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In her footsteps…

Professor Mona Bafadhel interviews Dr Ellie Williams, a post-doctoral researcher in the Structural Genomics Consortium, about her career to date. They discuss Ellie’s career pathway, her research, work/life balance and her interest in sewing.


This is a podcast of the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM). As part of in her footsteps series, we are speaking today to Dr Ellie Williams.

Mona Bafadhel: Hi, Ellie. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Ellie Williams: So I'm Ellie Williams, and I did my undergraduate degree in biochemistry and then went on to do a PhD in structural biology up in London, and since then I've come back to Oxford as a postdoc, and I've been working on looking at very rare genetic condition called FOP or Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva. And that's quite hard to say, but I've had a lot of practice. It's a condition where due to one mutation, in one protein so very tiny change, it leads to your joints, basically turning into bone, and the muscle gets replaced, so you're not getting locked into a human statue. This is a horrific condition. It's also incredibly rare. There's one in 2 million people who have this. So what I do is to try and work on trying to find drugs, and things that could be turned into medicines to help treat this condition. And that's quite a challenging task because you need to find something that's going to only affect the protein in question and not any of the other proteins in the body negatively, but it's something I really enjoy doing.

Mona Bafadhel: What qualities do you think you need to be a good scientist?

Ellie Williams: I think you need to be very determined, and I think you need to be very patient. In science, nothing ever works the first time, so I think you've always got to be prepared to do things over and over until you can get the results you want and the results that are going to come through from that. I think you also need to be very creative, and I think you need to be very resourceful, make sense of what you're seeing, and plan the next step. I think also you've got to love what you do because if you love what you do, you're going to be able to put in the effort you need to, and you're going to reach the heights you want to reach.

You've been a postdoctoral scientist now for four years; what's your next step?

Ellie Williams: So I've been lucky enough in the past four years to have a go at some teaching. I've had a chance to tutor some students and teach slightly larger classes, and I really enjoyed that. So, I think it'd be nice in the future to try and find somewhere where I could do lecturing as part of my career. I would really like to contribute to the next generation of scientists, to see them be enthusiastic about the same things that I've been enthusiastic about.

Mona Bafadhel: And do you think scientists have a healthy work-life balance?

I think it's certainly possible to have a healthy work-life balance. I think in science, it can be quite hard to do so. There's an awful lot of pressure to get the results and to get the publications out. I personally think I do have a good work-life balance. I work in a department that has a very healthy attitude towards not putting in excessive hours. My supervisor, in particular, I feel is very enlightened in this way. I feel I put in the hours I think necessary, get the work done, and he's happy with that, and that's fine by me.

Mona Bafadhel: If you could do something different, what would you choose?

Ellie Williams: Well, I've always been quite interested in designing and making costumes and clothes. I had a go at making my own wedding dress. And I think being a tailor would be a good alternate career.

Mona Bafadhel: Thank you.