Interview with Neshika Wijewardhane

Neshika is a first year CDT student in the Health stream. Neshika has a background in cancer cells and genetics and is just a few weeks into her first year.

You can see Neshika's full profile here.

Tell us about your background: what did you do before starting on the CDT programme? 

I did my BSc at the University of Bristol in Cellular and Molecular Medicine, followed by an MRes at Kings College London in Translational Cancer Medicine. I have a lot of experience in wet labs and microscopy, as well as in genetics; cancer genetics is one of my favourite research areas. While at Kings I had two research projects: the first was on investigating if extrusion could remove senescent cells and the second was on normal somatic evolution. The second project looked at how driver mutations in cancer geneswere already presentin normal human tissue and what happens to cells before cancer develops. This led to my first publication ‘Normal Somatic Mutations in Cancer Transformation’ which came out in November 2020 in Cancer Cell. 

'I felt that this course would add to the cancer research pathway that I was already on and this PhD would open up opportunities for me outside of academia.' 

What motivated you to apply for the Digital Health Programme specifically? 

When I was in sixth form, I took part in a project with SPHERE and the University of Bristol called DressSense which was a wearable technology competition, where my team created a watch that monitored the tremors of a person with Parkinson’s. After school, I turned my focus to biomedical research, but when I saw this PhD, I was intrigued as digital health is becoming a very exciting field. I felt that this course would add to the cancer research pathway that I was already on and this PhD would open up opportunities for me outside of academia. 

How did you find the application process?  

I found the application process pretty straightforward. I quite liked writing the case study because it made me think about what tech is already out there and what research I could do. I based mine around dementia because I had been working in a dementia care home so I had seen what kinds of digital interventions could have been helpful to the patients and staff. I had my interview in January, so I was able to come and visit the facilities at 1 Cathedral Square. Before my interview, I got to meet staff members and other applicants and was able to ask questions about the course from the previous cohort.

'A lot of my previous study had been quite individual-focused, so debating, discussing ideas and producing something together is quite nice.'

How have you found your first few weeks of the course?  

It’s been quite eventful; we’ve been kept busy with a full timetable. I’m on the health stream of the course so I’ve been learning Python and just started learning MATLAB as well. I’ve found Sensing Technologies unit challenging but it’s useful to understand how biosensors work, which is a huge component of digital health. I’ve enjoyed the group work element in the Digital Health Case Studies and Responsible Innovations unit. A lot of my previous study had been quite individual-focused, so debating, discussing ideas and producing something together is quite nice. This taught year is letting us bond as a group, and I’ve learned so much from other cohort members, not just in engineering but also in other parts of health sciences. I hadn’t known much about mental health, psychology or cardiology before starting, and it’s great to hear other people’s perspectives on things.  

What skills and experience to do you hope to gain from the course? 

I’d like to develop my coding skills further; I think it’s an essential skill that will be valuable in any career path that I end up following. I’m also enjoying the app development component of the course, it’s not something that everyone gets to do, and it’s beneficial to understand how apps are designed. I’m looking forward to the research project workshops, I’ve already been in contact with about five potential supervisors and they’ve all come up with some really interesting and varied ideas for research projects I might pursue.

'The course is more than just lectures, there is a lot to get involved in and engage with the wider community.'

 What advice would you give to people considering applying for the course? 

I’d say you need to be determined and passionate, the taught course is a busy full year of study as well as a lot of activities to interact with your year group and academics from across the University, which is one of the things that makes the CDT unique. The course is more than just lectures, there is a lot to get involved in and engage with the wider community. 

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