose this project, as I wanted to do something that would challenge me. I also wanted to further develop some of the in vivo skills I had gained previously. Most importantly though, the project seemed interesting!

What did you enjoy the most about your project?
I enjoyed the satisfaction gained from throwing myself into a project and being able to develop in-depth knowledge of a particular field of research. Learning the techniques required was rewarding work and I also felt that gaining a real insight into research in academia was important. Overall, the project was a great experience.

What did you enjoy least about your project?
I really can’t think of anything so it must have been good!

Were there any surprise findings in your research that changed the original direction? If so what were these?
The surprise findings were the results themselves! Due to the lack of available literature on the effects of orexin on laryngeal muscles in the upper airways, I didn’t quite know what to expect, and even whether I would see any results whatsoever. So it was very exciting when I noticed an effect!

How did you become SET Best Pharmacology Student 2011?
Based on my final year project, I was nominated by the University of Leeds for this award, so I submitted a short 2000 word synopsis of my dissertation. A few weeks later I discovered that I had been shortlisted to the top three in the Best Pharmacology Student category, so I went to the BPS offices in London to present my work to a panel of judges, which was followed by an interview where I was asked further questions about my project, as well as questions about myself, my motivations and my future plans. I then received my award at the SET Awards evening, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

What are you doing now you’ve finished your undergraduate degree?
I am currently working whilst searching for PhDs, so I am yet to see what’s in store for me!

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years' time?
I hope to be pursuing an exciting career within either academia or industry. It will definitely be interesting to look back in 10 years’ time and see how my career has evolved, but I am in no rush to get there!

What are your hobbies/interests (outside Pharmacology!)?
I’m an active person, so I enjoy lots of difference sports and activities, especially running, tennis and skiing. I also love dancing, particularly samba; it’s a great way to forget about everything else and just have fun!

Do you have any advice for someone considering a degree in Pharmacology?
I would say go for it! People who are passionate about the study of Pharmacology are vital in facilitating medical advances, so if anyone is interested in the study of how the body works and how drugs interact within the body to try to correct problems that occur when normal body functions are disrupted, I would certainly advise them to study a degree in Pharmacology. It really is a diverse, constantly evolving and fascinating area of science.