Posted 6 July
Graduates from Harper Adams University involved in cutting-edge research into animal and human health have shared their advice and experiences with current students at the institution.
Georgina Charnley, a PhD student in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London, and Rebecca McLean, a postdoctoral project manager at The Pirbright Institute, were among those who shared their experiences in a webinar hosted by the university.
Both researchers studied for a BSc (Hons) in Bioveterinary Science at Harper Adams, and are now applying their studies to their research careers.
Georgina – originally from Lancashire - is working on PhD research which examines how cholera outbreaks link to humanitarian crises in Africa. Her work examines how natural hazards and conflicts can result in infectious disease outbreaks - and the changing factors across the globe which may alter this.
She said: “In the webinar we discussed our career progression since leaving Harper, the challenges we have faced, where we went on placement, our advice for students trying to compete their degree during a pandemic and how our degree and time at Harper prepared and helped us in our career.”
Having begun her studies at Harper Adams because of her interest in animal medicine and health – but not wishing to become a vet – she was keen for those following in her footsteps to understand that their studies could help them build valuable skills which could then be used as a platform for further study or wider career opportunities.
She added: “I would say don’t worry if you aren’t sure what you want to do, or if you are on the exact right path, just make sure that you study hard and try to get the best possible grade you can.
“This shows you have the ability to excel in a subject and work independently and as a team, which is essential in any career. These transferable skills mean that you can then switch to working in whatever field you want either by going into the role or through further education.”
Her fellow Bioveterinary Science alumna Rebecca – originally from Reading - followed her Harper Adams studies with first a PhD and then a postdoctoral job at The Pirbright Institute, where she now works as a postdoctoral project manager, running an international consortium with the aim of developing a vaccine against Nipah virus for pigs.
She echoed Georgina’s advice – and cited the placement year that Harper Adams students undertake as a key factor in influencing her subsequent career development.
She added: “From my work experience I realised I didn’t actually want to be a vet any more - I knew I loved animals and I had a passion for science, but no idea what job I could do with that.
“My main motivation for choosing Harper was the placement year as I thought that would give me a clear insight into the jobs out there and whether or not I was going to enjoy them.”
Rebecca was keen to emphasise to students at the webinar that a research career would involve both ups and downs – but also that making the most of opportunities as they present themselves can be vital.
She added: “Keep persevering! Setbacks are inevitable but these things happen for a reason and there is always something better around the corner for you.
“Without my placement year at The Animal Health Trust, I would never have been offered my PhD position. My placement was an unpaid one, but completely and utterly invaluable to my career success.
“Due to my passion in zoonotic diseases and vaccines, I have carved a career path which encompasses both of these things.
“My PhD focussed on the development of a multivalent vaccine delivery system and for proof of concept I developed a novel vaccine against Chlamydia abortus, a zoonotic sheep pathogen which can seriously harm - and sometimes kill - pregnant women.
“My job at Pirbright followed a similar path whereby I have been developing vaccines against Nipah virus. This virus is spread from pigs to humans and carries a 75-100% mortality rate in humans. Therefore the idea is to vaccinate the pigs, to safeguard human health.
“This job put me in a very strong position to help in the fight against COVID-19 and since March 2020 I have been leading a team that are testing the most promising COVID-19 vaccines in pigs to aid and guide the human trials.”