Emma Brown

I work on Zika, the virus that caused problems in unborn babies and adults in South America. Specifically, I work on one protein of the virus. We’re trying to work out how that plays a role in the virus lifecycle and whether we can target it with drugs.

My undergraduate degree – in genetics – was also at the University. We had the chance to study different modules and I found I really enjoyed virology. I took all the virology options I could and found a placement, in the summer of my second year, with the team I now work in. That gave me my first taste of practical virology work. Leeds is

one of the main virology centres in the country – and I really like the city – so it was an obvious choice to stay here.

I decided to do a PhD because I was enjoying academia and loved research – I really liked working in the lab. I think a PhD also gives you lots of transferable skills that you can use in different types of work.

I’m the only PhD researcher in my Institute working on this virus, but there are other people around who can help me. Other researchers in my Institute work with viruses that target cancer cells and they give me general insights and tips. I also have help and support from Biological Sciences colleagues, who are working with viruses at a molecular level, as I am. Mine was an advertised project, but I’m able to input into the direction of my research. It all

depends what you want to do and what you want to get out of the project. I think that’s one of the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate research.

It’s very rewarding when you get data that suggests that something that you’re looking into is working. That makes all the hard work feel worthwhile.

Ultimately, I hope my work will have some positive impact on what is known about Zika virus. It would be great to think you’ve contributed to an area of research and helped prevent future infections – even if it’s in years to come. Zika is closely related to dengue virus, which is a big problem in Africa and Asia. So any findings about Zika also could be translatable to dengue virus or to the wider genus.

It’s exciting to work in an environment where research breakthroughs are happening too. When the people around you publish high-profile papers, it makes you realise the impact you can have.

Your progress and development are quite structured. There are formal progress meetings and inbetween regular meetings with your supervisor, which are really useful to check you’re on track and to discuss ideas.

I’ve had opportunities to attend conferences, starting with our Institute’s annual symposium. In my research group we usually start by attending a conference, then present a poster and then give a talk. It’s really good practice if you continue in academia. The first time I had to present I thought I definitely couldn’t do it, but then I did and felt much better. It’s a great confidence booster.

We usually present at an international conference in our third year, which is quite a scary prospect, but also amazing to think that you’ve done enough research to be able to do that.

One of the best things is the support from other PhD and postdoc researchers in my Institute group. It’s a really good network. Anyone will happily talk through your project – reassure you and help you decide how you could improve.