NHLI community news for staff and students



British Association of Lung Research (BALR) New Committee Members

by Lareb Dean
National Heart and Lung Institute

The BALR Summer Meeting 2017 took place on 30 August – 1 September in Belfast, where the new committee members were announced in the Annual General Meeting. Amongst the new roles, I was nominated to be the PhD Student Representative of the BALR 2017-19. As such, I want to introduce myself to the NHLI community and encourage students, particularly in the respiratory field, to take advantage of what the BALR and I have to offer.

The BALR seeks to promote respiratory research throughout the UK and therefore provides a platform for all respiratory researchers to exchange ideas, form collaborations and further their pulmonary research. Another aim of the BALR is to offer support to early career researchers and this year’s Summer Meeting is a prime example of how they achieve this; there was an oral competition for both PhD students and early career researchers, giving them an opportunity to nurture their presentation skills.

As PhD Student Representative, my responsibilities include voicing the needs of the student members in the society as well as assisting them in concerns raised to me, from questions about abstracts to what they should wear to meetings. I will also disseminate information about opportunities and news relevant to the PhD student members.

I’m very excited to take on this new role and would encourage all current student members to get in touch with me should they like or need to. I’d also recommend non-members to join the society; amongst the benefits are discounted membership to the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and discounted registration fees to the British Thoracic Society (BTS) Winter Meetings. I continue to profit from being a member of the BALR and hope other students can gain from it as I have. Please see the BALR website for more information.



The Art of Communication

A000On 12th – 14th July 2017 the Eighth NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp titled The Art of Communication was held at Weetwood Hall Conference centre in Leeds. The Imperial Clinical Academic Training Office had been invited to nominate 3 doctoral students for consideration for a place at the camp.  I was pleased to be chosen as one of the 3 successfully nominated candidates.

100 delegates from centres across the UK attended.  This was the 8th training Camp offering delegate’s access to workshops, inspirational speakers and the practical experience of communicating with a challenging panel of ‘experts’. The specific aim was to equip delegates with the skills and ability to successfully defend and communicate their research effectively with a range of people including fellow scientists, research funders, the media, patients and the public.

Panel in action
The panel

There was a dedicated poster session held during the afternoon of 12 July at which I presented my doctoral work on Patient Reported Outcomes. Plenary sessions included a presentation by Dr Giles Yeo Director of Genomics & Transcriptomics, Institute of Metabolic Science University of Cambridge, publically known for his appearance on the BBC2’s Horizon programme Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth.

Dr Yeo gave an amusing and engaging presentation of his experiences of working with journalists and the media. In one encounter his eloquent scientific explanation of obesity was distilled on his behalf to ‘fat is bad’.

The importance of the message was reinforced by Professor Anthony Redmond Professor of Clinical Biomechanics University of Leeds. Delegates were challenged to be able to describe their research in 20 words and themselves in 10 seconds.

giles Yeo
Dr Yeo

Professor Anne-Maree Keenan, Chair of Applied Health Research and Assistant Director and Training Lead, NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Unit University of Leeds, introduced the delegates to the NIHR Making People Healthier Research Programme. Delegates then worked in 10 small groups supported by a designated mentor with a brief to develop a communications plan for our research. Each group was assigned a published paper to adopt as their research which had been funded by the NIHR Making People Healthier stream.

Two days were spent working with colleagues from Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs), Biomedical Research Centres (BRC’s) and Public Health Research units from across the UK we developed a communication plan and presentation for the B-type natriuretic peptide for incident atrial fibrillation – The Heinz Nixdorf Recall study, published in Journal of Cardiology.  Mentored by Dr James Frith from University of Newcastle we also had access to workshops on top tips for media interviews using media effectively and PPI in communications we also had 1:1 appointments with the press officer; PPI advisors the NIHR Director and NIHR comms team. There were a few surprises in and amongst such as being hauled out of a media interview with the unrelenting Professor Waljit S Dhillo.


The final morning required all groups to pitch their comms proposal to six members of a Dragon’s den type panel. Professor Dave Jones Dean of NIHR Faculty Trainees and Professor Waljit  Dhillo in particular had sharpened their critical appraisal skills and wit in readiness. They were met with well-prepared teams skilled in rebuttal.

