Tuesday Feature episode 10: Kat Machin

From the ‘sunny’ gardens of Fallowfield last week (since then, the Manchester weather has returned back to its rainy norm) to the Seychelles this week, our Faculty is far flung and international. This week we feature another one of our graduates!

What was/is your role in the Faculty?

I was an undergraduate student, studying Zoology with Industrial Experience.  The course was fantastic, covered a wide picture three katrange of topics and offered loads of travel opportunities through field courses in places like South Africa, Belize (now Costa Rica) and Ecuador.  The Industrial Experience year allowed me to gain hands-on conservation work with the Island Conservation Society, an NGO in Seychelles.  In my second year, I co-founded the Zoology Society, which continues to be run by a committee of students, and in my final year I was a student ambassador.

What are you up to now?

After graduating in July, I travelled to Canada with a fellow zoology graduate and we volunteered at an eco-lodge, where we led guided nature hikes for tourists and helped out with the general maintenance of the lodge.  Then, after a couple of months at the lodge, we travelled around Alberta and British Columbia, stopping off at friends’ houses, who I’d met when they came to Manchester as exchange students.

Once back on home soil, I started the tedious process of applying for jobs, mostly in the conservation sector.  After a few months, I got offered a job as a Tern Warden with the RSPB and will be starting with them in a couple of weeks.  I’ll be working in Anglesey and my job will involve monitoring the populations of Artic and Common Tern, as well as one of Britain’s rarest breeding seabirds – the Roseate Tern.  I’m really excited to get started and put everything I learnt at Manchester to good use!

Why did you first get interested in your area of research?

I’ve been interested in animals for as long as I can remember but I suppose I really got hooked when I was a teenager and picture one katDavid Attenborough’s Planet Earth series was released.  I became obsessed with learning about how animals were adapted to their environments, was captivated by animal behaviour and probably most importantly, became really concerned with the conservation of the species that fascinated me.

When it came to choosing unis and courses, Manchester topped my list mainly because of the option to take a placement in your third year.  As a placement student in Seychelles, I was involved with the sea turtle and sea bird monitoring programmes and loved it. I was also involved in the Giant Aldabra Tortoise breeding programme and had the pleasure of sharing my house with tiny giant tortoise hatchlings, which were under my care.  Furthermore, I got the chance to design, implement and analyse my own research project, which looked into the forest rehabilitation of Desroches Island. My placement allowed me to get a real taste for conservation research and confirmed for me that that was the type of career I wanted to pursue.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?

It’s a bit of a cliché, and I suppose he’s more a science communicator than a scientist per-say but David Attenborough has definitely been my major source of inspiration. Growing up in Telford, there wasn’t a lot of nature around really, so the television was my window to the natural world.  I doubt I would have been inspired to pursue a career in conservation without having watched all those nature programmes.picture two kat

I was also very lucky to have a geography teacher, who after spending a decade travelling, really inspired me to get out and see the world.  She got me really interested in ecosystems, and I continue to be fascinated by ecology today.

How has studying in Manchester helped you?

Enormously.  Not only did the course provide me with the theoretical knowledge essential for a career in conservation, but I also gained practical field experience and developed a range of skills from analytical thinking to public speaking.  I decided to do a science media project in my final year, giving me an insight into science communication, and this project diversified my skills even further.  The placement year provided me with a year of hands-on conservation experience, without which I doubt I would have gotten the job with RSPB.

What do you do outside of work?

I like to be outside.  I like to feel connected with nature and, for me, there’s no better way to do this than to simply immerse yourself in it. So, I walk a lot and hike as often as possible. Travel is a big passion.  I got my first taste of travelling as a

student at Manchester.  I went to South Africa on the Animal Behaviour field course in my first year, travelled to Belize for the Marine and Terrestrial Ecology field course in my second year and nabbed 10 months in Seychelles for my placement, it was incredible! Both travel and hiking tie in quite nicely with my other hobby – wildlife photography.picture four kat

Thanks for the interview and stunning photographs Kat,  and good luck with the new job!

I hope you can see the exciting opportunities our undergraduate students have and it might just inspire you to come to the Faculty! 


Tuesday Feature episode 2: Matt Paul

So, last week we opened the Tuesday Feature and it went down brilliantly! It’s already the second most viewed post we’ve ever had on the blog. Thank you all for reading and we’re really glad you enjoyed it.

Matt in New YorkThis week we cross the pond to New York to catch up with Faculty Alumnus Matt Paul. Matt studied BSc Genetics with Industrial Experience here at the Faculty, graduating in 2012, and he tells us below just how inspiring he found some our staff.

He is now a 3rd year PhD student in the Department of Biology, New York University, in the labs of Dr. Andreas Hochwagen and Dr. Sevinc Ercan. It’s been an exciting journey for Matt, and you can find out more about it below.

Hi Matt. Thanks for talking to us. Can you please explain your research, for the layman, in ten sentences or less?

I study the three-dimensional organization of the genome. DNA is not just randomly packaged into the nucleus, like a bowl of spaghetti. Regions of the DNA tend to be found in specific places, next to other regions. Where a loci is positioned can have an impact on various processes including transcription and DNA repair.

I use yeast and worms to study how genome organization regulates cell division to produce sex cells (meiosis) and the balancing of expression of X-chromosome genes between sexes (dosage compensation).

How could your research benefit the people reading this blog?

The study of chromosome structure and how it alters genome function is very basic and can have a wide varietyMatt in the lab of impacts.

The most direct example for the translation of my work to the real world would be in meiosis. During this cell division you produce the sex cells. The three-dimensional structure of the genome is important in ensuring that there is correct segregation of chromosomes into these cells. Errors could result in infertility, miscarriage, or disorders such as downs syndrome.

Can we ask how you first got interested in your research area?

Growing up was a very exciting time to be a budding biologist. Genomes were being sequenced and the promise that these projects brought was exciting. Though this was a huge step, there now seems to be even more questions about how the genome works.

The study of chromatin was definitely one of the hot topics in biology when I arrived at University of Manchester. Specifically, what I found fascinating was how so called ‘junk DNA’ actually coded for important information.

I got a chance at Manchester to investigate this topic by looking at non-coding RNAs with Dr. Matthew Ronshaugen in my final year. Many of these help organize genome structure, so it was a small leap from my work there to what I do now.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?

There been a steady stream of inspiring people without whom I wouldn’t have got so deep into science.

I have been fortunate to have many good science teachers, lecturers, and mentors along the way. Now, just being around my colleagues, the many hard-working biologists who are so passionate about their work, provides a lot of inspiration.

One person who I haven’t had contact with directly but admire is Craig Venter. Though I don’t necessarily agree with some of the moral aspects of his work, his insight and force of will played key roles in the genomic revolution. Furthermore, his current work in synthetic biology continues to be really exciting.

Could you tell us a bit about your interests outside of science?

Matt with crazy eyesLiving in New York certainly allows you to explore many interests. It’s a big city with a big cultural output, so I like to try and do as many new things as possible.

My favorite activity is going to gigs, and as good as it is here, I do occasionally miss the Manchester music scene.

Beyond this, I am also captain of NYU squash team so that keeps me busy and healthy.

And that wraps up the second Thursday Feature from the Faculty of Life Sciences’ blog. If anyone’s wishing they were in New York, or fit enough to be the captain of a squash team, have a look outside. At least it’s sunny today.

Our thanks go to Matt Paul – it’s great to see an ex-student thriving! It’s Brain Awareness Week next week, so we’ll be here with Dr. Jack Rivers-Auty. Thanks for reading and please come back next Tuesday!


Interview by Fran Slater, Images courtesy of Matt Paul