Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Dillon Popat

Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Dillon Popat
3 months ago

Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Dillon Popat

We’re delighted to introduce another of our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended nominees! Dillon Popat was nominated by his supervisor Dr Li Chan for his hard work in the lab and passion for sharing knowledge with others. She also told us about his dedication to community outreach through his participation at local science events and festivals.

Dillon is a PhD student at the Centre for Endocrinology, William Harvey Research Institute, UK. He studied BSc Biochemistry at the University of Portsmouth where he undertook his first research project as an Erasmus student in Paris under Dr Anne Marie-Pret. He developed a love for the research environment and stayed at the University of Portsmouth to pursue a Master of Research in the labs of Dr Frank Schubert and Dr Helen Fillmore, aiming to develop novel models of paediatric brainstem gliomas. During this project, the idea of continuing in academic sciences was firmly cemented for Dillon and he continued on to a PhD.

He is currently in his third year working with Dr Chan at the QMUL-William Harvey Research Institute in London. His research focuses on the molecular characterisation of the GPCR MC2R as well as its accessory proteins, MRAP and MRAP2. The lab also works with the spin-out company OMass Therapeutics in Oxford to support the development of small molecule therapies targeting MC2R which is important in cancers and metabolic disorders.

We spoke to Dillon about the importance of community outreach, a typical day in the lab and the scientists he admires most.


Congratulations, Dillon! How did it feel when you found out that your supervisor had nominated you as their Lab Hero?

I felt honoured to be nominated and I feel incredibly appreciated by my wonderful department.


How did it feel when you found out you had been chosen by our panel as 'Highly Commended'?

It was quite exciting to be recognised by an external body for the work I have done.


Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate life science researchers, and what more could be done to show life scientists recognition?

Celebrating life scientists is so important to keep young scientists engaged, sometimes when you are at the bench running that 100th experiment it is easy to lose sight of the reason why you are doing that experiment. I think more competitions like this could really help to give some encouragement to young researchers.


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

I knew I always wanted to be a scientist, I was a bit of a know-it-all and the idea of being the first person to find something out has always been incredibly appealing. I still have that feeling now, though I hope I am less of a know-it-all.


What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?

The thing I enjoy the most would have to be working with so many disciplines to achieve the same goal. My research projects have exposed me to so many incredibly smart scientists who are all exceptional in different fields and all of whom are eager to work with other incredible scientists to achieve their common goals.


Your colleague praised your commitment to community outreach and public science events - what do you enjoy most about these activities and why are they important to you?

While producing high-quality academic manuscripts is critical to the advancement of cutting-edge science, public service and outreach are the basis of why publicly funded science exists. It is the job of scientists to communicate the importance of science to the public, especially in an era where misinformation is so freely available.


Can you tell us a bit more about what you're working on in the lab currently?

I have just undertaken a placement at the spin-out company OMass Therapeutics where I learnt some new techniques in structural biology and biochemistry. These are going to help further my research back in my academic lab where we are characterising the pharmacology of the Melanocortin 2 Receptor and its accessory protein MRAP.


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

I usually arrive early to get my cell culture maintenance and transfections for experiments done. Then I start the PCRs for whatever my new cloning project is at the time before going straight into a few cell signalling experiments. Then a relaxed lunch (never eat at your desk). Before resolving the gels from the morning’s PCRs and analysing the data from the cell signalling experiments.


What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists at the moment?

I think the biggest challenge facing young scientists today is increased competition for funding to become independent scientists. At the PhD level, there are clear issues regarding salaries and while the UKRI has made steps to address this, it is now an issue at the University level whereby institutions need to follow through and support their students properly.


What key piece of advice would you give to a younger scientist just starting out in their career?

Say yes to any opportunity and make your own luck. Senior scientists are not scary and are keen for young people to work in their labs! Put yourself out there and ask for internships, apply for summer studentships, and talk to people about what they do and what you want to do. Scientists want to collaborate and they want to help out people who want to do good work.


How do you see your career developing in the future/where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I would love to have my own research group in an academic institution that can work with industry to do some excellent basic science and produce translational therapeutics.


Which scientists working today do you admire the most?

I admire my supervisor Dr Li Chan, she has always supported her students and encouraged independence but in a way that we never feel isolated. She also champions the reproducibility of data and pushes us to be better scientists. I also admire the work of Professor Steven Charlton, he has been able to produce incredible academic research and translate that into a successful spin-out company which is now a part of OMass Therapeutics. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Professor Aylin Hanyaloglu at Imperial College London, I find her research incredibly fascinating and the toolbox her group uses is very cool.


What’s your favourite science quote?

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” - Isaac Newton


Thank you so much for speaking to us Dillon! And congratulations once again on being highly commended! We look forward to keeping in touch with you and following your career as it progresses.

Connect with Dillon:

And you can meet our other Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 prize-winners here.


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