Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Published on February 11, 2021
To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we caught up with Kerri Palmer, Animal Free Research UK PhD Student at the University of Aberdeen, who is part of the Animal Free Research UK project to identify an effective strategy for preventing breast cancer.
Over the last year, a typical day has for me like most of us, taken on a very different meaning. Change has been a constant.
I’m 24 years old and am originally from a small seaside town called Southwold in Suffolk. I attended Saint Felix School where I undertook my AS and A-levels in Chemistry, Biology, Maths and also Photography – something I have always had a keen interest in. I moved to Aberdeen in 2014 to start University and have been here ever since. As a young scientist working through the current pandemic, I have gone from being in work full time, to working from home, to only undertaking essential lab work to now being somewhere in the middle of it all.
Pre the pandemic, much of my working day was spent in the lab undertaking various experiments using human cell lines and animal free culture techniques. When not in the lab, I work at home analysing my experimental data and keep up to date with the latest research and developments, particularly in the fields of breast cancer since this will also be beneficial to my own research.
I fell in love with science at school and found the study of medicines and their actions in the human body particularly fascinating. During the first year of my undergraduate degree in pharmacology, I was inspired by my lecturer’s vast scientific knowledge and passion for their research areas and this is what inspired me to undertake a PhD. To be offered the opportunity to perform your own research and experiments, and to really focus in on your own scientific interests was something that really appealed to me – as did the chance to contribute new research to the scientific community; work that could have a beneficial impact on the wider population.
I am now in my third and final year of my PhD at the University of Aberdeen. Working with Professor Valerie Speirs, I am part of a 3-year study jointly funded by Animal free Research UK and Breast Cancer UK which focuses on breast cancer prevention and more specifically, exploring if hormone disrupting chemicals we find in our environment cause changes to breast tissue density and drive breast cancer development.
Animal free research has come such a long way in recent years and I am a firm believer that using human-relevant models and techniques is the best way forward to fully understand human disease.
A major section of my research encompasses optimising a 3D breast model which incorporates the major cell types found in a normal breast. When this model is fully developed, it is akin to normal breast tissue and is therefore an excellent way of identifying any structural or morphological differences because of exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals we find in our environment. This 3D model is animal free, making it truly human relevant research – something I feel we need more of in scientific research.
I have progressed and grown as a researcher enormously since starting my PhD. The support available has really helped me to grow in confidence, particularly in the lab and I have now mastered many different lab-based skills and techniques.
Additionally, there have been a whole host of opportunities to build on my career skills that will help me in the future including co-supervising undergraduate students in the lab and courses on academic and career development. So far, I have been lucky enough to present my work at several different conferences including at two British Association for Cancer Research (BACR) conferences.
One of my presentations was part of an animal free research session at the Advances in Cells and Tissue Culture virtual conference in September last year. I also have a letter published in the influential scientific journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, which highlighted the concerns we have around the exposure environmental chemical Bisphenol A; a compound known as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) as it can mimic the action of certain hormones within the body. This environmental compound forms an integral part of my PhD research.
Thanks to my funders, I have also had many opportunities over the past few years to promote my research and further my professional development. In 2019, I was asked to be the scientific representative at the Animal Free Research UK Summer Student Celebration event which celebrated the work of the many students who attended this Animal Free Research UK funded initiative that provides training to these students to help them with their future scientific careers. This was a really great event that demonstrated just how important animal free research is and what an encouraging future it has in scientific research.
Working in science and sharing my research is something I feel very lucky to be able to do and immensely enjoy. If I could say anything to someone thinking of entering the scientific world, it would be to 100% go for it and don’t be worried or scared. It is such a vast and fascinating subject to study with numerous different research fields from biomedical sciences to astrophysics. Whichever area you choose to go into, there is so much support around to help you develop your skills and so many people ready and willing to help you in any way they can.
Undertaking a PhD in science is a lot of hard work but it is also extremely rewarding, and I am very much looking forward to continuing my scientific career once I complete my PhD. And I hope to later in my career inspire young students – just as I have been – to study science and animal free research.
Kerri Palmer, PhD Student
Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science
At present, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women.
Women have led ground-breaking research into public health, vaccines, treatments and innovative technology, and been on the front lines of COVID-19 response as scientists, health care workers and more.
Kerri is just one of the brilliant women scientists who are leading pioneering animal free research. All working towards our collective goal – a world where human diseases are cured faster without animal suffering!
Join us in celebrating their amazing work.
You can take action for animals, by uniting with us now!
Too many animals continue to suffer in laboratories rather than enjoying the comfort and security of a happy home. Our work is funded entirely by your generous support, so please make a donation today to help us free animals from laboratories for good.