Interviews with Scientists: Lizzie Mann

Interviews with Scientists: Lizzie Mann
6 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Lizzie Mann

Lizzie Mann did her undergraduate degree in Pharmacology at the University of Bath, where she had a lot of fun, learned a lot of science and graduated in 2014.

Since then, she has been working hard on finding a neuroprotective therapy for Parkinson’s disease in Susan Duty’s lab at King’s College London. She loves to talk about science and can often be found trying to get undergraduates, postgraduates and anyone else who will listen, excited about research.

It was an absolute pleasure to speak to Lizzie about her PhD, her passion for science, and more.

Thanks so much for speaking to us Lizzie! Firstly tell us more about your PhD...

My PhD has mostly been spent looking at the potential of compounds acting at the mGlu4 receptor in providing neuroprotection in in vivo models of Parkinson’s disease. I’ve worked with a couple of different compounds to look at their ability to preserve the dopamine-producing cells of the substantia nigra in Parkinsonian rats. I’ve also tried to examine their abilities to modulate the inflammatory response in the CNS to Parkinsonism. In addition, I had a little side-project which was looking at the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (things like depression and cognitive impairment) and whether those symptoms are replicated in the models of Parkinson’s that we use in our lab.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?

Pretty much! I had a couple of really great Chemistry teachers who gave me a real passion for science, but also they taught me that the most important thing in learning is not to give up. I was never the one who intuitively knew all the answers but when I didn’t understand something I would put in the time until I felt totally comfortable with it. When I got to university I was blown away by the practicals – we did a lot of organ bath work and it was totally amazing to me that I could isolate some tissue and be able to physically see its response to drugs we use every day (again, I had some great lecturers which always helps).

What are you enjoying most about your PhD?

At the moment I’m spending most of my time writing my thesis. I’m honestly enjoying researching some tiny details of the results of previous experiments that I haven’t had time to consider before now. Finding ways in which they tie in to the overall narrative of my research is just mind-blowing.

You recently helped host an event for this year's Pint of Science festival, tell us more about that…

I was pretty lucky in that, although I probably wouldn’t have thought of forming a team to host a Pint of Science event myself, some researchers at my institution who were setting up a team asked me to get involved and I jumped at the chance. I feel that organising and hosting the event was pretty empowering for an early-career scientist like myself. It felt great that we were organising something that scientists who are involved with really interesting research wanted to participate in. It was a real confidence boost as well when everything went smoothly on the night and I really think everyone involved (speakers, hosts and audience) had a lot of fun. I would absolutely do it all again next year!

Why do you think events like Pint of Science, which are open to the public, so important?

I feel that my academic life so far has been directed by a few key moments where I’ve found something in science so amazing that it’s really stuck with me long term. I love the idea that, through public engagement, I could make someone else have the same feeling. I’m not saying that I’m hoping anyone attending our Pint of Science events will quit their job and start a PhD as a result – just as long as people had fun and felt excited by science.

What do you think are the biggest challenges / barriers /issues currently facing life scientists and their work?

I feel that reproducibility is a real problem at the moment. It’s not uncommon for high profile, published work to be repeated by a different group and the findings to be different. Most published work will never be repeated (either through lack of funds or the constant need for progression) but, as a PhD student basing much of my work on published studies, I do wonder how much of it is truly reliable. As scientists, we need to ensure that when we publish, our methods and results are as detailed and as transparent as possible. I really believe it’s better in the long term to do good science slowly than make quick progress based on bad science. It doesn’t always feel as though the system encourages this!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out with their PhD?

It will be difficult but probably not in the way you’re imagining. Make sure you set achievable research goals (i.e. not ‘cure cancer’ but more like ‘finish that histology’) and maintain your social life – it’s always good to have someone you can rely on to join you for a break when things go badly in the lab.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

My PhD is made up of a few fairly long studies which consist of several different activities. Depending on where I am in a study, a lab day might be spent recording animal behaviours, performing histology, imaging slides, or analysing data. I tend to do any one intensely and exclusively until it’s finished and then move on to the next.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?

I’m a bit of an escapist so I’ll often be reading a book (fantasy or history) or playing video games when I’m not working on my thesis. Even during lab time, if I have a long and lonely stint on the microscope I’ll often listen to audiobooks about pirates or conquistadors! I’m also a fan of puzzles so when I’m travelling I’ll often be doing a sudoku or (attempting) a cryptic crossword.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I think I’m pretty lucky in that I can get interested in a whole range of things so I could easily have ended up doing something totally different. Sometimes I consider that I might like to be a vet but I’m not sure I can face doing another undergraduate degree!

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

I’m interested in central nervous system disorders and illnesses in general, alongside my professional interest in Parkinson’s disease. Apropos of that, I’m probably most excited when those two things intersect i.e. in the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. In particular, figuring out appropriate ways to model and quantify such complex illnesses as Parkinson’s-depression or anxiety.

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

I feel it’s important for the health of research in general to identify qualities here, rather than pick out individuals based on the progress they’ve made. I admire scientists at all levels who can communicate about their work well and highlight the reasons why it is exciting and important (even if they’re finding that difficult to see). I admire scientists who can talk honestly and openly about the problems they have faced during their research, and scientists who take a more difficult option in planning an experiment in order that it is properly controlled and meaningful.

What’s your favourite science joke?

I’m all for puns, so I’m pretty fond of things like this: I have a new theory on inertia but it doesn’t seem to be gaining momentum.

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

As a Parkinson’s researcher – levodopa. Levodopa crosses the blood-brain barrier and gets converted to dopamine, which gives really fast symptomatic relief to PD patients who lack dopamine-producing cells. Such a simple idea and it works absolutely beautifully (for a few years anyway).

As a human – penicillin. Where would we be without antibiotics?


Thank you so much for speaking to us, Lizzie! We wish you the very best of luck with your PhD and research.

You can follow Lizzie on Twitter @TheL_Mann

Leave your comment
Your email address will not be published