1. What is your name?
2. Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology, DCU. Postgraduate Researcher
3. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
During my bachelor’s degree between, 2010-2014, I was given an opportunity to work on an EU funded project organized through Dr. Donal O’Gorman from Dublin City University. This project, DEXLIFE, looked at individuals susceptible of developing type 2 diabetes and how a lifestyle intervention of exercise and nutrition could help in managing their disease progression. This excited my interest in research. Pushing me to look for other research opportunities. I was lucky to get an amazing experience working as a teaching and personal assistant to chair of University of Miami’s, Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, Prof. Arlette Perry. An exercise physiologist and specialist in the area of health in women and adolescents and founder of the Translational Health in Nutrition and Kinesiology (THINK) program I was eager to work with her. At the time I was extremely interested in the field of adolescent health from my work as a Scout leader in Dublin. Here I was given the opportunity of conducting my own research (The Breakfast Study) looking at physical activity, cognitive ability, and physical attributes of Hispanic adolescents and how they correlated with their breakfast consumption or lack there-of. Inclusive to this I worked in physiological exercise testing of many elite athletes such as previous Wimbledon and Olympic champions, giving me a taste for the performance side of physiology and thought classes in exercise physiology.
Working with these elite athletes in Miami ignited an interest I didn’t think existed. In 2015 I got an opportunity of a job working for Team Ireland in the first European Games in Azerbaijan with a focus on delivering the country’s first ever triathlon. Being sports mad this was a really big opportunity for me, working with elite athletes while also gaining valuable experience in the areas of organization and management. However, following the completion of these games I came to realize this event circus wasn’t the path for me. I was interested in using exercise as a model to help people with disease.
I subsequently came back to Ireland and began work in DCU giving me an opportunity to work with Dr. Donal O’Gorman once again, developing invaluable lab experience getting into the real specific effects of exercise and inactivity. Here I worked on an inactivity study conducted by the European Space Agency in France kindling my interest in Space travel! Following this I was lucky enough to be successful in a grant application from the Biochemical Society which brought me to work at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden in 2016, the home of Exercise Physiology. Here I worked as a Scientific Researcher in the area of mitochondrial physiology where I gained my passion for the role metabolism has in our physiology (and specifically under conditions of activity and inactivity -i.e. microgravity).
Upon completion of this period in Stockholm an opportunity to work with now current boss, Donal O’Gorman, opened up (September 2016). A funded PhD supported by the European Space Agency, PRODEX project. Physiology is best studied in extremes, so assessing the effects exercise and complete inactivity/microgravity have on our body enables me to join two areas of great interest to me (i.e. sport and space travel) with my passion for science and physiology. Currently I am working on in-vitro and in-vivo models of exercise and inactivity in order to fully understand the effects these can have within our body. I have also just completed (January 2018) a 60-day bed rest study in Toulouse, France with the European Space Agency, developing countermeasures which could ideally be used by astronauts when they are in microgravity for prolonged periods of time.
4. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
Dr.Donal O’Gorman (my current research group leader and boss), Neil Armstrong, Nick Lane, Edmund Hillary, Brian O’Driscoll, Prof. Arlette Perry (University of Miami), my parents and my sister
5. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Absolutely! Working in a lab environment allows me to combine my interests with my life while also having a work-life balance. It still allows me to do things which I like beyond the lab. I play rugby and I am the deputy group leader of a Scout Unit in Dublin.
6. How did you go about getting your current job?
Asking questions about opportunities to those who studied in the area I was interested in. This can be daunting but sometimes this can lead to positive outcomes, such as attaining a funded PhD position while others not so much. The positives far outweigh the negatives making it all worth it.
7. Describe a typical day.
When looking at the effect of bed rest in people my day begins very early in the morning to set up my equipment to be ready for the muscle biopsy. I use a machine called an Oroboros which measures the muscle respiration. This can help me gain information onto the health of the muscle extracted from the brave participant’s leg to see whether prolonged bed rest has a positive or negative effect on their muscle metabolism and whether our countermeasure is actually having any effect. I also take a piece of the muscle removed from the participants leg and analyse it for changes in certain proteins I am interested in and the composition of the muscle. This can help me understand if other changes beyond metabolism are happening and if so (likely) then why.
