How a master’s at Manchester helped me to find my niche

After graduating in Biology in Sheffield, Jamie Ellingford wanted his next step to be a more focused one. A Biology degree opens many doors, but a postgraduate degree in a specific area can make you extremely desirable to employers, with 83.1% of postgraduate graduates in full time employment. Jamie elected to study a master’s in Translational Medicine, or Precision Medicine as it’s now known, and now as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Manchester, he discusses how important the MRes was in his career development…

Why precision medicine?

I had just finished my BSc in Biology at the University of Sheffield which had a strong focus on evolutionary biology. I’d become pretty fascinated by human and evolutionary genomics and whilst it was interesting I felt like I needed to pursue something a little bit more applied if I wanted to stay in the area of genomics. I started looking for jobs and opportunities in medical genomics and I was lucky enough to be awarded an MRC studentship to study Translational Medicine at the University of Manchester. This was in essence the same course as the current Precision Medicine programme at Manchester.

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From undergrad to masters

My undergrad was a fairly broad Biology degree which covered a wide range of subjects including evolutionary biology, evolutionary ecology and biomedical sciences. It gave me a really good understanding about the principles of basic scientific research but there was no emphasis on translational or precision medicine. My degree definitely installed a fascination in genomics and the use of genomics in a variety of different areas, but it was the master’s that really allowed me to realise that I could have a fascinating career in this area of research.

The course well exceeded my expectations. I was fully funded with a generous stipend from the MRC, which was fantastic as it really allowed me to focus on my studies. The course gave me a good grounding of the different types of translational research that were available, and included point-of-care diagnostic tools in infectious diseases, proteomic approaches to study cancer and the topic which I’ve started to build a really exciting career in – the use of genomics to understand human disease. The extended project that I undertook as part of this course enabled a time to submerge myself in data, gave me an opportunity to publish a scientific paper, and developed some preliminary data which eventually turned into another 3.5 years of study as my PhD!

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The course itself

There were intensive teaching modules early on in the course, which brought the whole cohort up to speed with the latest technologies and their application in translational research. We then had an period of time to write our literature reviews – I took this opportunity to start to learn some of the informatics and wet laboratory skillsets I would need for my research project. The extensive research project started after Christmas and there was very little distraction from this study with teaching and essays all the way through to the course completion – this was fantastic as it allowed a period of real focus.

The number one highlight of the course for me would be patient impact. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to see your research actually have a real-life effect on peoples’ lives. Often these individuals haven’t known the conclusive cause for their disease for many years. I was also lucky enough to publish some of my research from the masters and this was also a real highlight!

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Life after graduation

I was able to make some fantastic contacts during the course, and as a result we were able to successfully secure money from the BBSRC to complete a PhD within the Doctoral Training Programme at the University of Manchester. This was an extension to work that I had completed during the MRes – my thesis was entitled Informatics strategies for the analysis of high-throughput DNA sequencing datasets (and is available online through the University of Manchester Library should you wish to read it!). There is no doubt that the skills I learnt during the masters put me in a really competitive position to be awarded the money to undertake my PhD.

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Manchester, funded by the Health Education England Genomics Education Programme. This is an initiative set up to conduct research on the data developed as part of the 100,000 Genomes Project. Whilst my job title has changed three times since completing the MRes (1. PhD student, 2. NHS Research Bioinformatician, 3. Postdoctoral Research Fellow), I’ve remained in the same research team throughout – and pretty much the same office seat!

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The course helped enormously as I had an opportunity to develop a series of core informatics and wet-laboratory skills during the MRes programme which I would be lost without today as they remain absolutely pivotal for my day-to-day work. The extended research projects along with the guidance and supervision provided on the MRes course were a fantastic opportunity to self-learn skills that I was interested in developing and I would suggest any future students to do the same.

My advice to you

Fully immerse yourself in the course. Use it as an opportunity to understand whether you are suited and would enjoy extending your research career into a PhD in a specific area – PhD’s aren’t for everyone! And make sure that you take the opportunity to network and develop skills that are outside your comfort zone!


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