Eleanor Denham shares her experience of IITM, provides an update on her career and offers her advice to current and prospective IITM students.
Before coming to Oxford, Eleanor studied Molecular and Cell Biology (BMedSc Hons) at the University of Birmingham. During her time at Birmingham, Eleanor conducted a 10 week research project as part of her undergraduate degree as well as a three-month summer project between her 2nd and 3rd years.
In Oxford, Eleanor completed rotations in the labs of Ervin Fodor, Julian Knight and Anton van der Merwe. Her DPhil was supervised by Anton van der Merwe and Jesse Goyette. Eleanor is still working in the lab where she did her DPhil, now as a post-doctoral scientist. Describing her work in the lab she told us: “We are interested in a group of immune receptors called non-catalytic tyrosine-phosphorylated receptors (NTRs) and how ligand engagement leads to NTR activation and subsequent signalling. Our hypothesis is that these receptors signal using the kinetic segregation (KS) model.”
She continued: “To systematically test whether predictions of the KS model hold for all the NTRs we developed an artificial generic ligand system in which biophysical and biochemical properties of NTR-ligand interactions can be manipulated, including: NTR-ligand dimensions, ligand densities and NTR-ligand affinities. We demonstrated that representative NTRs, both activating and inhibitory, could be triggered through engagement of the generic ligand and then used this system to test predictions that the KS model makes about receptor activation.”
Speaking about the DPhil to post-doc transition, she said: “As I am carrying on my DPhil project at post-doc level I imagine I know this project better than pretty much anyone else. I know what has worked and what hasn’t, I know the background to the science and where we want the project to go.”
“Don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to do now as a career.”
Eleanor also had some advice for current IITM students: “Don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to do now as a career. I have less of an idea now of “what I want to be when I grow up” than I did when I was 20. That’s purely because I’ve been exposed to the huge variety of careers I could go into and be successful in. That isn’t a bad thing – it’s a major advantage that there are so many things you could do with the skills you’ve gained during the programme. Find something that interests you and pursue it. That has worked out pretty well for you so far.”
Eleanor recommends that students interested in applying to IITM gain as much research experience as possible. “Being in a lab and doing experiments – no matter what the experiments are – is useful, not only from a technical perspective but also because you’ll be discussing results and science with different people. In doing so, you’ll gain insight into different perspectives and approaches which I think is very useful.”
“Seeing how others go about trying to answer a scientific question will help you think about the best approach when it’s your turn.”
She added: “Seeing how others go about trying to answer a scientific question will help you think about the best approach when it’s your turn. Lab experience will also help you figure out if you’ll actually enjoy working in that environment every day for the next three/four years.”
Publications from IITM:
E. C. Hutchinson, E. M. Denham, B. Thomas, D. C. Trudgian, S. S. Hester, G. Ridlova, A. York, L. Turrell, and E. Fodor, “Mapping the Phosphoproteome of Influenza A and B Viruses by Mass Spectrometry,” PLoS Pathog, vol. 8, no. 11, p. e1002993, Nov. 2012.