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CEBWomen: Amberley Stephens: Hardcore Science: From Bacteriology to Lasers and Neuroscience

last modified Nov 16, 2016 03:04 PM
Profile of Amberley Stephens
CEBWomen: Amberley Stephens: Hardcore Science: From Bacteriology to Lasers and Neuroscience

Amberley Stephens

First published in CEBFocus 19

I’ve been a researcher in CEB for 2 years now, working in the Laser Analytics (LAG) and Molecular Neuroscience Groups (MNG). I’ll be here for another two years as a researcher and lab manager for the Laser Analytics group (LAG), Molecular Neuroscience group (MNG) and Cambridge Infinitus Research Centre (CIRCE). I wasn’t always sure whether I wanted to be a scientist. Like many 17/18 year olds, I struggled to choose a University course. On the one hand I enjoyed English literature and history, but on the other hand I also enjoyed biology and chemistry. I came to the conclusion that I can always read and write in my spare time, but I probably wouldn’t be wielding a Bunsen burner in the same way, so I ended up at Southampton University studying Biomedical Sciences, a course mostly filled with failed medics. In my third year I took a module in biofilms and microbial communities and I found the world of bacteria and their ability to rapidly adapt fascinating. I applied for a Master of Research (MRes) at the Imperial College London in Microbial Pathogenesis and had a hard-core year of bench science. During my MRes I learned for the first time what real science is like; that hardly any project yields successful or expected results, no matter how many times you perform a Western blot. However, I wasn’t put off by the lack of results and continued my academic career with a PhD at Nottingham University. I studied the gut pathogen Helicobacter pylori which was made prominent by Barry Marshall and RobinWarren who famously drank a culture of H. pylori that resulted in gastritis, this was subsequently treated with antibiotics. I studied a Type IV secretion system, which acts like needles to puncture human cells and inject bacterial proteins or DNA, which often leads to disruption of cell pathways. Although I learned a lot scientifically and about myself, my PhD was fairly fruitless, so I decided to change subjects to determine whether I had fallen out of love with science or whether it was perhaps just the PhD topic. As I live with my boyfriend in Peterborough, my two closest options for science were therefore London and Cambridge. I chose to apply to the LAG/MNG group as they wanted someone with my DNA cloning skills and to purify proteins for research into the cellular mechanisms leading to Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases. I am pleased to say that I still do enjoy science, I thrive on learning new things. A few years ago I did not even know what a super resolution microscope was, yet alone operate one which is pretty cool. I enjoy being faced with a problem and fixing or finding an answer for it, and also having the freedom to investigate different ideas, for which I am in a great research group to facilitate this.

Amberley Stephens, Mount Fuji, Japan

I enjoy running, skiing, cooking and eating good food. I’ve just got the travelling bug having got back from an amazing trip around Singapore and Japan at the beginning of the year. If anyone loves fresh powder they should definitely consider skiing in Niseko in Japan, I’ve never seen snow like it.We’re now planning a trip to India so if there are any recommendations of ‘must see’ places, please let me know!

Regarding women in science, I have been lucky to have many strong female role models during all of my research. I’m obviously in support of women in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but I believe in promoting the best person for the job, not looking at statistics for how many women fill positions. We should be supporting each other and promoting PEOPLE in science and engineering because together we do some amazing research.

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