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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

Life after my PhD - Jemma Dunn

by Jemma Dunn

My name is Jemma Dunn, I am one of the PhD students at Plymouth University that Brain Tumour Research fund. They asked me about my future in research after I finish my PhD. 

Why did you get into brain tumour research?

After completing my undergraduate degree my interests largely fell within a certain area of biology known as ‘cell signalling’, which is often disrupted in cancer leading to uncontrollable tumour growth. I was very lucky to be accepted onto a PhD funded by Brain Tumour Research related to this topic of cell signalling specifically within a type of tumour, meningioma, which occurs in the brain and spinal cord. After three years, I know how important working in this research field is and feel extremely attached to Brain Tumour Research as a charity, as well as humbled to have had the chance to work on my project.

Do you want to continue in that line of work?

In the future, I really hope that I am able to continue scientific research on brain tumours. I think it is imperative that we learn as much as we can about these tumours to enable us to define new therapeutic strategies, that are not only the most efficient form of treatment, but will be the most effective for a patient, allowing us to identify ‘personalised therapies’. I have been very lucky to have been funded and to have worked with Brain Tumour Research throughout my PhD and this has given me the opportunity to do not only what I enjoy, but also to interact with those who are affected by this disease.

What’s the next step for you?

Ideally, once I have completed my PhD, I would really like to remain within scientific research and in particular, brain tumour research. I feel very passionate about helping to expand the wealth of knowledge on these tumours and ultimately using this to provide enhanced treatment for patients. I have not confirmed what I am doing after I’m afraid.

There is definitely a lot of uncertainty if you wish to continue in research after your PhD and be successful in obtaining a post-doctoral position that allows you to progress, researching an area that you enjoy and importantly, can contribute towards. It is a huge shame that after putting so much time and energy into your PhD, there is no guarantee that you will be able to continue pursuing research as a career path.

Are there enough opportunities for post-docs in this field?

Unfortunately, opportunities for post-docs rely on the availability of funding for these positions. I think that there should be more opportunities available for early researchers, but this is reliant upon the money to support this work. In my opinion, you do not choose to go into a scientific research career if you want to make money and have an amazing salary, you do it because you have a hunger for solving a puzzle and a commitment to understanding why a biological process is happening. If we have enough money to be able to carry on our research we will be happy enough, but this comes back to importance of fund raisers and raising awareness of the importance of scientific research.

What inspires you?

I am most inspired when I speak to the public during our lab tours. This is when I remember the end goal of our work and why it is so paramount. If the research we are undertaking will in some way, small or large, eventually travel from bench to bedside and benefit the patient then we have achieved our objectives.  

How optimistic are you around scientific progress in this field?

I believe that scientific progress in the field of brain tumour research will continue, yet, undeniably, it will progress quicker if we are able to continue raising both awareness and funding for it. As scientists, we need to be able to interact with the public and educate on how we are working to achieve less invasive, more effective therapies through the importance of scientific research that inevitably can only continue with their invaluable support and trust. Additionally, increasing collaboration with other scientists around the world to collate and correlate data will be beneficial in the field of brain tumour research to accomplish advancements more rapidly.

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