WORKING at the forefront of one of the UK’s leading research centres. Rachel Wilson is a force to be reckoned with. With only four years experience under her belt, she’s already working on ground-breaking projects in Stem Cell research, studying cures for Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and colon cancer.
I am a twenty-five-year-old Stem Cell Research Biologist at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle. My job is to generate stem cells from donor’s skin and blood and then use those to create another range of cells such as brain and heart tissue.
“From there I work towards finding drugs to help cure diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Whilst also studying human biology, and its uses, to improve health and wellbeing.”
This isn’t a 9-5 weekday job. Looking after cells is almost like being a parent, I can’t just leave them for a weekend and not feed them. Every cell set also needs different care, while some can go without being looked after, many need feeding and monitoring every other day.
I got to where I am by studying a degree in Biology and Chemistry at Durham University. But after graduating it wasn’t all plain sailing. To pay the bills whilst looking for a graduate position I worked at Nando’s as a waitress for nine months and, 35 gruelling job applications later, I finally found my way to working at the Centre for Life.
“It was challenging, working every hour in the services industry and being rejected from dream jobs that would allow me to pursue my passion.”
I knew I had worked so hard for my degree and am so pleased that I persevered because I now have a job that I love, working in an area that keeps me so motivated and driven.
This isn’t an easy job though, it comes with its challenges. It’s not just simply finding a cure and making it available to everyone. What we’re trying to do here is extremely challenging and things can go wrong. Although we always do everything in our power to carry out a well-researched and successful project, a variable may not suit the cells and then weeks and weeks of your work, time and effort is gone, right before your very eyes.
The positives, however, completely outweigh these setbacks. When you know that you’ve produced these living cells from absolutely nothing, and they are contributing to research in diseases that affect millions worldwide, you can’t beat that feeling of pride in your work.
For those of you wanting to get into science, education is key. You need a degree-level qualification to work in the industry at my current level. But remember this doesn’t just mean going to university, you can also work towards a career in science with an apprenticeship too. Some labs will even employ people with A levels and you can climb the career ladder this way.
But often education isn’t the be all and end all, you need experience. When I was at University I sent an e-mail round to all my lecturers in the Biology department offering to do lab work and got the chance to volunteer in a lab over the summer. You have to be prepared to work for free, and to work hard too.
From this, the experience is invaluable, you learn what it really means to be a scientist, put your education into practice, speak to experts in your chosen field, and of course make key contacts that you can then add as references for your CV. I have the labwork volunteering to thank for my current job. My boss knew the Professor I worked for very well so she gave me an invaluable reference. I would also encourage anyone to attend local public outreach events at local museums (give it a quick google) and get chatting to scientists, they’re there to help you.
I am really looking forward to advancing in my career, I want to study aging, specifically why we age and why we become more susceptible to disease when we age. I am highly motivated to excel in this field. My future plan is to get a PhD and, from there, be able to travel to any institute in the world to work.
I look at scientists at the top of this field and I think that is going to be me. I don’t think I’ve seen a Nobel Prize winner with bright blue dyed hair before!