Dr Kayleigh Wardell is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the lab of Matt Neale (University of Sussex), which investigates the mechanisms by which chromosomes are rearranged during meiosis. Meiosis is a specialised form of cell division that produces gametes and a central stage in this process is the rearrangement of chromosomes to generate genetic diversity. Kayleigh is a STEM Ambassador and a keen science communicator, and enjoys sharing her love of science with anyone who will listen. Come and meet Kayleigh in London on the 28th of May, 2-5pm!
SS: Kayleigh, how did you get to your current position?
KW: Understanding how our cells work has always fascinated me. My undergraduate degree was in Biochemistry at Imperial College London and following this I worked as a Research assistant at UCL on a breast cancer clinical trial. I loved the research element of the work and that inspired me to undertake a PhD, and I chose to do a project that would allow me to learn more about how cells work on the inside. I did my PhD at the University of Nottingham in the lab of Dr Thorsten Allers, where I researched DNA repair in archaea; single-celled organisms that often live in extreme environments. Following my PhD I knew I wanted to continue researching DNA, and I now work as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the lab of Dr Matthew Neale at the Genome Damage and Stability Centre (University of Sussex). I research how DNA gets crossed over during the formation of sex cells, an important process that leads to variation within populations. However, if it goes wrong this can leave to infertility and genome rearrangements.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
KW: When I was growing up I was always fascinated by the world around me and could often be found collecting worms or frogspawn! I had some very inspiring teachers at school who nurtured my love of biology further. It was when we learned about genetics at GCSE and A-levels that my love of things to do with DNA really sparked.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
KW: I am studying meiosis, which is how sex cells form. I think it is highly rewarding and exciting to be researching how we are all made. Inside our cells there are a vast number of complex things happening which all need to be coordinated so that they happen in the right place at the right time. I find it really interesting to try and understand what is happening inside of us. I really enjoy the problem solving aspect of my work; piecing together results to gain an understanding of how things are working inside cells.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
KW: I really enjoy science communication. I am a STEM Ambassador, frequently visiting schools to talk about science as well as delivering activities at science fairs. I think that it is really important to bring science out of the lab: allowing non-scientists to learn about the research that we do and question us about it. It is also really important to show people that science is for everyone, regardless of background, gender etc. Soapbox Science is a great platform for this, and I wanted to be involved as it is a way for female scientists to promote not only themselves and the work they do, but also show people that girls can be scientists too. Furthermore, it sounds really fun!
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
KW: I’m not sure it can be summed up in one word! Excitement, nervousness, anticipation…
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
KW: During my career so far I have had to move several times up and down the country. I know that this is the norm in academia as you have short-term contracts until you are able to obtain a permanent position (most postdoctoral contracts are around 3 years). Some people do manage to stay in one location for their careers, but I feel like this is the exception to the rule. A lot of scientists leave academia (female and male) because they don’t want to, or can’t, uproot and resettle so frequently. I think that this is a real shame that sometimes it comes to choosing between your career and your personal life.
What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
If you love your subject and are willing to work hard, then go for it! Build a network of support around you: friends, family, co-workers. You will need them at times but if you love your job then it is worth it.