Seminar series to mark Oxford Biochemistry Undergraduates' research success
The contribution of Oxford Biochemistry undergraduate training to the success of the biomedical research effort in the UK and internationally is being celebrated with the establishment of a new, annual seminar in the department.
Initiated by Professor Louis Mahadevan, the ‘Star Alumni Seminar’ will bring a newly-independent researcher in to the department to talk about their research and career. The seminar is aimed at current undergraduates, DPhil students and all those who make valuable contributions to undergraduate teaching including research and teaching laboratory staff.
As Professor Mahadevan explains, the contribution that Oxford Biochemistry graduates and post-doctoral scientists make to the research effort is massive and apparent. But the contribution that the Department's great undergraduate students and their teaching make is easily overlooked. He wants to redress this balance and link the efforts in teaching with later success in research.
‘The seminars will celebrate Biochemistry undergraduate teaching feeding into research in the UK and internationally. It’s worth highlighting that around half our undergraduates go into a PhD and this is a big contribution to research. We aim to publicise recent undergraduates who have got great publications during their early careers and are just becoming independent.’
Giving the first seminar, in October 2011, was Dr Jenny Gallop (see below). She works on actin polymerisation in cells and is particularly interested in finger-like sensory protrusions called filopodia and in endocytosis. She has recently taken up a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge.
Jenny spoke to a broad audience including many students about her work on filopodia in Professor Kirschner’s lab and how her career path has been driven by her research interests. Towards the end of the talk she covered her current and future plans, including building up her own independent group.
The next Star Alumni Seminar is being planned for October 2012, with funding for an associated reception generously provided by Mr George Nianias who has supported research at the department for several years through the Nianias Foundation.
Dr Jenny Gallop
Jenny Gallop, March 2012
Jenny Gallop is a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow at the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge.
In a rapid and very successful path to this prestigious fellowship, Jenny matriculated as a Biochemistry undergraduate in Oxford in 1997 and went on to study for a PhD with Harvey McMahon at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. Following that, she worked as a postdoc in the lab of Marc Kirschner at Harvard, one of the top labs in the world studying the cytoskeleton. She was awarded the Wellcome Trust Fellowship in 2011 and moved to the Gurdon Institute in September 2011 to establish herself as a group leader.
Looking back on her undergraduate days, Jenny appreciates the way the undergraduate course was structured. ‘I felt that I could follow my own interests,’ she says. ‘Because the tutorials and lectures didn’t correspond subject-wise, we were covering lots of topics at the same time. The lack of exams in the second year was also good because it gave us time to really think. The fourth year was like a Masters course, and we got to know what working in the lab was like.’
Jenny got the research bug early on in her student days, carrying out Summer research projects every year. Her career has been driven by her strong research interests and she has actively identified and sought the labs which will offer the best scientific training and environment in these areas.
Her Part II research project, with Kurt Drickamer who was then at the Glycobiology Unit, sparked her interest in the spatial aspects of cell membranes. Jenny refined this further, choosing to study for a PhD with Harvey McMahon who works on membrane curvature and endocytosis. Towards the end of her doctorate, and having read a paper from the Kirschner lab in Harvard, she developed a clear idea about her next steps. ‘What appealed to me was to go to a lab where I thought, ‘I really want do work like this.’’
She stayed in Marc Kirschner's lab for 5 years, during which time she produced a major paper Science in 2010 demonstrating self-assembly of filopodia-like structures in frog egg extracts using supported lipid bilayers. Jenny’s extensive stay there enabled her to make full use of the sophisticated microscopy available.
Whilst in the States, she hosted a Summer vacation student from Oxford, Megan Addison, with support from Professor Kirschner. ‘I had lots of experiments that would be ideal for a summer student,’ she says. ‘Marc kindly offered me funds to help out. I went back to Louis [Mahadevan] in Oxford to help me find a student. One came over and did a 2 month project with me.’
Recent good news is that Megan, one of the top students graduating from Biochemistry this summer, will herself begin graduate research towards a PhD at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Mill Hill, London.
Jenny agrees that Oxford Biochemistry undergraduates make a big contribution to research, both in the UK and internationally, and many have become prominent scientists. ‘So many of the people I meet are ex-Oxford Biochemistry – Gerard Evan, Sean Munro, Andrea Brand for example.’