PhD life at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine: a Q&A…

…with Jenni / from the United Kingdom / studying a PhD at the Feline Genome Project / 2nd year

In the Q&A below, Jenni discusses her research at the Feline Genome Project, how to balance work with study and what skills she has developed during her PhD so far.

So, Jenni, why don’t you start by telling us a bit more about your research at the Feline Genome Project? 

The Feline Genome Project aims to identify the genetic basis of common diseases affecting domestic cats. These diseases include hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, lymphoma (a type of cancer) and urinary tract diseases. We are also investigating the genetic basis of morphology in cats such as brachycephaly (i.e. cats with short noses such as Persians and British shorthairs).

We hope that by identifying the genetic basis of a disease this will enable us to develop better and less stressful diagnostic tests, thus diagnosing cats earlier and improving quality of life for those affected. Through understanding the genetics of the disease process, we hope to develop new therapies to manage or cure these diseases.

Why did you decide to study at the University of Edinburgh?

Two of the main reasons I decided to study at the University of Edinburgh were the outstanding facilities and the University’s reputation in producing research that impacts both animal welfare and the veterinary profession.

With the Roslin Institute being a world leader in animal biotechnology and the Royal Dick Small Animal Hospital being a centre of clinical excellence, in my opinion there is no better place to study companion animal genetics. My supervisors (Dr. Jeffrey Schoenebeck, Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore and Professor Richard Mellanby) are all leading experts in their fields and I feel extremely lucky to learn from them.

View of Edinburgh Castle from the National Museum of Scotland
The sun shining on Edinburgh from the National Museum of Scotland – quite a rare sight!

What kinds of skills have you developed over the course of your PhD so far? How will these help you in your future career?

My first year has been focused on: extracting DNA and ensuring its quality; phenotyping my samples; familiarising myself with the relevant literature and becoming proficient in Linux and R. With these foundations in place I have been able to begin SNV analysis, population genetics analysis and association testing.

The university also provides more general PhD-associated skill sessions such as statistics and writing courses. All together these skills have given me a solid foundation for any future research in this field.

“In my opinion there is no better place to study companion animal genetics.”

Are you working full-time or part-time alongside your studies? If so, how have you found the balance between work and PhD study so far?

I continue to work as a locum vet in practices around Edinburgh every second weekend. The balance has worked well and I believe it benefits my PhD as it keeps my phenotyping skills up to date. Working in clinics also keeps me focused on my end goal of bringing my research results from the lab bench into the clinics.

View of Arthur's Seat from the bottom of Holyrood Park
Arthur’s Seat – a scenic walk right in the middle of the city when you have some spare time

Do you have any advice for people thinking about postgraduate study at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine?

Talk to your potential supervisor and ensure you have a clear plan of what your research will entail but be prepared to be flexible. Set yourself achievable goals and be realistic with your time. The CMVM continues to produce research that makes a real impact on animal welfare and the veterinary profession – as long as this is one of your end goals, you’re off to a great start.

“The CMVM continues to produce research that makes a real impact on animal welfare and the veterinary profession.”

And finally…outside of your studies, what’s your favourite thing about living in Edinburgh?

There are so many things! I can’t think of a better city to live in than Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful little city with fairy tale countryside on its doorstep. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed living here. Each August you have one of the world’s biggest arts festivals bloom around you and over the Christmas holidays, Edinburgh turns into a winter wonderland with the markets and Hogmanay celebrations. As a city, Edinburgh is everything you hope it will be and more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s