Sara Snelling

Sara Snelling

“I went to Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and now I work as part of the immunology research team at the Animal Health Trust.”

Sara, Research Assistant

Years attended:

2006-2011

Job Title:

Research Assistant

Description of Job:

A veterinary charity and referral centre. I research how horses’ immune systems work by
introducing genetically modified bacteria to various equine immune cells and observe the different responses in order to combat infectious diseases.

O Levels/GCSEs

English Language (A)

English Literature (A)

Maths (A*)

Triple Science (A*)

French (A*)

Spanish (A*)

Business Studies (A*)

A Levels

Biology (A)

Chemistry (B)

French (A)

University

University of Leeds

Course: Genetics

What inspired you at school?

The teachers at AGGS were so passionate about their subjects that if you showed a particular interest or strength, they were more than happy to help you excel further. It was actually thanks to the enthusiasm of one of my biology teachers that I decided that Genetics would be a fascinating alternative, should I not get into Vet School.

Any useful tips/advice?

Do not be disheartened if certain plans don’t work out. There is always something just as exciting, if not better, out there. Just make sure you take every opportunity given to you!

What have you done since leaving AGGS to get to where you are today? (eg work experience, GAP year, apprenticeship, volunteering, travelling)

Gap year – I spent a year working on an equine breeding/ competition yard. Work experience – As I originally planned to study veterinary medicine, I also spent any free time I had gaining work experience in veterinary clinics, farms, zoos, kennels etc. Even though I didn’t end up studying veterinary medicine, this work experience has definitely helped me along the way. Internship – After my second year of University I did a 12 month placement at a pharmaceutical company in Belgium, in the laboratories.

How did you get into your current role?

Saw the position and applied.

What specific qualifications are needed for your job?

Any biological science degree.

Are there any particular subjects that have to be studied to be able to do your job?

Biology

What is a typical work day like for you?

First job at 9am is checking and replying to any emails. I then make a plan for the day to make sure I fit my lab work around any meetings scheduled for the day/week. I will usually spend 70% of my day in the lab, checking my cells and setting up/running any experiments. Lunch is whenever there is an hour gap in my schedule. Meetings are usually held in the afternoons and are a good opportunity to catch up on what other research groups are doing. I will then return to the lab to finish off any experiments and set up ones for the next day if needed. If I have any spare time outside of the lab, I use it for reading scientific papers to help me with my projects and keep up to date with the literature. I am usually able to finish at 5pm, but this depends on my workload in the lab.

What is the best bit about your job and do you have a particular career highlight?

I love the fact that I am part of a team at the forefront of a particular scientific subject, that we are the first to discover specific information about our subject, and that discovery has the potential to save lives. My highlight so far was presenting my research findings at a medical conference in Brussels and being awarded 3rd prize for the best presentation. That was particularly special, as I was always very shy and a very nervous speaker, but I have overcome this and now I get such a buzz of adrenaline presenting in front of big crowds.

What are the worst things about your job?

Experiments never go as expected or planned! That’s science! It takes a lot of patience, as you may go through many months during which none of your results will seem to make sense.

What skills help you most in your job (i.e. teamwork, communication, leadership, time management)?

Communication is key, both verbally and written. Most of the time spent outside of the lab is either presenting your work to colleagues, the public and other organisations and scientists at conferences, or is spent writing your research papers for publication. Organisation is also essential, as you will need to juggle multiple projects and multiple experiments in order to be most efficient in your work. Problem solving and data analysis are often overlooked, but your experiments and results will never be straightforward. You will need to work out why a particular experiment didn’t work or why you got such a strange result, and how you’re going to go about repeating the experiment bearing this in mind. Even once you have all your data, you need to make sense of it and present it in a way that is easy for everyone to understand it.

What advice would you give to students looking to get into your line of work? (e.g. subjects to study, getting work experience)

Definitely a science, preferably along the biology/ biochemistry line, but can be medical as well – many vets and medics go into research later on. I would choose a University which allows you to do a sandwich year (internship), as it will help you stand out from the crowd after University when you look for your first job, or even if you want to go onto further education (Masters/ PhD).

How did your experience at AGGS help you to achieve your successes?

The teachers at AGGS were so passionate about their subjects that if you showed a particular interest or strength, they were more than happy to help you excel further. It was actually thanks to the enthusiasm of one of my biology teachers that I decided that Genetics would be a fascinating alternative, should I not get into Vet School.