The journey to a PhD

Hannah met her future PhD supervisor aged just 16. Now, she’s researching better ways to treat the billions of people who are infected with a parasitic worm

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Hannah was 16 when she first attended a Discover Day at The University of Manchester. While there, she came across a stand ran by Professor of Immunology Kathryn Else.

‘They had these mouse guts which were infected by parasitic worms. We were pulling them out and having a look at them, and I just thought it was pretty cool,’ Hannah remembers.

Seven years later, Hannah is in her first year of a PhD, supervised by the same woman she met at that Discover Day, Kathryn Else.

‘Nobody in my family went to university, so I never really thought about it. It wasn’t until I was in college and getting good grades, that I started thinking about applying.’

Manchester Access Programme

While at college, Hannah enrolled onto the Manchester Access Programme (MAP), which is designed to help Greater Manchester students from disadvantaged backgrounds access a university education.

Through workshops, assignments and Discover Days, like the one at which Hannah met her future PhD supervisor, MAP gives students all the skills required to successfully apply to a research-intensive university like Manchester.

If MAP students then go on to study at Manchester, they also receive an annual scholarship, funded by donors.

‘I thought MAP was really good’ Hannah says. ‘Meeting my MAP tutor really helped me to find out about all the different course options. Before then, I thought if you did biology at A-level you went on to do medicine at university. I had no idea how many different courses were available.’

After completing MAP, Hannah started a degree in Microbiology at Manchester, and thanks to her excellent academic results, received the Karpidas Excellence Award.

University life

‘University was a lot different to what I was used to. I had to do a lot more of my own stuff – independent research and work, but I really enjoyed it.’

In her third year, Hannah wanted to do a placement year, and while looking, discovered that almost all of those advertised were unpaid. ‘For the average person, it’s just unaffordable’ Hannah says.

‘I ended up finding a placement close to home, so I could live with my parents. My scholarship covered all my other costs for the year. Without it, I might not have been able to do the placement at all.’

Hannah’s placement was in a research lab, where she spent the year growing Norovirus virus like particles from insect cells, with the view to vaccinate mice with them at a later stage.

In their final year, microbiology students also have to do a final year project, working in one of the labs at Manchester. Students apply for a range of projects they want to do and Hannah thinks that her placement year really helped her to get her first choice project.

‘The researchers at Manchester always prefer to take on students who’ve done a placement year in a lab, because it means you’ve already got that experience.’

Hannah ended up doing her final year project in the lab of Professor Else, looking at how macrophages respond to different stimulants.

‘And I ended up liking the project so much, I applied for a PhD in the same lab!’

Hannah’s PhD

Hannah’s PhD is looking at those same immune cells, macrophages.

‘I’m looking at macrophages in the context of intestinal inflammation with parasitic worms.’

Currently, around one-third of the world’s population is infected with a parasitic worm, with those in poorer countries disproportionately affected.

Worm infections can stunt growth in children, slow development and sometimes lead to lifelong disabilities.

‘I hope during my PhD I can get to learn about how these infections work, how the immune system responds, and then that will give us some insight on how we can tackle them.’

This area is quite under-researched, but Hannah has had an interest in worm infections for a number of years now.

‘It all goes back to those Discover Days and MAP. My PhD supervisor is the same woman who was running the stand on worms back when I was 16.’

Hannah’s scholarship during her undergraduate degree really helped her get to where she is today.

‘It gave me the confidence to think that I belong at university, and the financial freedom to make the most of my time here.’

‘I’d definitely encourage others to donate to scholarships like mine. There are a lot of kids from similar backgrounds to me who don’t really know about university, and schemes like MAP really help them. And the scholarship gives them the freedom not to constantly worry about money, but to focus on their studies and exams instead.’

GIVE20

Over the past 20 years, alumni based in North America have joined our other alumni to generously fund countless scholarships like Hannah’s. This year, we’re celebrating these 20 years of giving by showcasing the impact of this giving, thanking those who have given, and encouraging more alumni to join this tradition of giving.

If you’re an alum based in North America, find out how to get involved, or donate today from the US or Canada.

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