Looking forward to answering any questions in the green zone
Ard Scoil na nDeise (Secondary), Maynooth University (Undergraduate), University College Cork (MSc and PhD)
BSc Biological and Biomedical Sciences, MSc Bioinformatics and Computational Biology,
I worked in a SuperValu when I was in school and then in a local jewellers all through my undergraduate. I worked weekends and summers. Now I work in Teagasc.
Vision 1 lab, Teagasc Moorepark
APC Microbiome Ireland
Department of Microbiology, University College Cork
Favourite thing to do in science: Learn new things, which I do nearly every day
About Me: In my spare time I love being outdoors, I love animals and enjoy jogging.
I am from Waterford, I work in Cork, and this year I moved to Tipperary. I finished my PhD and I started a new job at the end of 2019. I love animals, being outdoors and jogging. I am not very fast. I often enter races without telling anyone, as I am only competing against myself and my previous times. Because of this I have become known to some of my colleagues as the secret runner.
My Work: I look at tiny bugs (microbes). I study microbes in food that can survive processing. I also study how foods impact the microbes we already have in our gut.
I work as part of a large group. We all work on different projects and types of samples, but we are all interested in microbes.
I study the microbes in foods and in our gut. My favourite foods to study are dairy, milks and powder mainly. Companies process dairy in different ways to make different products. With each different processing method, different microbes can survive. I also study the microbes that can survive in the processing facility itself. I study these by looking at the microbes in swabs taken from processing facilities.
I use two main methods to analyse the microbes in our gut, in dairy samples and in swab samples.
The first method I use is growing the microbes.
I grow the microbes on a jelly-like food called nutrient agar. I do this by spreading some of the dairy samples on top of the agar and keeping it nice and warm. The microbes take the nutrients from the agar, grow and multiply. The microbes can take between 24-48 hours to grow. Once grown I can see the microbes without needing to use a microscope. I can then pick the microbes from the agar surface and analyse them further to determine what they are. I can also store them to study them at a different time. Different microbes like different nutrients and some prefer different temperatures to grow, this can make it difficult to analyse all the microbes in a sample.
The second method I use is to examine the DNA from the microbes.
I first collect the DNA from the samples. I do this by spinning the dairy sample really fast in a special machine, like a big fidget spinner, so that all the microbes in the sample drop to the bottom. I take away the liquid from the top so I am just left with the microbes at the bottom. I then try to break open the microbes in order to release their DNA. I use two methods to do this. I first shake the microbes with tiny beads to try break them open, and then I add chemicals that burst the microbe cells open, these release all the DNA. When I have the DNA I can look at it on a gel. I can then read it using a special machine called a sequencer. This can take a few days.
Reading the DNA, it is not like reading words, but letters. It is also not only what the letters are that is really important, but their order. When the DNA has been sequenced I can read the letters and compare the order of the letters in my samples to the order of the letters in microbes. I can then figure out what microbes are present in my samples.
I make graphs and tables showing the microbes in my samples, and comparing them to other samples. I make presentations and write reports for the companies that have given me samples. I also prepare presentations for our lab group. We have lab presentations every Friday, where we take it in turns to present our work. On average I have to present once every 3 months. I also give presentations to the whole department maybe once or twice a year, and I go to 1-2 conferences a year where I give a talk or present a poster.
My Typical Day: My day starts with a coffee. My work days are a bit different now, like everyone in the country, due to COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines. I am working from home at the moment, so I don't have to commute to work. After a relaxed breakfast, I look at my list of things to do for the day. Then I check my emails. Next I start my analysis, writing or learning whichever I have planned first.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown my days looked like this:
7.45am: I start my day with breakfast and a coffee before my commute.
8.45am: I arrive to the office. I check my list of things to do for the day. I check my emails. I plan out my day.
9.30am Monday Morning: I have a weekly group meeting with my supervisor. Here I talk about the work I have done the past week, what I plan to do this week, and raise any issue or concerns. It is a great start to the week and other colleagues may be able to help/offer advice too.
10am: I start preparing samples for analysis.
10.30am: Tea break with colleagues.
10.45am: I start the first method to analyse my samples. I grow the microbes.
12.30pm: Lunch time.
1pm: I start the 2nd method, collecting DNA from the microbes within the samples.
3pm: I analyse DNA that has already been sequenced. I make graphs and tables
3.30pm: Tea break.
3.45pm: I continue to make graphs and tables. I write reports, read papers or prepare presentations.
4.30pm: I write my lab notebook with all the work I have done during the day. Before I finish work for the day, I write a list of things to do tomorrow.
5.15pm: Home time.
Now I am working from home my commute has shortened, to my living room. I have a more relaxed breakfast before I look at my list of things to do for the day. I still have my Monday morning meetings with my supervisor but it is in the form of a large online group meeting now. It is nice to have the same routine in these different times. I can’t do lab work at the moment, as it is safer to not be in the lab, and like everyone else we have to keep our distance and stay at home to save lives. I can still analyse my results on my laptop at home, make graphs, write reports, read papers and prepare presentations. I am also enrolling in online courses to upskill in areas I have less experience in. I am trying to keep the same routine and working hours as before the lockdown.
What I'd do with the money: I'd buy loads of cool props for fun experiments to go to schools and family fun days and get young people, their teachers and their families involved in experiments and interested in science.
I would buy science puzzles and models to engage the general public to think about science. I would buy anatomy models. I would get students and teachers/families to take apart and reassemble them to learn how the human body works. I would also buy molecular models and get the public at fairs and schools to build molecules and DNA helices, to understand their components.
I would buy giant microbes, to show how microbes can all look different, and how they can function differently and produce different molecules. I would also buy a small digital microscope that connects to a phone or projector, to view insects and plant cells up close.
I would buy age appropriate science storybooks and read to younger children, hopefully to give them an interest in science from a young age.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
a hardworking procrastinator
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Four half marathons in 4 days, at the other end of the country, without telling anyone I was doing it.. ssssh
What did you want to be after you left school?
I didn't have a clue.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I wasn't the best in the class, or the most academic for sure. But, I never got in serious trouble
What was your favourite subject at school?
Biology and Home Economics
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I have got to travel to and present at some cool conferences and events in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I have had loads of people support me in different ways over the years. I couldn't pick one. I did however have a temporary teacher in primary school that challenged us to learn (scared us into learning) a far higher level of science and maths. I actually really enjoyed it and can still remember some of the lessons. Learning quadratic equations as well as dissecting and drawing detailed diagrams of hearts, kidneys and eyes come to mind.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Some sort of driver, or maybe an accountant.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To continue to be happy and healthy and to be able to visit my parents and their dogs soon
Tell us a joke.
Why didn't the skeleton cross the road? He didn't have the guts