I did it! #CardiffGrad

Lets set the scene a bit for a moment before I run into the main point of this post. I’m an ordinary person, fairly average academically. I had good GCSE results, and admittedly, very disappointing A-level results (post-16 year old exams in Wales (for those reading outside of the UK)). But 12 years ago, I managed to get on to my first choice university course; Human Biology at the University of the West of England. One semester in, I really wanted the opportunity to experience microbiology and immunology as I was not a big fan of the anatomy/physiology conent of the course. Luckily I had performed well enough to be allowed to switch to the Biomedical Sciences course, which, up until this point had contained the same modules as the Human Biology one.

So here I was, learning about microbiology and all sort of other medical-related course content, with my heart set on going on to do biology secondary school teaching. Years passed, and in my final year module choices, I chose medical microbiology, molecular microbiology, medical genetics and immunology, along with of course, the practical aboratory based dissertation project. For those that are interested, this was titled “alternative splicing of the VEGF gene in cancer” with Dr Mike Ladomery (fantastic scientist!). The moment I got my hands on project work, I found my true passion in science. I belonged in the lab. Part of the project involved a poster project, which I also thouroughly enjoyed doing! I was then set on my future career being osmething laboratory based.

I left my undergrad with a 2:1 BSc (Hons) degree in Biomedical Sciences, and after a few months of working in a few different paces, was approached by a recruitment agency for a lab based position in Cardiff. Perfect! I stayed there for 4 years, working my way up to Research and Development Scientist before finally being accepted onto a PhD course with Prof David Williams in the June of 2013.

When I started the project, I had only a little bit of understanding of biofilms, microbial interactions and even less about Candida. Fast forward four years, I’ve evaluated Candida virulence in polymicrobial biofilms using fluorescence, confocal and electron mciroscopy, gene expression, I’ve developed an in vitro 3D oral mucosal tssue model, completed a clinical study using cuttting edge technologies to characterise bacterial microbiomes of patients. I’ve presented my research around the world; USA twice, Portugal, all around the UK, and won several awards in doing so (including the prestigious Senior Colgate Prize!). I’ve been awarded two industry-sponsored grants totalling more than £40k, and importantly PASSED MY PhD! I mean the viva wasn’t particularly pleasant, but I defended my work sufficiently, and was awarded the PhD.

This week is the culmination of going on 5 years hard graft, some very long days, long stretches without days off, and blood, sweat and tears. Graduation week! This week I was able to celebrate all the hard work and fantastic support I’ve received over the years, by dressing up in what I consider to be the best graduation outfit in existence, and walking across a red carpet, shaking many hands outstreched to welcome and congratulate graduands.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole ceremony, warmly congratulating all undergrads and postgraduate students, and then came the time to live my own graduation moment. I felt so proud, words can’t even come close to describing. Walking across the stage, and being met with smiles and an genuine open hand. Such a momentous occasion, and one I will remember forever. It was even better being able to celebrate this occasion with those that have been through the very same journey at the same time. Rhiannon, Paola, Helen, Ana – and for my supervisor, to have not only his daughter graduating in dentistry, but 3 PhD students graduating at the same time too, he must have felt so proud. We certainly did! The biggest negative in this respect is that there was someone who had travelled most of the journey with me, but was not there at the end to share the celebrations. This person had celebrated some time before in making the courageous decision to not continue with their PhD studies. There were many reasons for this, but mental health and wellbeing played a significant role, and they will always be considered a strong person for being able to make such a decision and be able to move on with their life. I wish you all the very best in the future as I always have, and it’s great to see you’re much happier now! Academia is a very difficult place to be, phsyically, emotionally, mentally, but more on this subject another time…

But if theres one thing that I can promote or one message I can give you from this, it would be never give up. If I can do it, so can you, so keep going. It’s not easy, but nothing worth having comes easy!

Here are some pictures of the event!

I did it! #CardiffGrad
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