Ready to chat in the green zone!
Your Scientist ID:
Holy Child Killiney, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork
BA Human Genetics
I worked through college in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, then for a while in a hotel before starting as a technician in Teagasc
Teagasc and University College Cork
About Me: Lab technician turned PhD student. When not in the lab I love watching movies, drawing, and walking by the sea or getting lost in the woods
I’m from Dublin, but moved to Cork for work just over 4 years ago. In Dublin I lived and went to school right beside the beach. Now I live in a teeny little village in the north of Cork, so instead of the coast I’m surrounded by fields and cows! I’m slowly getting used to the peace and quiet in Cork, but I still have to have a splash in the sea when I visit home 🙂
I used to be really sporty – basketball, netball, volleyball – anything that didn’t need me to use my feet to control the ball! I gave all that up while I was busy in college and working and I got a bit lazy, so I’m starting to get back into walking and running again. At home I love solving puzzle books – crosswords are my favorite – or drawing while I watch TV. I can’t keep still and watch anything if my hands aren’t busy! Favorite thing to do though is probably going for a nice coffee and a catch up with friends
My Work: I carry out DNA sequencing to understand the little microbes (like bugs or 'germs') that live in our bodies and in our food - especially the ones that help us to stay healthy or that make our food tasty!
Since 2016, I worked as a lab technician in Teagasc. My job was to run machines called DNA sequencers. Because the microbes we are interested in are teeny-tiny and there are lots and lots of them, we can’t study them directly. Instead, we take out their DNA and study that instead. DNA is in the cells of all living creatures: humans, animals, plants and microbes all have their own DNA. It is a code, a bit like an instruction book, that controls what each creature looks like and how it grows. So by ‘sequencing’ or reading the DNA code from the microbes, we can learn a lot about them, even without being able to see them.
Last year in 2019, I started a PhD so I can focus on doing some of my own research. Mostly I am trying to find new methods or improve the way we get the microbe DNA from our samples, and how we learn from the DNA code – which means lots of work on the computer.
My Typical Day: One of the best things about working in science is that each day can be quite different. Usually when I get into work, it takes me a while to warm up to the day! As a student, there is a lot of reading and writing to catch up on. So in the mornings I try to do some of that, as well as plan what I need to do in the lab that day. Some days I might need to do lots of experiments, and some days I might just be labelling tubes and mixing solutions that I need for later. I love having the opportunity to plan my own work day. Now that we're in lockdown due to Covid-19 it's a bit different, and not being able to work in the lab feels strange! I'm working from home in Dublin instead, keeping up with reading and doing online courses.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Easygoing, creative, independent
Who is your favourite singer or band?
No faves, I prefer movie scores and instrumental music
What's your favourite food?
Pretty much any curry, the hotter the better. Bonus points if there's naan bread!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Spending days on the biggest roller coasters in Six Flags, California
What did you want to be after you left school?
For years and years I always wanted to be a vet but changed my mind right before college. I had the option to study veterinary medicine, but I decided to stick with genetics
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Only sometimes, for being a bit chatty in class!
What was your favourite subject at school?
English and Art. I never wanted to work in those areas, but in school I loved creative writing. I only took up art in 6th year as an extra subject and I found it really relaxing to be able to have a creative, hands on class in between other, more stressful, ones.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Deciding to commit to doing a PhD after working for a few years - hopefully I'll see it through!
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
David Attenborough and the science-y Horrible Histories books
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I can't imagine working in a different field, though I think I'd be happy working in a stationery/book shop
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To see the northern lights in person, to become less of a procrastinator, and to be able to go beyond 2km and see my family again soon!
Tell us a joke.
What's orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot
^ I work as part of the Vision 1 lab in Teagasc Moorepark under Prof. Paul Cotter. There’s a mix of students, post-docs, and technicians and they come from all over Ireland and the world. It’s great to be able to meet and work with so many new friends and fantastic researchers.
^For the past number of years, the Vision 1 lab has been nominated and successful each year in the Irish Laboratory Awards. This year we were named Agricultural Lab of the year 🙂
^These are just some of the sequencing machines I work with. They each work in slightly different ways to read the DNA code. They are full of tubes, moving parts, cameras, sensors and computers so are quite big (and expensive!). One of our newer machines is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand though – the same one has even been used to look at DNA in space while on the International Space Station!
^A lot of the work I do involves mixing very small amounts of different liquids (called reagents) while I prepare samples for sequencing. A single sample can need a lot of different steps and treatments which can mean labelling and keeping track of hundreds of tubes!
^I’m pretty organised and I like things neat and tidy. So for me, preparing everything before I get started is pretty satisfying 🙂
^We host transition year students a few times a year in our lab, and so we try to find some fun science experiments to do with them. Here, we tried extracting DNA from different fruits, using dish soap, salt and alcohol.