Today we talk to Sophie Andrews, a fourth-year DPhil student in infection immunology and translational medicine at St Edmund Hall.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your research?
Sophie: Yes, I research immune evasion in HIV infection and more specifically, I am looking at the role of the retroviral proteins negative factor and envelope in the evasion of neutralising antibodies and cytotoxic lymphocyte responses.
I am looking at this phenomenon in HIV-1 and HIV-2 patients. So HIV-2 is similar to HIV-1, except it's restricted to West Africa, and the patients infected with this virus develop age much less frequently than HIV-1 patients do. So trying to understand the way that these responses differ in the two different sets might inform us on vaccine design and development.
Q: Why did you want to work in this particular field of research?
Sophie: I have been interested in Immunology and Infectious Diseases for a really long time since quite early on in my undergraduate degree, but HIV research specifically drew me in because of the kind of challenge that it poses and its relevance. So, in the UK, HIV is not a huge problem anymore but it's still one of the leading infectious causes of death globally. There are around 36 million people who are currently believed to be infected with the virus. Despite this, we have effective treatments but we have no vaccine and no cure. So I think that's really interesting.
Q: How did you find a project and supervisor?
Sophie: My project is slightly different to most of the others in that I am on the infection immunology and translational medicine programme, and during the first year of that, you actually take part in several rotations around different labs across the university. So I did a rotation at my current lab and I really enjoyed my time there, and while I was studying in that group. I started a series of discussions with my supervisor and the project developed kind of organically from there. I am really glad that I did it this way actually because I think that in doing so my projects developed into something I am genuinely really interested in rather than something I've kind of landed in.
Q: what would your top tip be to other students that are wanting to do research?
Sophie: I think my big top tip would be to try to embrace uncertainty because if you are doing a good project, no one has done it before you, and you will come across a lot of problems that you probably didn't anticipate in the first place. Maybe you'll find that something isn't the way you thought it was and that can be a little bit disappointing, but actually enjoy the troubleshooting and enjoy the uncertainty because sometimes you might actually find something more interesting than what you set out to achieve in the first place.
Thank you very much.
Sophie: Thank you.