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

Report: Inaugural Health Protection Research Unit PhD Academy

By Lareb Dean & Kirsty Meldrum

On the 30th and 31st January 2017 the inaugural Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) PhD Academy was held at the University of Liverpool in London. The National Institute for Health Research created the HPRUs with a view for collaborative research between universities and Public Health England (PHE). The event aimed to stimulate discussion and collaboration across the HPRUs, which include priority areas ranging from blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases, to the health impact of environmental hazards.

“We think it’s very important to understand where your research fits into the wider picture and world around you and what patients and the public actually think is important”

Held over two days, the academy consisted of oral presentations by students introducing their HPRUs and individual projects. In addition delegates from each HPRU were invited to present posters and discuss their ongoing research.

Tom Solomon
Professor Tom Solomon, University of Liverpool

On the first day guest speakers from Public Health England (PHE) covered topics including the importance of the students’ contribution to PHE and developing a career in public health, as well as conducting an outbreak workshop. Topics covered by the PhD students included evaluating the burden of antimicrobial resistance, a review of Salmonella and determining patient outcome following acute Ebola virus infection.

Dr Ruth Ruggles
Dr Ruth Ruggles, Public Health England, leading an outbreak response exercise

Each unit was asked to give a brief introduction to their HPRU and the students involved, before two presentations on work within that HPRU. The presentations were kicked off by the HPRU in Health Impact of Environmental Hazards. As a student with this HPRU, I (Kirsty Meldrum) was joined by Alex Cooper (PHE) to give an introduction to our work. Within this unit we are looking at the hazards particles and chemicals may have on the population through the use of wet lab and in silico modelling methods.

Crowd look at posters
Poster presentations

The next unit to present was the HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response. These presentations were really interesting as they discussed vaccinations and the reasons behind why the uptake of them might be poor. They also presented interesting work on the side effects of medications that might prevent people taking them, and the “nocebo” effect where volunteers are given a placebo and still experience these side effects.

Third to present was the HPRU in Environmental Change and Health who discussed the potential for tick-borne diseases in urban green spaces. The government currently wants to increase ‘green spaces’ yet the potential for these diseases to increase is something that hasn’t been investigated.

“Overall the two days were informal, but very informative – definitely something that would be brilliant to repeat in the future”

The final talk was from the HPRU in Evaluation of Interventions who initially talked about the implication on changing vaccination policy on BCG vaccination, and then went onto to discuss looking at Meningitis B vaccine development at different phases and densities of colonisation.

After a short break there were then further invited speakers that talked about ethics, research integrity and governance (a valuable talk on what is actually required for a clinical trial and the various avenues that could be used to start one) and a talk about getting patients and public involved in research. This talk used personal examples to demonstrate why getting patients and public involved was important and how to go about doing it. Both these speakers were very informative and opened our eyes to the larger world of research, not just being in the lab!


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

‘Fortune Sides with Her Who Dares’: Highly acclaimed cardiologist Barbara Casadei to deliver the NHLI Athena SWAN Lecture in January

British Heart Foundation awards £900,000 to top Oxford Professor Barbara Casadei. Picture by Danny Fitzpatrick / dfphotography Copyright

Professor Barbara Casadei hopes to inspire the next generation of female scientists by encouraging women in the progression of their scientific careers.  As such, she is the perfect speaker for the next NHLI Athena Lecture. The NHLI Athena SWAN lecture series highlights high profile female scientists and asks them to talk about their research and career path as a woman.

Prof Barbara Casadei: Fortune Sides with Her Who Dares

Tuesday 31st of Jan 2017, 4 pm

Room G34, Sir Alexander Fleming (SAF) Building, South Kensington campus

The talk will look at Barbara’s research and how her career has expanded, leading to her current posts as a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, Deputy Head of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Fellow of Wolfson College.

After studying medicine in Italy, Barbara Casadei moved to Oxford to undertake her clinical and research training. She was awarded the Joan and Richard Doll Fellowship at Green College in 1991, a DPhil in Cardiovascular Medicine in 1995, and a BHF Senior Research Fellowship in 2001.

To register for this popular event, please email Ms Emily Timcke at to ensure your place.

After the lecture, all attendees are invited to join us for drinks and nibbles from 5 pm onwards.

More about Barbara Casadei can be found here.

Blog at

Up ↑