Karen Garcia-Rodriquez is a Mexican national who recently completed her PhD at Manchester. Here, she talks about why she chose Manchester, her success in a student ideas competition, and the close friends she made during her programme.
My route to a PhD
I am originally from Mexico City, where I concluded my first degree as a chemist pharmaceutical biologist. During the last year of my undergrad, I did a research fellowship at a Mexican hospital where I studied tuberculosis in animal models.
Here, my passion to science and to infectious diseases started. I am very interested in understanding immune mechanisms happening after pathogens enter the body. In my PhD, I studied the role of mast cells – which are very interesting immune cells – in tuberculosis infection.
I also had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers in Mexico by studying the roles of mast cells in human tuberculosis using patient samples from a Mexican hospital. This was very rewarding, as it allowed me to maintain my connections with Mexican researchers within my field.
Why I chose Manchester
The University of Manchester is among the top universities worldwide, plus it has a great reputation for developing scientific careers. In my first interview with my PhD supervisor, she gave me a small tour around the laboratory, which made me very excited. The University has cutting-edge technology for biology research, as well as expert technicians all around the diverse facilities, who are always willing to help.
In addition, I found the city of Manchester a great place to pursue my PhD. As I came from Mexico City, I was a bit tired of huge cities with crowds everywhere. However, I found Manchester just perfect. It is not a huge city, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by crowds, but it has plenty of places and activities to visit.
All around the city, Manchester has a number of museums, shops, restaurants, pubs, cinemas, cultural spaces, parks and sports centres. There are activities including, music concerts, festivals, food markets and different types of social events.
Life as an international student
I think my life has completely changed since I decided to move to Manchester to study my PhD. I am extremely happy and satisfied with all the achievements I have gained during my studies.
As a Mexican student, it was very hard to deal with financial issues and cultural and language differences. The Mexican scholarships are becoming more and more competitive, and I remember how this struggle made me feel little demotivated.
However, now I can say that although the path was not easy, it is totally possible, and the reward is invaluable. I encourage new students to select a great university that is worth going through all the processes for studying PhD abroad, and I absolutely think Manchester is a great option.
Becoming part of a close community
As an international student, I had the opportunity to learn from different cultures and to create very close relationships with other students from all over the world.
During my studies, I enrolled in multiple activities including salsa and bachata lessons. Here, I met so many people from Latin America and other regions, and who I currently consider my close friends.
The University has a number of social and professional events that are really helpful not only for your time at university, but also in the future. There is a Mexican society where I met more students who have become my friends and my Manchester family.
Taking advantage of opportunities and support
At Manchester, I also took advantage of the University’s business programmes. I applied to Venture Out (now called Bright Ideas), which is a business idea competition where I won the first prize and received a £300 prize.
Together with a friend, who is another Mexican PhD, we took this idea to the next level and applied to AccelerateMe, an accelerator programme for students who want to pursue a start-up. We were selected to be part of this programme and were granted £2,000 to test our business idea.
Furthermore, the University has a more ambitious venture called Venture Further, where winners receive a £10,000 prize to take their start-up idea to the next level. We have been selected as finalists and are currently waiting for the winner announcements. The University also offers all types of support for students. During the pandemic, the University offered mental support through counselling sessions, and also mental health activities and programmes, which helped me a lot during those difficult times.
My future plans
My dream is to keep doing research in infectious diseases and run my own company at the same time. Manchester has given me all the bases to pursue this, and I am very keen to move to the next step.
Thanks to the University, I have created a supportive network with graduated PhD students who are now working in different high-level research institutes all around the world. Furthermore, the University provided me with the tools to continue with my business dreams. The University not only helped me to conclude a PhD, but also provided me with enough support to pursue my future goals.