This is a podcast of the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM). Today we are speaking to Min Sun about her experiences as a graduate student at the University of Oxford. Hello, Min.
Q: Why did you decide to study for a DPhil?
MS: For as long as I can remember, I have always interested in biology and during my undergraduate study, I developed an interest in cancer biology. Today in the modern ageing population, there's an increasing number of individuals who are affected by cancer. However, there are no effective treatments that have been found. So I think studying a DPhil in medicine will give me the chance to obtain a deeper understanding of the fundamental biology underpinning cancer, and I hope my research may contribute to finding ways of curing cancer.
Q: Can you tell us about your research?
MS: I work in an oxygen-sensing group under the supervision of Professor Peter Ratcliffe, and Dr Norma Masson. The group was centrally involved in the discovery and elucidation of the oxygen sensing response that regulates cellular and systemic response to hypoxia. So, one of the crucial response to hypoxia is regulating numerous genes, and the hypoxia-inducible factor, which is also known as HIF, they are the key mediators of this complex process. So, HIF are transcription factors that bind to DNA. So my project aims to dissect the HIF - DNA bonding, and the genome-wide response to hypoxia. So the technique I'm using is the chromatin immunoprecipitation of HIF subunits coupled to next-generation sequencing. By using this technique, I am able to characterise and dissect the HIF bonding across the genome.
Q: What made you interested in your particular field of research?
MS: Hypoxia is an important factor involved in many major human diseases, including cancer. It has long been recognised that a solid tumour contains regions of profound hypoxic and Hypoxia is often associated with adverse prognosis. In keeping with these observations, many studies report that there's an activating of HIF pathways in this process. So, a central question to be answered is the role played by the activating of HIF pathways in cancer, and how it relates to the malignant phenotype of the tumour, so that's why I think my research is interesting.
Q: Why did you apply to Oxford?
MS: Before I applied to Oxford, I had a three month, summer internship at the Department of Physiology, anatomy and genetics and during that time, it allowed me to develop an interest in molecular biology and apart from the research, I also have the chance to discover the university and the city. I found myself really liking the academic atmosphere, as well as the city. So after that positive experience, I decided to apply to Oxford.
Q: What has surprised you about Oxford?
MS: I think the University of Oxford is truly a unique place. The research environment is excellent. You will get the most up to date information, there's always a chance to learn the cutting edge technique, and also meeting the experts in the fields in the fields, as well as discussing your work with your colleagues. I also think the college system of the university is fantastic. It allows me to socialise and meet people from a wide range of fields and backgrounds. They also give me the opportunities to try new sports and activities.
Q: What are the best things about studying here?
MS: I think the university not only has outstanding research resources that allow me to undertake my research in the best possible conditions but also, more importantly, it provides me with an incredibly stimulating environment that is made up of intelligent and interesting people to work with. Apart from that, I also received loads of support, while I'm studying here. For example, my supervisors are very supportive - we meet up regularly to discuss the progression of my work. The Nuffield Department of Medicine has also been supportive. It organises different seminars with interesting topics, and it also provides training opportunities for students. So I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to study here.
Thank you, Min.