In my lab in Ireland my typical day begins with turning on the laminars which enable me to conduct my in-vitro work (i.e. cell culture). Assessing my cells to ensure they’re healthy and ready for experimentation is next. Working with cells allows me to look at specific things others cannot, such as the extremely sensitive and rapid changes which take place within the body as a result of different stressors.
Next I would use different measures to assess for small changes in protein, DNA or RNA of my samples which give me indication of whether my experiment has a positive or negative effect on cellular health. I use the knowledge I gain from my cell work to complement the work I do within the human or animal.
Following this, I use this information to write articles to try and develop knowledge within the science community for others to use in the development of their experiments.
8. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
Cell culturing, continually reading up on the relevant articles in my field, developing experiments for my lab bench work, writing about my work and my reasoning. Constantly second guessing myself!
9. What are the main challenges?
Thinking outside the box! It is easy just to follow what everyone else does. But that isn’t science. Science is about questioning things and development upon the information gained before you. This can be a challenge as with this comes a lot of effort to understand, interpret and be competent on what came before you. The hours are long as well which can be a challenge but once you enjoy what you do it makes things much easier.
10. What’s cool?
Each day is different and you are constantly learning!
Doing bed rest studies and being able to see an idea you had develop in an experiment are pretty cool. Looking at the small changes in cells and using the information gained from this work in human trials helps you realize the bigger picture. Working in the testing centre in the European Space Agency is certainly something I am grateful for as well.
11. What’s not so cool?
When your cells get contaminated! This is really not so cool at all (ask anyone who works in this field and they’ll say the same)!
Also, as I work in science you have to realize that not everything you set out to work actually does! Realizing this wasn’t so easy at first.
12. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
From my background I bring organization and interpersonal skills. My work has aided me to develop many skills applicable to many jobs, from analytical skills to time management, problem solving, initiative, teamwork and communication skills. On a day to day basis these are all put to the test and developed on. I am always working on these skills, many of which need a lot of work!
13. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
While in school I was extremely interested in Biology, but also art. If I remember correctly I took history, biology, art, French, English, Irish and maths. Within my job I use Biology, and Maths more than the others. But working in France at the European Space Agency and having some French certainly helped me. While in doing art it helped me to understand the importance of communication and how there are different medias in doing so. This certainly helps when publishing information on the work I do within the lab. Science is all about figuring out the difficult questions but without an ability of communicating these it is an injustice to your work and also to the rest of the general population who could benefit from your findings.
14. What is your education to date?
I have completed four years at Dublin City University in BSc Sport Science and Health with main focus on physiology and health. I then gained the rest of my education through different means (i.e. internships and working as a scientific researcher).
15. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
I strongly believe that gaining experience in different fields has benefited me the most for my current position. If I was to be extremely specific it would have to be Biology and physiology I gained from studying my bachelors in DCU and my experiences in Miami teaching others.
16. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Yes, I am constantly learning in this position. I sit graduate training elements (GTEs) in DCU which help me in my development and learning while also I attend conferences from year to year where I present and defend my research while networking with those in my area of study.
17. What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Given my career has only begun this is a difficult question but winning the “Tell it Straight” competition in 2018 (a competition held by DCU asking researchers to present their work in less than 3 minutes) and in reaching the final of Inspirefest 2018 held in the Bord Gais theatre where I presented my work where both rewarding events for me personally. Working on a major scientific project with the European Space Agency between 2017-2018 was the highlight so far however.
18. What personal qualities do you have that help you in your career?
I like to think I’m a hard-working person which has helped me a lot so far. I’m also a pretty resilient guy which I think one needs to be in this field of work.
19. What is your dream job?
I have always been interested in working in the current field I am in (i.e. muscle metabolism) but to be connected with NASA. The opportunities scientists within NASA have in studying the extreme condition of microgravity in human beings is beyond what all other agencies have right now. Getting an opportunity to expand the field of my study with the facilities they have would be my idea of dreamland!
20. What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
This is an exciting field of work! But when considering it be aware it does take a lot of effort and at times the rewards are not as immediate as liked but they will come. Go in with an open mind and don’t be afraid of new experiences.
21. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Hard-work, initiative and communication!
22. What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Look around for internships in labs! Talk to your science teacher or lecturer in college! Try and sacrifice the unpaid for the experience! It all works out in the end