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Chaitra Sathyaprakash

DPhil student with Prof Kevin Talbot

Previous roles

Research Assistant for Professor Kevin Talbot, Professor Matthew Wood (Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics) and Dr Yoshitsugu Aoki (Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics), funded through a shared grant for ten months (December 2014 - August 2015)

Top tip

  • Make sure you meet your potential group before applying to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Even if the project/research is challenging at times, having the right mix of skills, experience and support around you can make things a lot easier.

How did you come to your first role at NDCN?

I applied for a Research Assistant post, which I found through searching online.

What influenced your decision to apply for a research degree in the department?

I was very interested in the line of research being done in the group I applied to, especially as new iPSC ALS patient motor neuron differentiations had already been set up by another lab member.

The group was known to me before I applied for a DPhil through collaborations, so it was good to know that I could already work well with the lab members. The department has excellent clinical links, which increase the quality of the research as there are many people from multidisciplinary backgrounds.

I spoke to my supervisor in detail about the project plan and was involved in the writing of the grant proposal. It was also good to know that I would be allowed some freedom in the directions of the project and could discuss this with my supervisors.

Did you receive any support in making your application?

Yes, Professor Kevin Talbot and I had a few meetings to discuss the project before I applied.

How did your day-to-day duties as a DPhil student differ from before you started your degree?

I had similar amounts of freedom to plan my day and experiments. The main difference was that working on my own project meant that I was far more independent on a daily basis. I generally only communicated with my supervisor on a monthly basis. I frequently spoke to other colleagues about any challenges I faced in the lab, and the communication was very open within the group, just as it was during my time as a Research Assistant.

Position after DPhil

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Oxford, and working with Professor Talbot’s group at the John Radcliffe Hospital. My DPhil project was challenging, but I have only become more excited by the field of neurodegeneration, and was motivated to remain in academia.

After submitting my thesis I moved up to Edinburgh to work with Professor Tara Spires-Jones, where I am continuing to work with iPSC-derived neurons, with a focus on characterising synapses in an Alzheimer’s Disease model. I started my new post prior to sitting my viva. While this wasn’t necessarily an issue, I would recommend anyone moving from DPhil to postdoc to take more than a weekend off in between.

I applied to 5-6 different positions before I was offered a place in Professor Spires-Jones’ group, but in every case I made sure that I spoke to the PI and members of the prospective group before making a decision. I still believe that the team you work with makes a huge difference to your overall experience and that it is important to make sure that you can get along and work well together. I think it’s also crucial to thoroughly discuss your project aims beforehand to be clear on what can achieved in the time you have, what help and resources will be available, and if there is scope for extension if needed.