Nikita Burke, researcher The Friday interview: Science Ambassador Nikita Burke talks about how she chose her career, her work in postgraduate research in physiology and neuroscience, and her tips on work experience and what to study.
What have been your main ‘career decision’ milestones so far?
Scientist Nikita BurkeI was always fascinated with the human body. In school, biology was my favourite subject and I studied it with passion. I chose Undenominated Science at NUI Galway for my undergraduate degree, studying physiology in second year. I immediately loved it, and studied it with fervour. In my final year I had the opportunity to work with my current supervisor, Dr Roche, in a research project into depression and pain co-morbidity. This provided a taste for neuroscience research while looking at the bigger picture, and thus, my interest in undertaking a PhD was sparked.
My family is hugely supportive and encouraging of my studies and always backed me on every decision. My older cousins both studied at NUI Galway and their experiences influenced my desire to complete my degree in Galway. Working with Dr Roche for my undergraduate project I became motivated to pursue a PhD by her passion for and research in the field of neuroscience, particularly in pain and depression. In addition, Dr David Finn, co-supervisor of my project, has an excellent track record in the area of pain research and is co-director of Ireland’s Centre for Pain Research. Both lectured me at an undergraduate level and inspired my quest for knowledge.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Overall, yes. Work-life balance can be difficult at times, but I love what I am doing and am dedicated to working hard. In the current economic climate, jobs in Ireland may be harder to come by when I finish, but I look forward to working in international laboratories and further developing my career. Ultimately, I would like to work in research and academia, furthering knowledge and inspiring young students.
How did you go about getting your current job?
During my final year, I expressed my interest in pursuing a PhD to Dr Roche. We discussed a research proposal which expanded on the question I investigated in my undergraduate project. I applied for a postgraduate scholarship which was kindly granted by the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at NUI Galway.
Describe a typical day
There is rarely a typical day. Work can involve running experiments, data analysis, reading, writing, compiling reports, demonstrating practical labs, preparing presentations – sometimes all of these in one day! Frequently, there are deadlines to adhere to, so organising and prioritising tasks are critical.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
The main tasks are carrying out the experiments and compiling results, and keeping up to date with current research in your field.
What are the main challenges?
Overcoming problems and difficulties such as experiments that aren’t working out, and getting all the work done in time can be challenging and slightly stressful.
I love working in a lab and I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. It’s very important to enjoy your PhD research. Getting interesting results is what keeps me going. I love reading and the continuous learning. It’s great fun to interact and work with undergraduate students.
What’s not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I am dedicated, have a good work ethic, and a passion for physiology and neuroscience.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Biology was by far the most significant subject choice for my career. I loved it and had a passion for learning. In addition, having a good base in English is crucial due to the importance of writing and communication in science. Maths is a bonus for statistics, logic and problem-solving skills. I would recommend that students consider taking a foreign language, as many travel opportunities exist in research and this can confer an advantage to pursue a career in an international laboratory.
What is your education to date?
Second Level– Biology, Physics-Chemistry, and European Computer Driving Licence.
Third Level – Science Year 1 (Biology, Maths, Physics, Chemistry
Year 2 – Physiology, Microbiology, Biochemistry; Year 3 – Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology
Degree – Physiology
PhD – Physiology
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
The neurophysiology module I studied as part of my physiology degree was my favourite module and led me to choose a neuroscience based project as my final-year project.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
The work in my undergraduate project was recently published in an international peer-reviewed journal. In addition, Dr Roche and Dr Finn have collaborated with an internationally renowned lab, providing me the opportunity to carry out invaluable research in Madrid. Also, I won Poster Presentation prizes at local and national conferences – it’s a great feeling to see your hard work being rewarded.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Persistence, enthusiasm and dedication.
What is your dream job?
To be a leading academic research scientist in a vibrant exciting lab in Ireland.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
A love and deep interest in your subject is the main factor. A life science degree is essential for a PhD in physiology. Dedication, a good work ethic and self-motivation are fundamental.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position? A huge advantage would be securing a summer placement in a lab. A limited amount of internships and bursaries exist, but even a week’s work shadowing in a department can provide invaluable insight into daily life in research