Sadly we were not the winning team but it was an excellent learning experience shared with some wonderful colleagues in a supportive NIHR family environment! I advise all NIHR / NHLI doctoral students to get ready for the ninth NIHR training camp next year.

by Anne-Marie Russell

NIHR Clinical Research Fellow
Respiratory Epidemiology Occupational Medicine and Public Health

Inspiring research: President’s Scholars Symposium 2017

After months of preparation, the President’s Scholars Committee launched the 2017 Research Symposium, which was a great success with over a hundred attendees and really positive feedback from the event. Everyone seemed to enjoy this day in which students interacted and shared visions, practised for their next national/international conference – both presenting and chairing the sessions – learned from their peers and very distinguished Imperial College London Professors, and had a good time networking with other postgraduate students.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 1

The event began with the inspirational talk by Professor Simone Buitendijk, Imperial’s Vice Provost for Education. Many female young researchers were looking forward to hearing her speech. She is a member of the League of European Research Universities Gender Steering Group (LERU); she has a long-lasting interest in gender equality in academia. She not only gave a sensational talk but also showed genuine interest in meeting the committee and making sure she provided absolutely everything that could have been expected for the day.

The Natural Sciences talks were introduced by Professor Fay Dowker, who captivated the audience providing a smart simple physics explanation of time. She also opened the debate on the fact that unexpected results, which may seem not to fit with previous knowledge, can, in fact, lead to groundbreaking results; such as the measure of the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, which lead to a Nobel Prize. She set the bar high, but students Simon Schoeller and Michael Sachs managed to keep the wheels spinning until the coffee break time.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 2Having had interesting discussions over a coffee, we welcomed the Engineering keynote speaker Professor Nick Jennings. He showed how artificial intelligence (AI) aims to help our society – such as optimising resources in a catastrophe – instead of taking over humankind. Some algorithms have indeed demonstrated they can beat human abilities, although they are only able to respond to very specific commands. This talk was followed by lots of questions from the audience, demonstrating the large interest in AI around Imperial. Students Thibaud Humair, Sana Waheed, Konrad Leibrandt maintained the level when presenting their research afterwards.

Dr Lucia Li was absolutely remarkable as Medicine keynote speaker. She not only showed us how to make magic but also to keep our heads up, and safe. She highlighted the challenges of the acute and long-term management of post-traumatic brain injuries in young people. She is an incredible active doctor and researcher, hugely committed and so lovely to engage with. We all enjoyed her talk, which was noted by the numerous questions she received both during and after her presentation. Once again, postgraduate students – Leor Roseman, Midhat Salman, and Silvia Sposini – did not let the audience down presenting their hard-work.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 3The event was closed with the thanks from the President’s Students Committee, who had organised the event – Niall Bourke, Maria Anna Chatzopoulou, Amit K. Dwivedi, Terrence Lai, Helena Lund-Palau, Anya Ramgulam, Midhat Salman, Abellona U – gifts for the speakers and poster presenters, and a nice group picture.

Written by the President’s Scholars Committee

How does the heart adapt to stress? Prof Brand explained to pupils as part of an outreach day.

On the 26th of May Professor Thomas Brand, Head of the Developmental Dynamics group participated in a science outreach activity, which was organised by the Native Scientist Organisation and the Goethe Institute in London. Two classes with pupils aged 15-16, who had German as second language for at least three years participated in this activity. Four scientists including Prof. Brand gave 15 minutes lectures on their scientific subject.

The lecture by Prof. Brand dealt with the ability of the heart to adapt to stress. He explained what the heart looks like, where the pacemaker is localised in the heart and how an electrocardiogram tells about how the heart functions.

Professor Brand with students

Subsequently, the fight or flight response was discussed.

Experiment. Heart rate measurement before and after a brief exercise.

In order to illustrate the ability of the heart to increase its rate of beating, each of the students had to measure their heart rate (pulse) before and after 10 knee bends.

