Meet our Lab Heroes Awards Winner: Kimberley Evans
We were thrilled to have so many fantastic, highly deserving entries to the first of our Lab Heroes Awards, but the one that really stood out to our Scientific Advisory Board – and the first ever winner of our Lab Hero title – was Kimberley Evans.
Kimberley is a Research Assistant, soon to be Lab Manager, in the Karadottir Lab at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge. Her research is concerned with factors that affect myelination, and the role of white matter in Alzheimer's disease.
Congratulations, Kimberley! How did it feel to find out that your colleagues had nominated you as their lab hero?
When my PI first asked me if I would be OK with being nominated I was quite touched, then I think that news spread around the lab about it and I was nominated by so many of our lab members, even some who had only been with us for a short time – it meant a lot that they all took the time to write such lovely nominations, and it was interesting to read about which aspects of our day-to-day interactions stand out to different people.
How did it feel when you found out you’d been named as our Lab Heroes Awards winner?
First thoughts were: “Oh wow really?!” Then a good few minutes of stunned silence - then I started thinking about how handy the free DREADD supplies were going to be for our research! Even being nominated was honestly very heart-warming so winning is very exciting. I am very grateful to my co-workers for putting in their time and hope that they are as pleased as I am by this win.
Why do you think it’s so important to champion life science researchers, and what more could be done to show scientists recognition?
Science can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle; experiments sometimes fail (sometimes repeatedly…), there is a lot of pressure – both external and internal – positions are often not very secure, hours are often irregular, and cells don’t understand weekends or holidays. To succeed in life sciences you need to have a huge amount of perseverance, creativity, and many more skills than just bench work! Ultimately though we are aiming to improve general knowledge; either because it is fascinating, or because it will lead to new therapies, technologies or understandings that will improve the world. It is easy to lose sight of the big picture when you are bogged down with the minutiae of grant applications, equipment failure, new batches of antibody not working etc., and I think that having someone champion the work that we do means a lot. As for recognition – I don’t think that there is a scientist anywhere who would turn down a no strings attached lump sum to spend on a nice lab retreat or new bit of equipment!
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?
I’ve always been somewhat scientifically inclined and when I was about seven years old my mum showed me a magazine article of women in various scientific disciplines and I read about what these women were doing and decided that it was the coolest thing that I had ever seen. From that point on I proudly declared that I wanted to be a molecular biologist when I grew up, and had the article pinned to my bedroom wall for at least a decade. Obviously the exact title changed over time, but the decision to be a scientist was taken pretty early.
What advice would you give to someone joining a new lab?
Before you join the lab don’t be afraid to ask questions, talk to everyone about their research and talk to them about your proposed project – a lab is a bit like a family, but one that you get to choose, so choose wisely! Once you’ve joined, keep talking about everyone’s research, give credit wherever it is due, and keep communal spaces tidy!
What did you enjoy most about your role?
I get to be involved in a lot of different projects and quite often have my own projects on the go as well. I’m quite adaptable and enjoy being able to use that skill.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
There isn’t really a typical day as it all depends on which projects are at what stage, though generally there is some admin to be done (ordering, meetings, emails), then tissue culture for a few hours. I like to use incubation times to check on how everyone else is doing in the lab, how experiments are going, what needs ordering, if anything isn’t working well etc. Then, maybe some colony management, or proof reading of manuscripts or grant/license applications, planning experiments, some other experimental work like setting up immunohistochemistry, or running a western or microscopy, genotyping, analysing some data… I’m fairly flexible so tend to prioritise what needs to be done at the start of each week and then aim to systematically work through the list.
What are you planning on using your Hello Bio vouchers and travel grant for?
We’ve recently been planning quite a few experiments using DREADDs, so I expect quite a few orders of clozapine, but we are also an electrophysiology lab so many of the other agonists and antagonists could come in handy; particularly with our interest into NMDA and AMPA receptors. As for the travel grant, the Neuroscience conference in San Diego next year is pretty tempting!
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
I think that a curator of a Natural History Museum would be the next best thing if I couldn’t be a scientist.
Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?
Outside of the lab I enjoy various arts and crafts (including pumpkin carving as mentioned in one of the nominations!), natural history museums, travel, and spending time with my husband and our pets.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
The brain is fascinating and we know so little about how it works. There are so many diseases and disorders that affect the brain and they offer tiny snippets of information about how we work, what changes must occur as we grow, what repair can occur, what happens when these repair processes are blocked – so many interesting questions which we can look into. How we think and respond is what makes us human, which I think is very exciting! On a more specific note, myelin is currently implicated in many brain diseases and disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis to schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, but we know so little about the precise role that it plays normally and how it is affected by other cell types within the brain, by discovering the precise regulatory networks and processes underpinning myelin it is my hope that we can work towards potential treatments.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
I’m going to go very local with this one and say my PI, Dr Karadottir, as she constantly pushes us to do great science, has a work ethic that cannot possibly be equalled, a head buzzing with experimental ideas, and still takes the time to recognise each and every person who contributes in her lab.
What’s your favourite science joke OR science quote?
“If at first you don’t succeed try two more times so that your failure is statistically significant.”
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
That is such a difficult question! I’m not sure that we can or should rank science in that way. In terms of greatest for human health perhaps antibiotics or vaccinations, in terms of shaping how we view the world then evolution or even Copernicus’ model of the solar system; but there are so many great discoveries from both the biological and physical sciences that it is impossible to choose.
Thank you so much for a brilliant interview, Kimberley, and congratulations again from all of us here at Hello Bio!
Find out more about Kimberley’s work at Dr. Karadottir’s research page: https://www.stemcells.cam.ac.uk/research/pis/karadottir
View Kimberley’s Research Gate profile here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kimberley_Evans2