I was always interested in how our genes influence who we are. Not so much diseases, but how they affect how we look, act or feel.
During my PhD studies I researched pigmentation and how genes affect skin and hair colour. I was originally studying the genes that cause people to have red and ginger hair and pale freckled skin, but I got a little side-tracked when the lab next door to me brought some cute little zebrafish into the building. I was fascinated by how they could change their colour to match their background, so decided to work out how they managed to do this and what genes were involved.
I learned that this is an example of an instinctive behavioural circuit: the fish see the colour of the bottom of their tank, and through a series of nerve impulses and hormones they quickly shuttle the pigment of their skin cells around to match that colour. From that point I was hooked on understanding the genes that control behaviour, so I decided to base my career around trying to understand more instincts, this time in mammals.
So I guess I just followed what interested me at the time, and wasn’t afraid to change – which I think is a good way to choose your research area.
In my final year at university we had to do a research project. When we were picking them, I went to see one academic who drew a picture of a very beautiful looking molecule on his whiteboard. I decided then that I wanted to make similar molecules and find good uses for them. Since then I’ve generally done what Darren said – followed what is interesting. You do things better when you’re interested in them.
After studying chemistry as an undergraduate I knew I wanted to use my skills to do something that would be useful. I was also passionate about renewable energy and cutting down human reliance on fossil fuels. I knew I wanted to go into solar energy because I remember seeing a cartoon of cavemen with the big sun above them and the ground and them choosing to dig for energy instead of using the sun.
I also hope that what I’m doing will contribute even if its in a tiny way to reduce energy consumption and help to preserve the planet for future generations and animals that live on it.
I started researching on microalgae as a final year undergraduate student as my final year project. At that time, I thought microalgae were interesting and that since I really wanted to become a microbiologist, I thought they would be a good microorganism to study, Besides, they can be used to capture carbon dioxide and make useful stuff for us.
For my PhD studies, I was hooked on my project so I stayed on in the same lab to continue research. And the rest is history.
In short, I like my research to look at things from a different perspective and to have a meaningful impact on society.