Students do knee bends
Students do knee bends
students measure heart rate
Students measure their heart rate after brief exercise

Surprisingly we found there was a wide spread of student heart rates – which varied from 36 beats per minute (bpm) to 90 bpm. After the brief training heart rates in most cases went up by around 20-40 bpm.

graph bpm

graph 2 bpm

In two cases however the heart rate was slower than before training, which maybe related to the fact that sitting in front of a real professor may make the heart beat faster and the physical activity was actually relaxing.

graph bpm range

The brief lecture ended with some information on the actual research of Prof. Brand who discovered a family of proteins called the Popeye domain proteins, which are involved in the fight or flight response. Mice, zebrafish and also patients carrying mutations in these genes display abnormal heart rates in response to physical stress.

staff and students
Both, the students and teachers enjoyed the day.
Professor Thomas Brand sits at desk smiling
Professor Thomas Brand

Imperial Fringe: Sport and science day

by Dr Matt Pavit

Photo 24-03-2017, 12 03 31On the 18th March members of the Muscle Lab (Dr Matt Pavitt, Dr Karthi Srikanthan and Dr Ahmad Sadaka) ran a stand at the Imperial Fringe: Sports and Science Day in White City in association with Queens Park Rangers FC. The stall was entitled “Do you have the lungs of a footballer?”

Fringe-goers were given the opportunity to undertake an informal testing of their lung health with spirometry and carbon monoxide monitors. We also had a chance to discuss topics including:

  • smoking,
  • air pollution,
  • lung disease in sport,
  • asthma
  • and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Imperial College estimated 700 people attended the event. If you’d like to follow the work of  the Muscle lab you can follow us on Twitter @NHLIRespMuscle.

Did you know?

Smoking is the leading cause of death in Great Britain, in 2013 80,000 deaths were attributable to smoking in England.  Smoking costs the NHS UK £5.2 billion (2005/06).  19% of adults in Great Britain currently smoke (down from a peak of 46% in 1974), 20% of men and 17% of women currently smoke (

Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health.  Examples of air pollutants are nitrogen dioxide and particulates. Annually 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution (

Read a full report of Science & Sport Day on Imperial College news.

Dr Matt Pavitt is a PhD Clinic Research Fellow with Chronic Respiratory Failure, Sleep & Ventilation.

Dr Matt Pavitt @DrMattPav
Dr Karthi Srikanthan @KSri83
Muscle Lab @NHLIRespMuscle



NHLI Postdoc Day 2017

image001We hear from a member of the NHLI Postdoc Committee and a PhD student on their experiences of the NHLI Postdoc Day that was held on January 23rd 2017. The event is designed to give our postdocs an opportunity to explore their career options and focus on their career progression as well as to network with other NHLI postdocs.

NHLI Postdoc Day 2017 from the perspective of the Postdoc Committee

Life as a postdoctoral researcher isn’t always straightforward. Although you’ve completed the seemingly unending task of your PhD, which is a large weight off your shoulders, by taking the next logical step and becoming a postdoctoral researcher, your future can feel uncertain. With only 1/10 postdoctoral researchers successful in pursuing a career in academia, making the best of every opportunity is key.  This was clearly highlighted at the NHLI Postdoc Day on 23rd January.

Hearing from successful postdocs in how they have managed to drive their career forward, despite setbacks was both heartening and inspirational, and their ‘hints and tips’ were extremely useful!

The day began with a talk from the PostDoc Development Centre representative Karen Hinxman.  Karen highlighted what the PDC could do to help the postdocs at Imperial.  From CV checking to running courses and giving mock interviews for prospective job and fellowship applications, the PDC is an invaluable resource. We then heard from three researchers, Dr Louise Blakemore, Dr James Harker and Dr Jon Wilkinson highlighting the different pathways that a postdoctoral researcher wishing to take the academic route can take. Hearing from successful postdocs in how they have managed to drive their career forward, despite setbacks was both heartening and inspirational, and their ‘hints and tips’ were extremely useful! We then heard some enlightening talks about how Athena SWAN initiatives can help our career development and also the importance of open access publishing. Lunch provided the opportunity to network with fellow postdocs and also to meet the postdoc reps and speakers – and ask them any questions.

