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PhD in Medical and Health Care Studies

Sharing ideas and solving problems as a postgraduate researcher

“Swansea enables me to be the best version of myself”

Postgraduate researcher Manuela Pacciarini (PhD, Medical School) and 2020 Three Minute Thesis Swansea University winner discusses her love of science communication, lipids research and Swansea’s coastline.

My research

My PhD research explores why and how we develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, by identifying relevant differences in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that surrounds the brain) lipid content between people affected by these diseases and healthy people. Understanding this difference could help us to more quickly diagnose and more effectively treat people affected by these neurodegenerative diseases.

Finding my place here

Before I came here, I studied in Italy and worked in other laboratories around Europe, including France. I have always had a passion for lipids research and its contribution to human health, and I am a trained medical chemist. Professor William Griffiths and Professor Yuqin Wang were looking for a chemist to undertake research on lipid biomarker discovery, through the Swansea University Research Excellence Scholarships (SURES) scheme, which offers fully-funded PhD studentships with an annual stipend. This opportunity combined my love of helping people with my love of chemistry of lipids – I had to apply!

I worked so hard on my application, which included my CV and a research proposal (including sections on Literature Review, Methodology, Project Timescales). Then I forgot all about it! But when I received an email from Swansea University inviting me to interview I was so happy. When I got here and saw Singleton Campus, I thought it was beautiful. I had seen so many pictures before, but nothing compared to reality. I realised that this is where I wanted to be for the next four years. 

Near to the sea and the countryside

I started my PhD in October, and I decided that for my first year I would live in campus accommodation to properly have the Swansea University experience, which I was really happy with. I have since found a private house for the rest of my PhD studies.

Swansea as a city is near to the sea and the countryside, which makes it a great place for me. The coastline is amazing, you can explore Swansea Bay, Mumbles, Langland, Rhosilli… it’s amazing.

But it’s not just the position of Swansea that makes it so pleasant to live in – the people here have been so lovely too. People want to get to know you and everyone is as kind as possible. I also discovered a very big international community here, with lots of nights out and events that are designed to help us get to know each other and to share our culture. I love it!

Discovering a passion for science communication

I had heard about the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition for postgraduate researchers and decided to take part. Around two weeks beforehand, I was able to have a one-to-one coaching session with a member of the PGR Office, and I would recommend it to anyone. We discussed my presentation and how I would structure the slide (you only get one!), and I received a lot of amazing advice. The PGR Office coach told me how I could make my speech more understandable for a public audience, such as swapping the word ‘lipids’ for ‘fats’.

I now feel more confident about translating difficult scientific content into easily understandable words and phrases. It is useless if only a small number of people understand your work – you need to be able to share that information with everyone. In the future I want to do more science communication, thanks to Swansea University’s encouragement to share high impact research with the public. When it came to performing in the 3MT Competition I was nervous initially, but when I saw all the fantastic postgraduate researchers from across the University sharing their ideas I relaxed. I loved the experience!

Supportive environment, amazing facilities

My Group and my Supervisors are always there for me, giving me advice. This doesn’t mean that they give me the answers, but they encourage me to reflect on what I am doing and find the solution myself. I have worked in laboratories all around Europe, and I have never been in such a supportive and friendly environment. When I first saw the Institute of Life Sciences lab and the equipment, such as the mass spectrometer, it felt like a dream!

The Postgraduate Research Office team are also always very kind and quick to respond to all of my questions, and they run very important events and training – including a fantastic data analysis course. I have really enjoyed the PGR nights out, such as the pub quizzes, which are a great way to meet other postgraduate researchers.

The Medical School also organises a seminar series to enable postgraduate researchers to share their research, alongside brilliant senior academics. In terms of support, PGR Administrators Georgie Thomas and Ian Prout have always been there to help me and answer my questions.

In terms of the future, my objective is to be the best version of myself and the best scientist possible. My experience at Swansea University is integral to this: every day we share ideas and it is only by collaborating in this way that we can solve major scientific challenges.

Learn more about our PhD in Medical and Health Care Studies.