Interviews with Scientists: Chloe Thomas
Next up in our Interviews with Scientists, meet Chloe Thomas! Chloe is a final year PhD student researching cell death mechanisms in retinal ganglion cells after traumatic eye injury. She is currently based in the Neuroscience and Ophthalmology group at the University of Birmingham in the UK.
We spoke to Chloe about her research, her advice for new PhDs, as well as her recent experience speaking at ARVO 2018 in Hawaii, which was her first time speaking at an international conference.
Hi Chloe! Great to speak to you! Firstly tell us more about your PhD...
At the back of the eye is the retina which contains cells that enable vision. The retina is an extension of the central nervous system (CNS) and contains neurons, including retinal ganglion cells and photoreceptors. These retinal neurons are not replaced if they die from injury or disease. Retinal ganglion cells have their cell bodies in the retina, and their axons project down the optic nerve to the brain. If these cells die then the connection between the eye and the brain is lost and this can lead to irreversible blindness.
My research involves researching why retinal ganglion cells die after traumatic eye injury. Eye injuries can occur due to an explosive blast, and there are different types of injuries depending on the stage of the blast. Primary blast injury occurs due to a wave of overpressure, followed by a blast wind which carries debris (such as rocks and stones) and shrapnel from the explosive device. The primary blast overpressure wave (causing primary blast injury) and debris carried in the blast wind (causing secondary blast injury; blunt ocular trauma) can cause traumatic brain and eye injuries. We investigate the mechanisms of retinal cell death in these injuries using in vivo models and in vitro retinal cultures with the hope to prevent sight loss through therapeutics.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?
I have always been interested in science and understanding why disease happens and trying to prevent it. I like the idea of constantly learning and challenging yourself, and research fulfils this!
You recently spoke at ARVO 2018, how was that experience?
ARVO 2018 was a fantastic experience, partly because the conference was located in Hawaii, but was also a fantastic opportunity to network. I have previously presented posters and small talks, but this was my first oral presentation at an international conference.
I had an abstract submission and a talk in a special interest group (SIG) on models of ocular trauma. I was really nervous before the presentations, but I reassured myself that I knew about the topic and that it would be a good opportunity to share my research and gain new ideas on my data. The questions and discussion were really useful for new ideas on my data and the SIG was a fantastic opportunity to network.
What are you enjoying most about your PhD?
I’ve enjoyed constantly learning throughout my PhD and having the freedom to build upon my ideas.
What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?
Enjoy your research and remain positive. If things are going horrendously badly in the lab remember that it is not the end of the world and negative results are still important.
I had a collaboration as part of the PhD project with a lab at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where I spent three months doing research in my second year. I learnt new skills to bring back to our lab and have gained fantastic collaborators and friends. If you have the opportunity to apply for funding to travel or visit another lab, take the opportunity.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
It can range from histology to western blotting to sitting at a computer counting degenerating and intact optic nerve axons. At the moment I am finishing a few experiments, writing manuscripts and my thesis.
Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy baking, music, and travelling.
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’m quite creative and like fashion so I’d probably apply for a designing course.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
It is exciting being at the forefront of research and adding to knowledge on primary blast ocular trauma. It is nice to contribute to research that could ultimately prevent loss of sight and change lives.
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?
Competition for grants.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
Dr Susan Greenfield. When I was in sixth form I read her book The Human Brain: A Guided Tour and thought the brain sounded really cool. I like how she can engage the public with science and the accessibility of her books and public lectures for people with an interest but little knowledge of neuroscience. The late Oliver Sacks’ books are also fantastic.
Thanks so much for speaking to us Chloe! We wish you the best of luck with your thesis and for the future!
Follow Chloe on Twitter: @cnthomas1994
Follow the Neuroscience and Ophthalmology lab at @UoBNeuroOphthal