Rob Hill

Career progressionRob-Hill-300x300-(1).jpg

1. Neuroscience BSc

2. Masters

3. Senior Research Technician/PhD


Rob is a Senior Research Technician/postgraduate at the University of Bristol.

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

I attended the University of Bristol, studying for a Neuroscience BSc. During this time, I obtained a personal license for in vivo experimentation. This short course gave me crucial experience in both the ethics and experimental procedures involved in animal research. However, graduating with a 2:2, I then went on to work at Huntingdon Life Sciences to get more experience, working with mice up to primates in a toxicology lab. The diversity of animals I worked with through this time was invaluable in shaping my understanding of the necessity for in vivo research.

I then returned to the University of Bristol as a Lab Technician where I used my wage to further my education, through a masters in Research in Pharmacology and currently through a PhD.

 All my work and opportunities have been very centered around in vivo experimentation. My current research has utilized mouse models of respiratory depression and pain in order to understand the physiological and molecular development of tolerance to a variety of opioids, as well as the impact of other abused drugs on opioid tolerance.

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

Every Monday morning, we have a lab meeting - this is a crucial part of research life. Regular meetings allow the entire team to exchange partial data and discuss the implications of any given results, as well as get a broader picture of their field of research outside of their own experiments. These discussions have been important in cultivating a mind that is constantly critical of my own data, a fact that is supremely important in in vivo experimentation, not only regarding the integrity of the data and conclusions, but also the efficiency and ethical integrity of our animal use.

Each experiment is planned meticulously before it is started. At the beginning of novel experiments, I conduct a power analysis based on previous data and best guesses to ensure that I am using the correct number of animals in my study, minimizing the need to repeat experiments in order to clarify results, or indeed minimizing the over-use of animals.

Frequently, the beginning of the week will involve preparation of drug weights ready to be made up in solution on the day of the experiment, as well as undertaking care of my cell populations, which I utilize for more molecular work in the labs. Animals also need to be habituated for each experiment in order to minimize stress as a complicating factor. Depending on my workload, this can take 1-2 days. Experimental days are usually fully enclosed in the animal house, with each drug I administer being coded so as to prevent bias of the results.

The rest of the time is given either to molecular experiments such as FRET or BRET or is spent at my desk analyzing my data and eating snacks. Snacks are a crucial component of any researcher’s life. Get to know your vending machines well.

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

I value the ability to see the cutting edge of science develop in front of your eyes, contributing to that in a small but fundamental way. The meticulous and rigorous nature of experimentation appeals to me on many levels.
The major downside would be building my life around my experiments, starting as early as 4.30am and working as many as 28 days in row because the experiment demands it can be very testing, but in the end, it is worth it to find the answer.

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

Once I complete my PhD, I have every desire to pursue an academic research path. I think I would find the loss of being at the tip of the spear of knowledge very hard. For all its potential hardships, I love my job. The constant stimulation of questions and problems and practical solutions is incredibly invigorating. I am currently planning to work abroad for some time in order to broaden both my geographic and technical horizons.

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

Take every chance possible. I apply to any and every workshop, bursary or position of responsibility I can - the worst they can do is say no! This approach has led me to many travel and training opportunities, including being a student member of the Society's own animal welfare committee.
Be prepared to sacrifice a little. Hours can be long, and failure happens a lot. Sometimes science is very unsociable and incredibly frustrating. I don’t think I would have got so far working only 9-5, being invested in your work makes the rewards that much sweeter.
Don’t give up. I did not work hard enough at my undergraduate, and I submitted 100’s of job applications before I got an interview let alone a job in science. It has taken me the long scenic route, but with perseverance I am where I want to be now. You can do it, I promise.

Published: 13 Nov 2018 in Academic and NHS