After lunch we heard from Sarah Lloyd from the Wellcome Trust who gave us an overview of the funding offered to postdocs, both early career and those looking to establish their own research groups, and also gave us some key tips to help with applications. Dr Charlotte Dean, a PI from Imperial, then outlined her career path and how it fit in with family life. The day ended with three former NHLI postdocs and alternative career paths they have taken, in industry, academic publishing and public outreach which was both eye opening and informative, and let us know that life on the bench isn’t the only option post-PhD.

As an early career postdoctoral researcher, I found this whole day invaluable, and the event has helped me to gain some much-needed direction in driving my career forward!

By Sara Bonvini

NHLI Postdoc Day 2017 from the Perspective of a Final Year PhD student

Being a final year PhD student brings lots of questions and uncertainties. Apart from the PhD project itself, the most burning question is – “What next?”. According to The Royal Society (2010), only about 3.5% of PhD students stay in academia/University research, so what happens to the rest of them and what will happen to me?

The rest of the presentations were interesting and inspirational stories of journeys of some of the ex-NHLI postdocs.

The NHLI Postdoc Day, to which they invite PhD students in their final year, can help to answer some of these questions. The day is filled with lectures and this year we had eleven speakers. About half of the presentations were about the support for postdocs that is available at the Imperial College London and NHLI – the Postdoc Development Centre, the Open Access Publishing, the Wellcome Trust Funding, and the Athena SWAN programme. To me as a PhD student, it was useful to learn what it would be like to take a postdoc position at the College or specifically with NHLI.

The rest of the presentations were interesting and inspirational stories of journeys of some of the ex-NHLI postdocs. It was reassuring to hear that the road after PhD is not always a straight one. It can take turns and bumps due to personal or family priorities at a time, but rather that being a hindrance, it can actually enrich and expand our scientific world; being it teaching science to children abroad, or working as a scientist in an industry developing a diagnostic assay for clinical use.

I enjoyed all the presentations, and I learnt a lot. I believe that it would be beneficial to all PhD students, regardless of how far in their PhD they are. It might inspire them and help them to understand the different challenges and possibilities inside and outside of academia after they finish their PhD.

By Tatiana Svermova

Members of the NHLI Postdoc Committee with Prof Miriam Moffatt

NHLI welcomes children into its labs for Bring Your Child to Work Day 2016

By Emily Timcke


Having never attended a bring your child to work day myself when I was a child, I was unsure what to expect. As the National Heart and Lung Institute is a higher education institute renowned for high-quality research in complex cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, it was difficult to see how children as young as two would be able to get an insight into what their parents did at work. Nonetheless, my skepticism was unfounded, and my NHLI colleagues beautifully demonstrated how some of the scientific principles used at the NHLI on a daily basis could be communicated to the youngest of audiences.

It was great to see how Monty, a soft toy macrophage, could be used to illustrate the function of our white blood cells in locating and ‘eating’ microscopic foreign bodies to ensure a healthy immune system.   

I spent the morning at the Guy Scadding Building with the children aged 2-3 and their parents. Activities included colouring in different cell structures and fishing for bacteria in a ball pit. Teddy, the youngest of the children, commented how he was “fishing for bugs.”

During the lunch break Maggie, age 8, explained to me how she had spent the morning performing a strawberry DNA extraction which involved immersing a strawberry in extraction solution in a zip lock bag and then filtering the liquid through a cheesecloth, before adding alcohol and removing the DNA with a pipette.


In the afternoon, parents, children, vampires and aliens attending the event from across the NHLI campuses met at the spookily decorated Queens Tower Rooms for a Halloween Party, which included face painting, apple bobbing, and the Mummy Wrap game. 

Coming from a non-scientific background, I found that I had learned something new and gained a valuable insight into some of the scientific research that takes place here as well as a new appreciation for the multiple uses of a toilet roll.


Carry on Ceilidh

By Emily Timcke

004Students and staff danced the night away at the NHLI’s welcome and farewell event for post-graduate taught programmes.

