What motivated you to come to Bristol and do this programme?
I had a strong interested in epidemiology from having done a sliver of it in my undergraduate degree (biology). I also studied a lot of medical genetics, and wanted to research something along these lines. The four-year structure of the programme offered the most appeal to me because of the opportunity to train in this area before designing and embarking on the research that would form my thesis-- the first year was especially valuable given that I hadn't done an MSc in a related discipline beforehand
Other appealing factors included the generous funding of the Trust's scheme both in terms of personal stipend and training/travel allowances, the excellent reputation of Bristol University and the reputation of the city itself as a vibrant and culturally diverse place to live. I wasn't fully aware of the extent of SSCM's highly regarded status in public health/epidemiological research when applying for the programme, but I have since come to realise how fortunate I was to have studied there.
What was the key research question of your PhD research project and what did you find out?
I examined whether having low amounts of vitamin D during early stages of life (foetal, childhood and adolescence) is related to higher risk of heart disease. I also used genetics to help me investigate this question. Though vitamin D has a well established role in maintaining good bone health, for the past couple of decades there was a lot of interest in whether having optimal amounts of the vitamin could also protect individuals from other diseases, including heart disease. My studies suggested that having low vitamin D in childhood may lead to adverse levels of some factors related to heart disease risk in later life. However, further work is needed to confirm this, and it appears that if there are any real effects of vitamin D in early life on later heart disease risk, these are likely to be small.
Where did your research lead and what are your future career plans now?
After my PhD I wasn't quite ready to commit to further research contracts and I worked as a policy officer at the Academy of Medical Sciences for a year and a half. This organisation provides advice to the UK Government and others about developments across medicine. I'd interned there as a PhD student as part of the Trust's scheme. This gave me a great perspective on how the provision of scientific evidence by researchers can empower better policymaking, and so illustrated how research can help society. It really inspired me to return to epidemiology, which I still felt very passionate about, and I recently took up my first Research Associate position at Imperial College London. My work is using many of the techniques, skills and knowledge I learnt in Bristol, including some follow-up on outstanding questions about vitamin D. In the future, I hope to develop independent research plans to put together Fellowship applications within the next couple of years.