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Oliver Bell

Oliver-Bell.jpgCareer progression

1. Medical Pharmacology BSc 

2. PhD in Ocoular Immunology


Oliver is a PhD student at the University of Bristol

What is your career pathway to date (including your education)?

At school, I took both GCSEs and A-levels (the A-levels were in Biology, Chemistry, and Geology).

For my undergraduate, I studied the BSc Medical Pharmacology at Cardiff University.

I am Currently undertaking a PhD (first year) at the University of Bristol in Ocular Immunology.

What do you do? What does a typical week look like to you?

As a PhD student, my primary job is to undertake research in a topic and ultimately write a large book called a thesis detailing my findings. My specific topic is titled “The Transcriptional Plasticity of Microglia during Intraocular Inflammation”, which essentially means looking at how the resident immune cell of the eye (microglia) changes its activity when the eye becomes inflamed.

A typical week will consist of planning and running experiments in the laboratory. My work involves a lot of in vivo research, using mouse models of eye diseases (the most frequent being “experimental autoimmune uveitis” (EAU)), and I perform a lot of imaging work to assess how the disease model progresses over a time-course – it also allows us to assess the effect a therapy may or may not have, and whether it has the potential for use in real patients. Often, I will take the eyes and process them for further information using techniques such as flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, and RNA-Seq to better understand the changes that are occurring in the cells; with this improved understanding, we can identify novel therapeutic targets that have promise for helping patients.

Outside of the experiments, I attend seminars being given by other researchers in various biomedical fields from all over the world (there are typically 2-4 a week) as well as read up on papers written by other scientists relating to my work. I also frequently attend events/courses relating to the best animal welfare and management practices as part of continuing professional development to maintain world-leading standards in our ethical use of animals for research.

There are often other interesting workshops taking place, or the opportunity to teach and demonstrate to undergraduate students as well during term time.

What do you like and dislike the most about your current position?

I really enjoy the ability to learn and discover new things, as well as develop new hypotheses and test them. As our understanding is continually changing, it makes for very interesting work that will have a positive impact on society in the future.
I dislike the challenges within Universities relating to the politics and finances – different departments often are not very cohesive and, along with having challenges with regards to securing funding, slows progress on work but also our potential to collaborate at times.

How do you see your career further progressing in the future?

In the future, I hope to continue research but also teach students once I complete my PhD by remaining within academia. This may begin with being a post-doctoral researcher before moving onto becoming a lecturer, but we’ll see how things pan out.

What three pieces of advice would you give someone keen on developing a career in your area of work?

Do your research (pun intended) and pick/develop a PhD project (or prior to this, a degree) in an area you are genuinely interested in – projects during summers/final year may help you to know if an area is for you or not, and many universities will offer taster courses or open days for you to get a feel for the course you could apply to undertake.
Whilst you’re an undergraduate, don’t be afraid to get in touch with researchers in your institution and to try for a summer project (some societies will even help fund this work).
Don’t be afraid to get involved with societies like the BPS. They provide a lot of fantastic opportunities (whether it be meetings, events, or resources on their websites) that can help you develop key skills or guide you throughout various stages of your career.

Published: 12 Aug 2020 in Academic and NHS