Rosie Bunton-Stasyshyn – Postdoctoral Research Specialist
What is your role at MRC Harwell? How long have you worked here?
My rather vague job title is Post-doctoral Research Specialist and the job role has evolved quite a bit since I started in September 2018. Originally, most of my work was in relation to the IMPC (International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium) doing embryo phenotyping. Now, I design most of our complex alleles that are requested through GEMM (Genome Editing Mice for Medicine), DRI MMDR (UK Dementia Research Institute Mouse Models for Dementia Research), NMGN (MRC National Mouse Genetics Network) and other private projects. This means planning out gene modification at the nucleotide level and designing all of the reagents that we will need to make the mouse, either in embryos or embryonic stem cells. I am also “client liaison” for the DRI MMDR for the mouse production side of things and will be involved in our planned exploration of alternative (non-mouse) model systems.
What is your career/education background?
My career path was a bit meandering… My Batchelor degree was a BSc in Psychology from Goldsmiths College, University of London. After that, I tried to find research positions around the genetics of neurological disorders, but actually ended up getting some (mostly) unpaid part-time work as a Research Assistant with the inimitable (now emeritus) Prof Chris French in the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU). This is a field of psychology which aims to find rational explanations for ostensibly paranormal beliefs and phenomena. Like working out why people think they’ve been abducted by aliens or see ghosts, things like that.
I then studied part-time for an MSc in Neuroscience as a way to bridge the gap between my previous experience and the kind of research positions I was looking for. After that I looked for PhD or research positions in neurogenetics and found a technician position working for Prof Lizzy Fisher and Dr Anny Devoy at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. Here we worked on mouse models of the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and after a while in the lab, they offered me a part-time PhD studentship alongside the tech work. This involved characterising mouse models, making new mouse models and investigating novel mechanisms of disease spread.
Once I finished my PhD I went to post-doc at the University of Michigan in Prof Miriam Meisler’s lab. The original plan was to continue working with mouse models of ALS, but I ended up focussing on a paediatric epileptic encephalopathy and made a new conditional mouse model of this disease.
Coming back to UK, I was interested in exploring alternative career paths to the classic academic research track I had been on. I saw this temporary maternity leave cover position at Harwell as a chance to have a taste of this sort of work, but without committing to a longer contract, and here I still am!
Did you see yourself doing this kind of job when you were younger?
No, not at all! As a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I then developed an interest in psychology and, only as I studied it, became more interested in the biology and genetics of it. The one clear similarity between my past goals and where I am now is that my interest in psychology was always with the intention to become a researcher, rather than work in a clinical setting.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really enjoy the opportunities to new things. Whether it’s dealing with the physics of the 3D imaging techniques I use or applying new functional genetic elements in the genome engineering work I do, I’m a big nerd and I love reading about new tools being developed and then try them out for myself!
In comparison with the academic research track I was on, I really appreciate that, while working here, I’ve been better able to maintain a work/life balance and that it’s now my choice if I want to spend my weekends reading about cool new tools and techniques in genome engineering!
How has your role changed?
When I first started here, my work was on IMPC projects. The team I worked with undertook embryo phenotyping of the “lethal lines”- those that were not viable as homozygous knockouts past weaning. We still apply all of the assays and techniques that we did during the IMPC days, but with less regularity and with more flexibility as we are no longer confined by the high-throughput pipeline. My work now is focused on genome engineering and creation of new mouse models. I drove this role change because I wanted to use and develop more of my previous research experience in molecular magicianry!
What advice do you give to new colleagues starting in junior roles?
I’d advise them to think about what’s important to them in their career. If you can, it’s probably good to be strategic in planning a career pathway and take a less roundabout route than I took. It’s also good to think about what’s important to you because you spend a lot of your life at work, so it’s good if it’s something you enjoy and is right for you.
What are the skills you have gained during your career that have made the biggest impact?
I don’t know if it’s a skill exactly, but I’ve always been curious and I think it’s an important characteristic for this kind of work. It’s certainly also a quality that has been useful to me and one that I have developed over time and with experience you (hopefully!) learn what things to question and how to use your curiosity.
I also think developing my communication skills has had a big impact as my role regularly involves discussing complex ideas with colleagues and clients. This is something I have consciously focussed and actively work at improving.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to knit – I recently made my first full adult-size jumper and then basically wore it every day over the last winter! I like going to see all kinds of live performance. Recently I have seen David Sedaris give a reading and an amazing dance performance by the Gecko Company. Although I miss living in London and having easier access to all of that culture, I really appreciate being able to get out into the countryside to go for walks, and maybe stop for a pub lunch!