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What year are you and what is your PhD on?

I am just starting the third year of my DPhil in Musculoskeletal Science. Despite the name it's really tissue engineering work. I am part of the Carr Group on a team trying to develop better biomaterials for shoulder rotator cuff repair. Rotator cuff tears cause significant pain and disability to the individual as well as a huge cost to health systems around the world. Even with the best surgeons using the best materials and patients having the best rehabilitation programmes, 40% of surgeries fail within 12 months. There's a huge unmet clinical need and we're trying to improve this.

What is your day-to-day like? What does your research involve?

My day to day is pretty variable. I think that's part of what makes it enjoyable. One day might be more meetings and brain storming. Other days are all in the lab. Sometimes it's writing or putting presentations together. There's often talks or conferences around Oxford to attend as well. There's certainly more variety than when I was working as a doctor. It's also much more self directed so you can work when you want and around any commitments you have, for me this was really important with rowing.

When I am in the lab I work with a technique called eletrospinning to fabricate different fibrous scaffolds. I can change the alignment, diameter and stiffness of these scaffolds. I then have to analyse them using SEM and AFM to make sure the scaffolds are within the parameters I want to test before seeding cells on to them. Over the next month or so from seeding, I then run various assays and experiments on the cells to see how they are responding to the different materials. This includes looking at gene expression through rtPCR and protein expression through Western Blotting and Flourescence microscopy.

What is your background? And what brought you to a DPhil at NDORMS, Oxford?

I am a medical doctor from New Zealand, looking to specialise in Orthopaedics. I previously completed an undergraduate research degree in Bone Tissue Engineering at the University of Otago. I was fortunate to get a scholarship to come to the UK to Oxford specifically. I looked at various placements throughout the Division of Medical Sciences but felt this project offered the best blend of material engineering, cell and laboratory work into a project with huge clinical potential.

What is it like to be a DPhil student at NDORMS?

NDORMS is a great environment to be a student.

There are heaps of people in the same situation or others a couple of years ahead who can help you out. It's really supportive. There are also lots of courses and opportunities for training. Students are encouraged to publish, present and attend conferences and there's plenty of support to enable this.

As a department NDORMS has people investigating lots of really interesting areas from tissue engineering projects like mine to cancer research. And across this spectrum there are basic science projects through to clinical trials. This makes for some really interesting presentations and talks well outside your own research area.

What is it like to be a DPhil student at Oxford?

Oxford is an incredible place to study. I don't really know where to start. I think the first thing that really impressed me was the actual city itself with such an impressive cityscape and the hundreds of years of history. Once you can get your head around that, the people really do stand out. There's thousands of other students to meet, all with their own stories, interests and backgrounds.

There's also the opportunity to get involved in pretty much anything you can think of. I was rowing with the University Lightweight squad in my first year and Oxford University Boat Club in my second year. That takes up quite a bit of time but rowing was one of the big reasons I wanted to come to Oxford. I've also spent some time flying with the gliding club. There's the Oxford Union, an Exploration Club, A Wine Society or the Brass band to name a few and that's hardly scratching the surface.