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Aoife Campbell

Job title/role in FutureNeuro

PhD Student

Tell us a little about your background and what led you to a career in science and research?

I have always been very interested in the brain and the effect drugs have on it. My undergraduate degree was in DNA and Forensic science. As a result of a number of modules during my undergrad, I became particularly interested in pharmacology and toxicology. This lead me to do a Masters degree in 

Neuropharmacology at NUI Galway. When I completed my MSc I applied to do an internship in the Department of Anatomy in Trinity, where I gained a significant amount of laboratory experience in molecular biology.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I spend about 90% of my time in the lab each day. I’m an early bird, so I love getting in around 8am to start experiments before the rest of my lab colleagues come in. Every day is different, which makes it even more exciting. The most common type of experiment I perform regularly involves looking at different levels of microRNA’s (which are small RNAs that regulate gene expression) in different brain regions. And if I’m lucky, some days I get to go to Beaumont hospital and collect brain tissue from patients which have had a temporal lobe resection. I always make sure to get to the hospital to ensure I get to watch as much of the surgery as possible as neurosurgery is one of the most interesting and fascinating medical fields in the world.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

In research, not everything goes as planned. In fact, experiments rarely go as you originally hoped but negative results are still results. It has taken me a long time to accept this as all the experiments in the first few months of my PhD went according to plan and I got lots of great data in a short amount of time I am learning to accept that whatever the outcome of an experiment… its research. We can’t really predict
results in an experiment that has never been done before but that makes it even more exciting.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

Receiving a StAR scholarship to do a PhD at RCSI. After my Msc I began to realise how small the neuroscience field was in Ireland but desperate to continue research in it, I began applying for PhD’s across Ireland and the UK. Eventually I got accepted into the StAR programme at RCSI which allows you to select a number of potential PhD projects from an extensive list and from that, you get the opportunity to do three lab based rotations in different labs to determine which project and group is best suited to you.

Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to pursue your career?

Professor David Healy, an Irish neuropsycholopharmacologist, has always been a huge influence of mine. He’s involved in exposing harmful side effects of psychiatric drugs, most notably antidepressants and also has a website dedicated to this ‘RxISK’. He works as an expert witness on court courses involving the contribution of antidepressants to suicide.   

What would you tell someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in STEM?

Do it! There’s always a way to pursue a career in the field you really want. Even if you don’t get the required points in the leaving cert, there’s always add on courses you can do to gain entry into your desired course.

What impact do you hope your role in FutureNeuro will have over the next five years?

I hope that the research I’m doing will aid in the development of new therapeutics for childhood epilepsy syndromes. Not only are the majority of childhood epilepsies drug refractory, they are also extremely severe syndromes which effect the cognition of the affected individual, therefore there is an even greater need to develop therapeutics which aim to reverse the syndrome rather than only treating the seizures.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

If I wasn’t a scientist I would be a special effects make up artist as I am ITEC qualified Theatrical, Media and Fashion make up artistry graduate. So if you didn’t find me in a lab I might instead be on the set of CSI!

What do you do in your spare time?

I love reading. I’m most interested in neuropsychopharmacology and serial killer psychology. More recently I have been following recent developments in biohacking and hope to be attending a biohacking summit in Sweden this summer. 

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