A day in the life of a PhD student, with Jadie Acklam

Meet Jadie, a University of York PhD student who is part of our wider relationship with the University of York. Jadie took us along for a day in her life working within the Haematology Malignancy Diagnostic Services at St James's University Hospital.

By Molly TravissDr Claire Tkacz.

Meet Jadie, a University of York PhD student currently working within the Haematology Malignancy Diagnostic Service at St James’s University Hospital. VISFO is proud to have a long-standing relationship with the University of York, where our CEO Dr Max Noble spent his Uni days. As well as fostering partnerships between academics, industry and York’s specialist research centres, Max has spearheaded several programmes supporting students as part of an ambition to remove barriers and broaden access to education. Jadie is one of the students being supported by VISFO, and so we couldn’t wait to catch up with her to discuss her fascinating research, and chat about what she gets up to outside the lab.

1.    What does a typical day as a University of York PhD student look like?

My PhD is split between the Haematology Malignancy Diagnostic Service (HMDS) at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds and The Centre of Blood Research at the University of York. When in Leeds I’m predominantly based in the lab, analyzing patient peripheral blood and bone marrow samples using a technique known as flow cytometry. This allows me to look at different markers on the surface of cells, helping to identify different cell subpopulations. I can then investigate how these cell populations change in different diseases, predominantly hematological malignancies. When I’m in York I mostly focus my time analyzing the data that I’ve generated, reading papers, and planning my next set of experiments in Leeds.

2.    What was your journey prior to starting your PhD, when did you know it was the right step for you?

I really enjoyed science and maths at school and decided a Biomedical Sciences degree was a great combination of both!  I completed my undergraduate at the University of York, and as part of my degree I had the opportunity to spend a year working in a protein engineering department at Sosei Heptares. To gain more experience in an academic lab, I then completed a GenerationResearch summer studentship in 2022, which led me onto an MRes jointly funded by GenerationResearch and VISFO. It was this Masters that confirmed my goal to do a PhD, as I valued having the freedom and ownership of a research project, as well as learning new skills both inside and outside the lab. I knew that a PhD would allow me to develop even more skills and improve on those that I had already picked up. I’ve always found cancer and immunology really interesting, so a PhD project that included both of these topics was a perfect fit for me.

3.    Can you tell us a little about your connection with VISFO?

VISFO not only very generously funded my GenerationResearch MRes, but they also supported me throughout the project by advising me on my data analysis and coding, as well as writing techniques when preparing my final thesis. In addition, members of the VISFO team attended my review meetings where they gave really useful insights and advice on my project. I still feel very much connected to VISFO as they continue to support me throughout my PhD journey, and, if my busy schedule allows it, I also try to attend the Enigma Scholarship meetings that Max hosts, alongside mentoring one of their students.

4.    What motivates and inspires you on your research journey?

I find the immune system really fascinating; in particular how each immune cell type has its own unique role, and how they all communicate and work together to fight infections or combat cancers! I’m also motivated by the idea of novel findings that could have a large impact, possibly by paving the way for new therapies and interventions.

5.    What impact has VISFO had on your research career to date?

Without VISFO’s support, I would not have been able to complete my MRes. These degrees are funded differently to undergraduate, meaning that I would not have been able to afford the tuition fees alongside living costs. As a result, I may not have gained the relevant skills and experiences that PhD candidates need. During my MRes, I was given the opportunity to contribute towards a paper, a valuable asset for those staying in academia. I would have probably made the transition to industry if I didn’t receive the opportunities that I did from GenerationResearch and VISFO.

6.    Are there any next steps you’re considering after completing your PhD?

I always try to keep my mind and options open when it comes down to new opportunities and next steps. However, I would like to continue working with VISFO as the type and style of work that they do is something that I would enjoy and find interesting. More importantly, the people I’ve met at VISFO are really friendly, and I’m aware that having the right team around you can have a huge influence on your working day.

7.    What has been the biggest challenge in completing your PhD so far?

I’m still only 5 months into my PhD so I’m sure that the biggest challenges are yet to come! As my Masters was predominantly focused on immunology, most of my knowledge centered on that. My PhD looks at the immune system in hematological malignancies, so I’ve found it quite challenging getting up to scratch with the relevant literature and making sense of the multiple different hematological malignancies and all their abbreviations! It was really overwhelming to learn how many variations of these cancers exist, and how they can progress from one to another.

8.    What are the advantages of having support from a company that is engaged in health consultancy?

VISFO has connected me with a diverse range of people with a variety of expertise, who have been able to help me with data science as well as medical writing. I’ve had the opportunity to quiz them on their various career journeys and ask for career related advice too. Also, by attending some of VISFOs presentations and meetings I’ve been exposed to research in a wider context and witnessed the extent of work that a health consultancy company can provide their customers.

9.    What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t studying – any hobbies, favorite TV shows, music?

I love going to the gym, and I particularly like to do weightlifting and a bit of gymnastics (still a work in progress!). Me and my partner do the Park Run on a Saturday morning and then tend to go for a hike somewhere in the countryside or at the beach, more so now the weather is picking up a little! I also recently started knitting, I’m hoping to knit myself a jumper when I eventually get good enough at it. I don’t really watch that much TV, but I do like to listen to the Radio One Dance shows on a Friday.

10.  Biggest personal success to date – what are you most proud of accomplishing that’s not work related?

I once did a 15,000 ft skydive in Australia. I’m not the biggest fan of heights and so I cried the entire way up, but the smile on my face was huge for the whole way back down! I was on a high for about a week after that!

Blog author(s)

Molly Traviss

Marketing and Communications Officer