We are delighted to welcome our next curator, biologist and PhD candidate, Leigh Nicholson (@smeighfickelson), from the University of Sydney. Leigh works in cell and
reproductive biology, focusing on cell migration during early pregnancy and also in endometrial (uterine) cancer.
Leigh has a long standing interest in research and science communication, currently, she is a reporter for the student newspaper Honi Soit, writing about science and tech topics, with a specialty in more of an opinionated analysis. She’s also particularly interested in writing about queer and feminist politics within science. Leigh feels her research in reproductive biology intersects between research, society and politics and requires clear communication:
I find there is often an under-appreciation of what this field contributes to broader research. I’m happy discussing a range topics, such as pregnancy, cancer and assisted reproductive technologies, such as IVF. I am also particularly interested in the political and economic side of these issues, and how they intersect with community access and understandings.
We asked Leigh our usual set of questions and here she is in her own words.
I always wanted to do research. I studied Chemistry and Physics in High School. After school I jumped straight into a Bachelor of Science, also at Sydney University. I was always drawn to the research side of science because I love problem solving. I’m a pretty stubborn person and while that can be frustrating in all other areas of my life, working in a field where I can spend some obscene amount of time, like a year, trying to figure out one small problem is enjoyable for me. The thing I love most about scientific research is, although what you are studying could be some tiny and ridiculously specific area, it is always pretty cool to think you might be the first person to observe something.
I was asked if I wanted to do a PhD in my last year of my Bachelors by my then lecturer and now supervisor. The lab I am in specialises in cell and reproductive biology, with most of the other people I work with researching early pregnancy with potential applications to IVF techniques. Honestly, I didn’t know which field I wanted to work in but I was certain I wanted to do research and so I jumped on the opportunity. I am still only in my second year of research and love what I do. Everyone I work with is amazing, and while I am slowly moving out of the reproductive research field and into cancer biology, I have absolutely no regrets on starting here.
Histology is my broad field of study and so I spend a lot of my time looking at protein expression, structure and function on the cellular level. I started my PhD looking at the changes that cells in the uterus undergo just before pregnancy. In the past year I have moved into looking at those same changes but in endometrial (uterine) cancer cells. Most of my work is about looking at how these cancer cells go from benign to metastatic and the changes that allow them to move.
Research done into how cells in the uterus change just prior to pregnancy is crucial for basically understanding what happens when they go wrong. This can only further knowledge on how to improve treatments for infertility and IVF techniques. The work that I am doing on endometrial cancer is hopefully just another small addition to knowing how these cells work, and specifically what makes them the more aggressive and metastatic kind.
I try to get involved as much as possible in science communication. Some things that I do include social media managing for events like the Sydney Science Festival and Pint of Science. I also try to write as much as I can and have written for places like The Conversation, Lateral Magazine and Overland. If I do have spare time then I usually spend it playing video games or, often unsuccessfully, building bikes.
Ideal Day Off: To be honest, my ideal day off would just be a combination of cycling, playing video games and drinking beer.
Please welcome Leigh Nicholson to Real Scientists!