Postgraduate student Rebecca McQuaid talks to Conor de Paor about her research and life during a PhD.
What is your research about?
I’m looking into the treatment for a disease that people can get in the eye called keratoconus. There is a treatment that stops the progression of the disease and I’m trying to improve on that treatment.
How did you become interested in your area of research?
I got a job four years ago working for two ophthalmologists in a clinic. They were interested in doing research with all of the data they acquire from all of their surgeries. They were interested in me doing the data which led to me doing my masters of research.
Why are you doing a PhD?
The Masters of Research went quite well. I got a publication from it. So I was offered a PhD scholarship by another ophthalmic company.
What’s the hardest thing about undertaking a PhD?
You need to be very organised and have motivation to undertake your own research. You are guided by a supervisor but at the end of the day, it is your project and your responsibility.
How do you undertake your reseach?
It’s between lab work and reading a lot of papers. You have to read up on a lot of up-to-date literature and then trying to improve experiments from the up-to-date research.
What do you use for your research in terms of materials and equipment?
I work with pig eyes in the lab as they have the closest biological structure to a human eye. I try to create an environment that mimics in-vivo to gain reliable results for publication. So, at the moment, I work with a UV light and that shines on the cornea at the front of the eye and that improves the progression of the disease. So I work with UV, a couple of lenses and some imaging software.
Do you find funding difficult to acquire?
Well I was very lucky because I was offered the scholarship through a company so I’m under the enterprise partnership scheme which is with the Irish Research Council. It’s very difficult to get funding with the Irish Research Council but because I had backing from a company it was easier. I had a better chance than normal funding so I’m very lucky in that way.
What applications do you see for your research?
In terms of improving the treatment, you’re helping the patient have a better experience, better outcome of their vision which is what we want to do at the end of the day and better technology for the treatment of the disease.
Do you enjoy teaching undergraduates?
It’s quite an experience. I have no background in teaching so it has been challenging but I do enjoy interacting with younger students and seeing them come straight from [secondary] school and learning lab techniques.
What are your plans for when you are finished?
I hope to work in industry, either research and development or clinical research and hopefully I’ll be able to improve research in ophthalmology.
Would you undertake any more academic research after your PhD?
I think I would finish with the PhD. I like academia but I think industry has a better prospect in terms of careers.
What’s your favourite wavelength of light?
UV obviously, it’s what I work with every day. 365nm.
Finally, if you were a fruit what kind of fruit would you be?
Banana. I don’t know. Oh, I want to change it. I want to be a watermelon. They’re really nice to eat in the summer.