Meet student Milan Fowkes
WHAT YEAR ARE YOU AND WHAT IS YOUR PHD ON?
I am currently in the final year of my DPhil. My project has focused on the development of a peptide substrate for monitoring the activity of an enzyme that is heavily involved in osteoarthritis. Such a tool would be useful for enabling more accurate diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND? AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO A DPHIL AT THE KENNEDY INSTITUTE?
My background is chemistry. I completed my undergraduate master's degree (MChem) at Warwick University in 2011, with a final year project looking at radical cyclisations of acetamides. Following on from this, I did a two-year MSc in Chemistry at Western University in Canada. This focused on synthesising peptidomimetic agonists for the ghrelin receptor as potential imaging agents for prostate cancer. During my time at Western I developed a strong interest in molecular imaging, and as a result of this I started working as a research assistant in Dr Han Lim’s lab at the Kennedy in 2015. I then applied for a DPhil under Dr. Lim in 2016, as I wanted to add knowledge of molecular biology techniques to my current research expertise in synthetic chemistry.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A DPHIL STUDENT AT NDORMS?
It's great. There are a lot of opportunities here. The Medical Sciences Division runs a number of different training programs that you can attend if you want to improve writing or teaching skills, for example. People are also very friendly and welcoming. If you have a problem or need some advice, there are plenty of people to talk to. I especially like our lab, as we're a mix of biochemistry and chemistry expertise, which is fantastic for learning about other fields and throwing ideas around.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A DPHIL STUDENT AT OXFORD?
Fun, although hard work! There are societies and clubs for everyone here. I am currently a member of the floorball club, which is a good complement to my studies as it gives me a chance to socialise outside of the laboratory environment. Getting involved in your college is also worth doing, as they run a number of events where you can meet people from a diverse range of backgrounds. My college is Wolfson, and the surroundings are especially beautiful in the summer, which provides perfect weather and conditions for punting. Oxford is also very beautiful, and you can easily get lost in all the things on display in the museums.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS
Don't be afraid to move out of your comfort zone! If you don't have knowledge or experience in the area that you want to work in, don't let that put you off applying. In 2011, I started out convinced I was going to be synthetic organic chemist. A year later I moved to Canada to do peptide synthesis and molecular imaging, something I had never done before. In 2016, I started my DPhil doing tissue culture and protein purification; another new experience. I then went to Denmark in 2018 for 7 months to do computational chemistry and combinatorial chemistry, both new experiences and in unfamiliar surroundings. If someone had told me all the things I would end up doing and experiencing throughout my studies, I would not have believed them!