The dinner and dance event took place last week at the Queens Tower Rooms on the South Kensington Campus. The aim of the event was to allow our graduating students the opportunity to meet and share their experiences with the new students. So those who have already studied one of our post-graduate taught programmes can pass on first-hand their ideas of what to expect during their studies. Staff from the education, administrative and teaching teams were also on hand to answer any student questions and join in the dancing, including course leaders and Director of Education at NHLI Sue Smith.

Attendees were brought together by local folk band ‘Muscadin’ who succeeded in spreading their love of folk dancing, even with those of us who may not have done much, if any, folk dancing before. The dances of the night involved moving around the room and mingling with people who you may not have met beforehand, therefore encouraging the interaction between students and staff from different courses.

Ellie Wilde, Trainee Education Administrator with NHLI, attended the evening and remarked “This was my first Cèilidh experience and I had great fun.  The live band, Muscadin, were excellent – everyone likes a bit of folk music and dancing.  I enjoyed swinging all the NHLI students and staff around on the dance floor.  It was certainly a very lively evening, filled with lots of food, wine, skipping, hand-clapping and brow sweating. Luckily, kilts or tartan were not required!”.

A great night was had by all, a fitting hello and goodbye for NHLI students.


Communication and negotiation for female leaders

Originally posted on the Biochemical Society blog

By Dr Charlotte Dodson

Prepare, prepare, prepare. These were the three most important take-home messages from the EMBO course on communication and negotiation for female leaders at the end of September 2016.

charlotte-planning-to-negotiate-her-holiday_highresEverything was defined in a scientific business context (no communication to lay audiences here) and after two and a half days of active listening, transactional analysis, thinking about relative needs and head-down building roadmaps for hard negotiations we wanted more!

Step one: ignore the other party and decide what you want. Oh so easy to say, but so hard to do. In detail. More detail. The more detail I write down, the more flexible I can be in my negotiation (apparently).

Step two: place an ambition on everything – in the ideal world how much lab space do I want, what equipment do I need access to, what would I like to be paid…

Step three: what are my limits? For what things is there a point at which I will stop and walk away? What is that point? Would I really walk away for one unit lower?

Step four: what other criteria don’t have limits but are ‘important’? What information would it be in my interest for the other person to know about me? (Make a list, make sure you tell them!) What questions do I have? (Questions must be facts, and can’t be negotiation points – don’t put the same thing in two places…).

Only once I know all of this can I even talk to the other side (or so I learned).

dodson2We negotiated to buy a house, a holiday, to start up a lab, to get a job. We watched each other, we gave feedback (‘I really liked… and next time I would change…’), we got stopped mid-sentence from giving abstract advice such as ‘…couldn’t she have…?’ and instead were invited to change places and have a try ourselves. It’s a bit harder when you’re sitting in the hot seat (I learned). Am I trying to negotiate? Or convince? Offer an alternative, buy, compromise or impose?

Aside from the roadmaps, the one exercise that will really stick in my mind is the one on body language:

  • ‘Find a partner where each person speaks a language that the other doesn’t understand,’ we were told.
  • Next, ‘relate a story to the other person about something which has an emotion involved, eg happy, sad, angry.’
  • And finally, ‘Ask the other person what emotion they thought the story was about’.

Vraiment, GCSE French m’a equipé pour communiquer avec mes collègues, and astoundingly the emotion of the story was communicated absolutely perfectly, even through the struggle for scraps of vocabulary. Perhaps more interestingly, conveying emotions wasn’t just limited to communication within European languages.

My only regret is that my colleagues know what I’ve been doing. ‘What,’ I hear them thinking, ‘is she going to ask for next?’ Good question, but we also learned that there isn’t always a negotiated solution. What we can do though is try: ‘it may take two to tango, but it only needs one to lead the dance’.

Charlotte Dodson is a Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Her attendance at the course was funded by a Biochemical Society Travel Grantand her Imperial College Research Fellowship. She is assured that there are plans to run the course for all sexes in 2017.


Photo credits: Hilde Janssens

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