This is a podcast for the Nuffield Department of Medicine. Today we spoke to Hilary Martin about her experience as a graduate student at the University of Oxford.
Q: Why did you decide to study for a DPhil?
HM: Well I've been keen for quite a long time on going into research in genetics, and this was a necessary step and well I think I see a DPhil as important training but also pretty similar to what I'll be doing the rest of my life. But, obviously, in a more junior position. So yeah how I wanted to do research.
Q: Can you tell us about your research?
HM: So I have three different projects. One of them is a big medical sequencing project in Oxford is part of something called the WGS 500 project - so whole-genome sequencing, and we're sequencing 500 patients with various diseases, to try to use this data to improve diagnosis, understanding of the disease aetiology potentially improved treatments. So I worked on some rare neurological diseases within that project, and I also worked on some general strategies for analysing the data. Then I have a second project, which is also using next-generation sequencing, but this time we're applying it to the platypus and we're studying the population and evolution, evolutionary genetics of this really interesting animal. Platypus have got 10 sex chromosomes, which is quite unique amongst the mammals, and so we're trying to understand, potentially how these evolved. Additionally, I have a third project which is looking at meiotic recombination so the process in which the maternal and paternal chromosomes exchange DNA during meiosis. And we're looking at this process in humans and trying to study patterns of differences between individuals, and how these change with parental age.
Q: What made you interested in your particular field of research?
HM: So, my parents are actually both geneticists. So as I was growing up I had a lot of exposure to the field and I've just been very keen on it from quite a young age. I guess I'm interested in individual differences between people, what the biological basis of these is, how they've evolved and how they contribute to different disease risk. So it was quite a natural step for me to take.
Q: Why did you apply to Oxford?
HM: I was very enthusiastic about working with my supervisor, Peter Donnelly, who's got a fantastic, very well-founded reputation in statistical genetics and human genetics. And when I applied, this big WHS 500 project was just starting and I thought this was a really great project to get involved in, this is the way genetics is going to go. So that was a major reason. And also I thought that living in Oxford for four years would be great fun, and it has proven to be.
Q: What has surprised you about Oxford?
HM: I don't think there have been any huge surprises to be honest I expected to have a wonderful time here and I am having a wonderful time.
Q: What are the best things about studying here?
HM: In terms of the work it’s fantastic to be in an institution that has so many really top academics, with excellent ideas and expertise, and to be in a really well-funded institute like the Wellcome Trust is great, it opens up a lot of opportunities. In addition, I think the college system in Oxford is really a big selling point. I love my college and it's a great way to meet friends, make new friends when you come to a new place. So I think that is also a big plus.
Thank you, Hilary.
HM: You’re welcome.