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Meet Eleni Christoforidou, a Ph.D. Student at the University of Sussex

1. What is your name, institution, field of study?

My name is Eleni Christoforidou and I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Sussex. My field of study is broadly “Neuroscience”, but the techniques I am currently using for my research involve mostly cellular and molecular biology, genetics, and a little bit of biochemistry and bioinformatics. My research project is investigating the effects and mechanisms behind neuroinflammation in neurodegenerative diseases.

2. Why did you choose to join a research lab and what has the research, benchwork, or specific techniques taught you about a career in science?

Scientific research has always interested me because it is a way to use my problem-solving skills in order to learn something new. Joining a research lab allowed me to challenge myself in a lot of different ways. Working and studying as a doctoral student has given me the opportunity to work closely with several experienced researchers who have mentored and continue to mentor me about science, and this has been a very valuable experience. My journey as a scientist has been very fulfilling so far, but at the same time, a career in science can be very stressful for a lot of people. It is not an easy job because it requires passion, dedication, and hard work.

3. What have you learned from working in a lab and how has your role contributed to the field of research?

I have learned that working in a lab does not necessarily mean that you are doing experiments every day for eight hours. Instead, most of my time as a researcher is spent in the office designing experiments, writing reports, analyzing data, reading up on new techniques, and catching up on the latest published papers in the field. A lot of time is also spent in meetings with other team members and in journal clubs, seminars, and conferences. Some of my time is also spent on teaching and mentoring younger students. I wouldn’t say that my role as a postgraduate student in my current lab has contributed to the field of research in any significant way as of yet, but I am still in an early stage of my research and I certainly hope that by the end of my project I will have discovered something new and interesting that will be of value to the broader scientific community.

4. What are your career goals and how has your research experience helped with this?

My very ambitious career goal is to one day open my own research institute and work alongside other scientists in cutting-edge biomedical research. My more realistic career goal, however, is to simply be able to work as a full-time researcher, ideally in a private company. I want to be responsible for designing and undertaking laboratory-based experiments, in order to seek answers to questions of great interest to scientists. I enjoy gathering and analyzing data and reporting my findings to a wider audience, and a career in scientific research is a great opportunity for me to discover new information and expand my knowledge. Apart from technical skills and knowledge about my specific field of study, my research experience so far has provided me with a lot of the skills that are essential for a career in science, including patience, determination, critical thinking, analytical skills, as well as teamwork and communication skills.

5. What is the most exciting aspect of the lab you are in? What is the future application of this? What is something that a non-scientist would find interesting/should know about?

One of the projects currently underway at the lab I am in (although, I am not involved in this project myself) is looking to identify potential biomarkers for a specific neurodegenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Researchers in my lab have recently made a very exciting discovery when they showed that there is a specific pattern of certain molecules in the blood which signals the presence of the disease. Such a discovery could significantly improve diagnosis with a simple blood test in the future and is therefore an incredibly exciting and important finding.

Something that I think a non-scientist should know about is that scientists do not have the answer to everything! There are a lot of common things that humans do that science has still not figured out why. For example, we don’t know why we sleep, or why we laugh or cry. There are certainly several hypotheses as to why we might do these things, but we have no robust conclusions yet. Similarly, we don’t know the underlying mechanisms of a lot of common diseases, even though we might already have some available treatments for them. All we have are theories and hypotheses that have provided some evidence of how something could potentially occur. But there are many things that we do not have definitive proof for. I believe that this is a very interesting fact about science, and it is something that a lot of non-scientists may not have thought about before. The job of a scientist is to design experiments to continuously test these hypotheses in order to provide more evidence for or against them, which, in my opinion, is what makes science so interesting.

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