EducationI went to school in Poland where we don't do GCSEs and A-levels. We also don't get to choose which subjects we want to study in high school so we have to learn a bit of everything! I chose to do my final exams in advanced English, chemistry and biology and went on to study chemistry at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. My university offered me an option of studying in Australia for a year so I spent the third year at the Australian National University in Canberra. Finally, I moved on to do a PhD in chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. It was very challenging and took 4.5 years to complete but I can call myself a doctor now! :)
Qualifications- Polish equivalent of A-levels in English, Chemistry and Biology (2009) - Heriot Watt University: BSc of Chemistry with a Year in Australia (2009-2013) - University of Edinburgh: PhD in Chemistry (2013-2018)
Work HistoryDuring my undergraduate degree I completed two internships, one at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane and one at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. In Brisbane I worked in an organic chemistry lab and I was helping to make new types of antibiotics. In Cambridge I was making changes to a type of protein that moves things around our cells so that we could understand better how it works. At that point I still wasn't sure which area of science I wanted to focus on and the projects I worked on helped me to decide what interests me most. Later on as a PhD student I could also travel and work on a project in a different lab. I decided to go back to Australia and work at the Australian Museum in Sydney. You may be surprised, but sometimes even museums have labs! I worked in a lab which helps to solve wildlife crime by using DNA tests. It was a very interesting experience which also got me all excited about genomics - my current area of work!
Current JobScientists that want to work in hospital labs need to receive a special kind of training to make sure that all our patients are in safe hands. This is organised by the National Health Service (NHS) and is known as the Scientist Training Programme (STP). It is a 3-year programme and it means that I am employed by the hospital in Cambridge where I am taught by other scientists and doctors but I also have to attend lectures, complete assignments and pass exams before I can call myself a clinical scientist. I am half-way through my training now and I am specialising in an area called cancer genomics. This means that I look for changes in DNA of patients who already have or may have cancer. Our results help doctors decide which is the correct diagnosis for each patient and how to fight their disease most effectively.
NHS – I work at the Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge
Favourite thing to do in my job: Visiting clinics, meeting patients and learning their stories. I like it a lot because I get to learn about their experiences and the impact that my work has on their lives.
About Me: I am a very cheerful person - I laugh a lot and often for no reason. I like to be positive and keep a smile on my face even if things don't go according to plan. I also love to learn and explore the world so I like to read, watch documentaries and chat to other people who can tell me interesting things.
I am originally from Poland but I’ve been in the UK for over 10 years now. I used to live in Edinburgh where I finished University. I liked living in Scotland despite the cold and windy weather. I especially liked the accent, the kilts and the sheep walking everywhere… oh and haggis, of course!
In 2018 I started my current job for which I had to move down to Cambridge. I miss Scotland very much but at least Cambridge is flat, more sunny and I get to cycle a lot. And it’s a great place for meeting other scientists who work on some very cool projects!
When I’m not working I like to go out and see my family or friends. I’m a foodie so I also like to cook and bake or maybe go to a restaurant and try something new. I play the violin and I actually have a few students that I teach over the weekends – I love music and I love to teach so I enjoy doing that very much! Other things I do include learning Italian, a little bit of embroidery, reading books, watching Netflix and solving jigsaw puzzles.
My Work: I set up and analyse genetic tests looking for changes in the DNA of cancer patients. This helps the doctors to work out if somebody has cancer and which medication might be best to help the patients get healthy.
My first degree was in chemistry and I was lucky enough to study for a year in Australia where I met some lovely people and many interesting plants and animals. My favourite was a yellow-crested cockatoo – I think it’s the coolest bird on Earth!
For my PhD I studied a very unusual type of sugar found in the sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers are very popular in South-East Asia where people eat them and make all sorts of healthcare and beauty products from them. I was interested to find out more about the properties of this sugar and how other molecules in our body interact with it.
Here is what a sea cucumber dinner looks like:
I also did practical experience in labs in Australia and UK, working on a few interesting research projects. My favourite project was with the Australian Museum where I worked on a new forensic DNA test to help to stop smugglers of rhino horns in Vietnam. It was really cool to use science to help to reduce wildlife crime around the world.
In my current work I also use DNA tests but for a very different purpose – I try to determine if a patient has cancer and what type of cancer exactly it is. This is not always an easy job as there are many cancers that are very similar to each other and sometimes it can be very hard to tell them apart. Once we have results for our tests, we send them to doctors and they can use them to make decisions about how to treat the patient. Sometimes we get samples from patients who are already taking medications to see how well they’re doing. We can look at how many cells still have changes in their DNA and from that say if the patient is getting better or worse and help the doctor decide if maybe a different kind of medication should be used to make them better. We do many different kind of tests and it is very interesting to learn about them all. In some of them we use fluorescent probes to look for specific genes under the microscope and in some we get to ‘read’ the patient’s DNA sequence to look for very small changes.
This is what fluorescent DNA labels look under a microscope:
And this is what your DNA sequence may look like if we put it in our machine. It’s made up of 4 building blocks (like 4 different lego pieces) and we use 4 letters (A,C,G and T) to tell them apart.
My Typical Day: My job is really cool because every day is different. I get to learn about all the different tests that we do in the lab and on some days I get to work with doctors and meet the patients. There's lots to learn so I am very busy most of time. This means that I get very tired in the evenings so after work I usually just cycle home and cook a nice meal to give me energy for the next day.
What I'd do with the prize money: I'd like to use the money to buy or make models that our lab could use to show other people what we do. Sometimes we have events in the hospital when we meet with the public and sometimes we go to schools to teach the kids (and the teachers) about science. It can be hard to explain small things like the DNA with just words so it would be great to have some hands-on models. My friend has a 3D printer so we were thinking about making some ourselves which would be super cool!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly, enthusiastic and a little silly
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My chemistry teacher in high school. She was fantastic, passionate about chemistry and really helped me understand it!
What was your favourite subject at school?
I'd say biology but my teacher was super scary. So maybe it was maths.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I used to think I'd like to be a musician and play in professional orchestra.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Mostly for laughing too much during lessons.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I think I'd enjoy learning computer science and maybe become a bioinformatician.
What's your favourite food?
That's a hard question - how do you pick just one? I love so many things! I'd say spicy food is my favourite, whether it's a Thai str-fry or maybe fajitas with lots of jalapenos!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Ride in a train locomotive in Malaysia and honk at the monkeys.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
That I could eat unhealthy food without limits, that I could live in a hot beautiful country and that the kids say I'm the most fun scientist!
Tell us a joke.
Why did the firefly get bad grades at school? Because he wasn't very bright! (Sorry, all the jokes I know are very lame!)