Photo:

Cat O'Connor

I've just let Louise know (the girl who runs the charity) and she is so thrilled! Thank you so much from both of us and all the kids who well benefit! Oh, and huge thanks to Pam, Johnson. Holly and Daz :D

Favourite Thing: Curing the world of infectious disease :D……..okay it’s never going to happen, and even more unlikely that I’ll do it, but I have to aim high! I really love finding solutions to problems that I know will improve the lives of animals and their owners.

My CV

School:

Mercy Mounthawk Secondary School, Tralee, Ireland [2001-2002]; Mean Scoil Eoin Baiste, Tralee, Ireland [1997-2001]

University:

BSc in Microbiology from University College Cork, Ireland [2002-2006]; Masters in Veterinary Public Health from the Univeristy of Glasgow [2007-2008]; PhD on The Ecology of Bovine Tuberculosis in Great Britain from the University of Glasgow [2008-present]

Work History:

Wow, I’ve had so many jobs but here is a quick run-down: I’ve been a child minder, a stable hand, a Christmas shop sales assistant, a Sports shop sales assistant, a bartender, a horse-riding instructor (in German and English!), a burger flipper, a fast-food cashier, a receptionist, a cleaner, a plant breeding assistant, a student researcher, a media scientist, a quality assurance technician and a Scientific Officer at the Food Standards Agency. Phew, that is one long list!!

Employer:

University of Glasgow

Current Job:

I’m a PhD Researcher looking at how cattle and badgers spread a disease called bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain

Me and my work

I’m trying to get a better understanding of a disease called bovine tuberculosis by looking at how cattle and badgers can spread this nasty illness.

I’ve put a lot of detail into this section. If you don’t understand any part of it, please send me a question and I’ll be more than happy to bore you with more details 😀

I study bovine tuberculosis, a disease that can affect most mammals but as the name suggests it’s mainly a disease of cattle. At the moment it’s a really big problem for farmers in the south-west of England and in Wales (the areas in red on the map to your left) because there is lots of disease there. If a cow is found to have the disease, they have to be killed to stop the disease spreading any further. However, this method of disease control does not seem to be working, and one of the theories behind it’s failure is that badgers are also spreading the disease! This theory is very controversial, and people really love to argue about it!

For my research project, I wanted to get a better understanding of how both cattle and badgers can spread the disease in Great Britain. A big part of my project has been spent learning to write computer programs, re-learning A-level maths and learning how to make maps. I work with a lot of data collected from cows which have died/been killed because of bovine tuberculosis. When one of these animals dies/is killed, samples are taken from different tissues in their body and tested to see if they are infected with the bacteria that  causes bovine tuberculosis, Mycobacterium bovis. If they have the bacteria, the next step is create something like a fingerprint of the bug to see what genotype it is. A genotype is really like the surname of the bacteria, we can tell which bacteria belong to the same families by looking at their surnames! myimage1

When we have all this information and know where the cow the sample came from used to live, we can plot on a map all the genotypes we have. Using this technique we look at how many families of bovine tuberculosis there are in Great Britain and where they all live. What these maps have shown us is that the genotypes from cattle in Great Britain are clumped together into different family groups over the whole island, shown by the different coloured spots in the map below. To investigate why this happens I’ve written a computer program to help me to understand if cattle or badgers are more responsible for causing the funny clumpy patterns that we see. I’m hoping that my research will improve future bovine tuberculosis control policies and eventually help eradicate the disease from cattle and badgers.

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Working on this disease people expect you to either believe it’s all about the cows or all about the badgers! But for me, I won’t make my mind up until I know more about the disease.

My Typical Day

Wake, office, emails, read new science publications, work on simulations/writing/maps, lunch, more simulations/writing/maps, gym/exercise class, dinner, tv, reading (non-science), sleep, zzzzzzz

Here I describe a typical day, but as a Researcher you have a lot of very special days too. If you’d like to hear about them, just ask!

I try get out of bed before 7am but I fail pretty often! After a quick breakfast, it’s off to my office which I share with five other researchers  at the University of Glasgows Vet School. We all belong to a big research group called The Boyd Orr Centre. I normally start my day by clearing my inbox of all the rubbish emails I get and flag the ones which I need to answer after I’ve had my first cup of tea and my brain is fully awake. I also check to see if there has been any reports of outbreaks of disease and if there has been any new science publications that I should read. Then it’s down to work. At the start of every week I make a ‘to-do’ list, which only gets longer as the week goes on. Every morning I check my list and decide which stuff I’m going to do today. I love putting a tick beside an item, it’s my little geeky reward as I go about my day.

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This is where the science happens!! It’s not what you’d imagine if you thought of where a scientist might work, but computers are becoming more and more important to science everyday!

My days normally involve working on my simulations, making maps or writing up my results, and often all three! I spend most of my days playing with pretend (or simulated) badgers and cows on my computer program!! All the researchers in my group (students like me and lecturers too) always go for lunch together at 12.30 each day. We’re a hungry, predictable bunch! Lunch time is normally spent chatting about everything and anything, but some of our favourite topics include chips, movies, animals (well we do work in a vet school), tv, research problems and chips (seriously, we love chips!). After lunch I head back to my desk and try  tick off a few more things from my to-do list until about 6pm. 

