“I’ll be back before you know it…” were my famous last words to friends and family in the Netherlands when I set off for an internship in Glasgow. Almost three years later—still here! I fell in love with the windy wee Victorian roads of the West End, the Scottish hills and lochs, and my fabulous institute—I just couldn’t resist staying on as a PGR student.
My name is Jiska van der Reest and I work at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and study Cancer Cell Metabolism. Cancer cells need lots of nutrients to give them the energy and building blocks to keep growing, which means that their metabolism is fundamentally different from normal cells. Our big aim is to exploit this for therapies; if we target things that are unique to cancer cells, we can specifically kill them whilst leaving normal cells alone. Daily research is not as glamourous as curing cancer, of course, as I focus on just a tiny fraction of cell metabolism. I work on several projects, which I love, as it allows me to use loads of techniques and learn lots of different things. I mainly dabble in metabolomics, proteomics, lots of biochemistry and biology, and some crystallography.
The dark side of the moon or protein crystals? By crystallising proteins and then shooting at them with Xrays, we can build up a model of what the proteins look like. This gives us clues about how they work, as the structure of a protein largely determines its function.
I love science itself, but I am also fascinated by the field of science. I think we can all appreciate that the scientific career is not exactly standard, and I always find it hard to explain to ‘normal’ people why we choose to forego money, job security, and normal hours to do science! Having to move around a lot on short contracts, running experiments at all crazy times of the day, your research becoming life rather than work… it’s what makes science exciting and exhilarating for me, but at times it can also be a major source of stress. It makes me sad when students tell me they decided science is not for them due to the “academic lifestyle”, while they do actually enjoy researching itself. I think there is lots of room for improvement in the system to progress scientists as well as science, which is something I like to advocate for!
What I would like to write about, therefore, is how to keep shining on both a professional and personal level during your PGR. I think we are in a unique position; on one hand we are doing a serious job, but on the other we still have loads of opportunities for training and playing around. There is so much you can do to develop yourself during your PGR, whatever career path you’re aiming for. I’d like to cover life hacks to be more efficient at work, how to exploit the opportunities for (transferable) skills development offered by UofG, different career paths for PGR students and how to improve your employability for those, the vast amount of extracurricular projects you can do outside the lab, and not unimportantly: how to remain happy and healthy through it all!
As my institute is located on the Garscube campus, this comes with its added challenges. Being located away from the main campus means we cannot access the facilities, courses, and general fun buzz that UofG offers as easily as other students. This is the case for many students in the school of Medicine, Veterinary, and Life Sciences (MVLS), so I hope to offer some helpful advice to them in particular. Our team and this blog are completely new and we are super flexible in terms of content—we just want to be helpful to you all, so feel free to get in touch anytime with queries and topics you’d like us to cover!