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Introduction

Today we talk to Steinar Halldorsson, a second-year DPhil student at clinical medicine at Wadham College about his experience in research.

Sophie: Hi Steinar.

SH: Hi Sophie.

Q: Can you tell us about your research?

SH: Yeah so, I am based in the Division for Structural biology or STRUBI for short, which is part of the NDM. And most of the research in STRUBI focuses on the atomic and molecular details of very fundamental biological processes, and we use techniques such as X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy. And I actually use both of these techniques to try and complement each other. And I'm looking at a family of viruses called bunyaviruses, which is quite a large family of viruses, and that includes quite a few very important human and animal pathogens, and I'm trying to use these structural techniques to understand how the glycoproteins on the surface of these viruses are arranged. And specifically, I'm trying to figure out how these glycoproteins are interacting with the host cell at the very early stages of cellular infection.

Q: So why did you want to work in this particular area of research?

SH: So, I was always quite interested in structural biology and these kinds of techniques when I was doing my undergraduate and I quickly realised that I thought it was so fascinating to kind of have this idea of understanding really fundamental biological processes but at the very atomic details. It is almost like you’re some sort of an engineer, trying to understand the machines that make up biology and a lot of the machines in our bodies are proteins that kind of have very specific chemical and functional interactions and I always thought this is a very interesting point of view to study. And also, I've been very interested in viruses ever since I kind of first learned about them as a kid. I think they're some of these very fascinating, extracellular objects, which do some very funky things and also because not only do they exist in a very microscopic level and you know how they kind of have their own lives as tiny entities, but then they also translate into being able to change drastic human behaviour and, you know shift populations. I think they're very interesting from this kind of micro-macro perspective.

Q: So how did you find a project and a supervisor?

SH: I basically used the internet to just search engine my way through this. I knew that Oxford had a kind of strong structural biology hub, especially because the diamond light source which is a synchrotron facility is very close to Oxford. And when I just kind of looked at some of the websites of the university I quickly realised that actually within NDM, they have very strong core structural biology, and a lot of them focused on viruses, and so when I came across my supervisor’s website on the, on the NDM page, I thought it was something really interesting and did some background research on it and figured out he was actually doing some very interesting things and so I just applied.

Q: Thank you. So finally, what would be your top tip for another student wanting to do a research project?

SH: My top tip for a student who's interested in doing a DPhil project would be to really critically think about how much you want to do it because a DPhil is very challenging, but not just in the sense that it's hard work and you have to be in the lab all the time and you know you have to think a lot but it's also kind of challenging on a personal level, which means that you do learn a lot at the end but it can sometimes be very up and down at times. I've experienced a lot of kind of a roller coaster ride throughout my life, but it's definitely been worth it so far, and I think it's made me not only a better researcher but also kind of a stronger character in a sense.

Sophie: That's great. Well, thank you very much for talking to us today.

SH: Thank you very much.