Spending all day playing with pretend cattle and badgers on a computer can make me pretty tired, but after work I try and get some exercise. I’m very lucky that the Vet School here in Glasgow is in an old manor estate so we’re loads of green areas and paths for walking and jogging and we also have a really nice gym, which is great for days when the weather is yukky, which happens quite often in Glasgow. myimage6

The Glasgow Vet School is based in a really beautiful park! This photo was taken last December as I walked to the gym in the snow.

After my work-out, it’s back to my flat for dinner. Afterwards, if I’ve not managed to check off all the stuff I wanted to get done today I’ll spend an hour or so in my little office in my flat finishing off some work. Otherwise I’ll go to the cinema with some friends or watch tv. I love any medical or animal tv shows. I’m a huge Greys Anatomy fan (Team Karev all the way!!) and also try and catch-up with what’s going on in the world of showjumping whenever I can. Then it’s off to bed by 11. I always try and read a bit of non-work stuff before sleep. Not only does it relax me, but it normally stops badgers and cows running through my dreams all night!

What I'd do with the money

I want to send the £500 to Tanzania in Africa to equip a brand new school for orphans with science equipment such as books, computer software and basic science kits to improve the kids lives and the lives of their furture families.

I believe that a basic science education is the key to successful communication of science and control of infectious disease. And there are no people more worthy of a science education than those who will have to deal with sickness their whole lives!

While school can feel like a pain in the butt most days for us, it really is a gift for most children in Africa.

I want to spend the £500 to buy basic science equipment for a new school for orphans in a village called Boma nGombe in Tanzania (the green country on the map), Africa. These kids have had a really hard life. Most have seen their parents die from AIDS and a lot of these kids are also infected with the HIV virus. The orphanage, called Tir Na N’Óg (this links to a facebook page so you may not be able to see it in school!) which means Land of the Young in Irish, was set up by my best friend Louise after she saw how little these kids had on a trip to Tanzania. Louise is a teacher (you can see her teach a class at the orphanage in the picture below) so she knows how important education is for these kids, that’s why they are building a new school so all the kids can learn in a safe and purpose built environment. The fact that a lot of these kids are sick or will have to take care of people who are sick in the future means that an education in science is even more important to them! Not only will they be able to understand more about the illnesses they’ll face but they will also be able to communicate the lessons they have learned to others in their community, hopefully improving their lives also.

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I would like to spend the prize money on books, computer software (the kids are so excited about this, they’ve never used a computer before!) and basic science kits for kids of primary school age, all which we take for granted as what makes up a normal education in this country! This equipment will make their teachers jobs a lot easier and will mean they can learn even more! Something as simple as a basic knowledge about hygiene and sexual education will make a huge difference to the lives of these kids. The orphanage is entirely funded by donations so every penny they can get really helps them live happier, healthier lives!myimage5

I know this is a bit of a sob story, but who could deny a face like this a science education?? Who knows, this boy may be the one who finds a cure for AIDS!

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My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic (aka Bonkers), Driven (aka Bonkers but with direction) and Superfragilisticexpialidocious (aka totally Bonkers)

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Killer question. There are so many, but I’ll go with my old favourites, the artists I turn to after an awful day when my pretend badgers and cows are not playing nice: Snow Patrol and David Bowie

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I did a horse-back safari in South Africa two years ago. It was AMAZING! I got to gallop across open plains, get really close to Zebras (my favourite animal) and Elephants. If you do a driving safari, the animals normally ingnore you, but on a horse the animals are very conscience that you are in their territory, so you have to be prepared to hot-foot it out of there at the first sight of trouble. One young elephant bull was not very happy with us, so we gladly left him alone, after we got some very cool photos first!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Okay, i’m going to be brutally honest: 1. New skin. Sorry guys, sometimes acne does not go away :( 2. A house in the country with stables full with nice horses and 3. To be respected in world of veterinary epidemiology

What did you want to be after you left school?

This used to change ona daily basis, and kinda still does. I left school knowing I loved diseases, so I thought i’d work in a hospital laboratory, testing blood and poo for the rest of my life. Then, during a summer job for a company called Enfer based in Tipperary in Ireland, I learned that I could actually combine my two passions, diseases and animals, without training to be a vet!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not really, but I wasn’t the best student. I found a lot of subjects really difficult, there were a lot of F’s, but thankfully Biology pulled me through. To this day I still can’t spell for peanuts which I’m sure you’ll learn in my answers to your questions. Spell check is probably the greatest invention of our time!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Well one day I hope to been seen as an expert in my field but until then, the best thing I’ve done as a scientist is talk to non-scientists about what we scientists get up to! I love taking complex research, full of long complicated words and breaking it down in such a way that everyone can understand new breakthroughs in science. Nothing makes me happier that sitting down with some farmers and letting them know about all the hard work we’re doing to solve their problems.

Tell us a joke.

Courtesy of my friend Mike: A rabbit goes into a bar everyday and always orders a cheese toastie. One day he comes in and orders a ham toastie but is never seen again. The bartender enquires about the rabbit only to find out some terrible news. He had died of an awful case of Miximatoasties! Poor Rabbit! :D