Scientists are the explorers of the great unknown. They thrive on the inherently mysterious nature of their work and utilize their knowledge and instincts to engage with, better understand and predict the world and universe around us. One of the most valuable tools available to scientists is the chance to learn from fellow researchers. With this in mind, Tempo will be publishing a number of interviews with some of today’s great minds in science! This will be the first of several we’ll conduct and publish over the next few months. Without further ado, let me introduce: Dr. Ellen Moran.
Ellen is an accomplished biomedical researcher, writer, and editor. In 2009, she earned a PhD in translational research, specifically in rheumatology. Her published papers focus mainly around immunology and biochemistry and include 8 internationally peer reviewed articles. She also works on a freelance basis in scientific writing and communications including writing and editing for the websites Bitesize Bio, Bitesized Immunology, and Things We Don’t Know. She has worked in the UK, Australia and Ireland and has traveled to numerous conferences both national and international. She is currently working as the Laboratory Manager for a number of different research groups at the Education and Research Center in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.
I first met Ellen when she wrote to me on LinkedIn asking if I would be interested in writing articles for an online magazine with whom she was working as editor and writer. After a Skype chat, I happily accepted her offer! Over the next year or so we interacted regularly and enjoyed a memorable exchange of corny puns (Ellen is amazingly punny!) I caught up with her recently to hear more about her research experiences, her thoughts on her career thus far and her hopes for the future.
My conversation with Ellen:
Me: Tell me a little about yourself and your background. How did you get started in science?
Ellen: I completed my undergraduate in Biochemistry and decided to take on a PhD. I had a strong interest in autoimmune diseases due to family members affected by a number of these conditions.
Me: How did you become interested in science? Did you have an early mentor?
Ellen: I think from an early age I was always curious about things and seeking out information. I loved reading and if I ever went missing I was often found tucked up with a book.
Me: Tell us about your most exciting or memorable projects so far.
Ellen: My PhD project was very exciting. I started it around the time Th17 cells were discovered and the interest in IL-17 exploded during my project. My PhD viva examiner was Prof. Pierre Miossec one of the first researchers to work on IL-17.
Me: What are the most satisfying aspects of being a scientist? Which aspects are the most frustrating?
Ellen: As a scientist you get to learn something new every day and you are encouraged to question and dissect ideas. The most frustrating aspect is the pace of the work and troubleshooting experiments.
Me: Are there aspects about being a scientist that you didn’t expect going into your career?
Ellen: Gaining a science qualification and working in medical research have opened a lot of doors for me. There are a wide variety of careers to move into. It’s also very important to network and collaborate which goes against the stereotype of scientist working in isolation.
Me: Was there anyone in your career who particularly inspired you or had a significant impact on how you think as a scientist or writer?
Ellen: My secondary school biology teacher, my PhD supervisors and a number of my colleagues have had huge impacts of my career through mentorship and friendship.
Me: How did you get started in your career in writing and editing?
Ellen: I worked as a laboratory scientist in a lab where I didn’t have the opportunity to write as part of my role. This was in stark contrast to my PhD. I sought out freelance writing opportunities and started an online writing course.
Me: Can you compare/contrast your working style as a science writer versus a lab scientist?
Ellen: Writing laboratory reports and manuscript is more technical and you are dictated by a report template or journal publication guidelines. Freelance science writing is generally aimed at a lay or non-expert audience and is more flexible.
Me: What would you say are your most important scientific contribution has been? What has been most rewarding to you?
Ellen: I’m really proud of the publications that arose from my PhD and that they are regularly cited by my peers.
Me: What inspires you in your current profession?
Ellen: In my current role as laboratory manager I’m getting to help other scientists and facilitate their work. The positive feedback I receive when I help overcome a problem is very rewarding.
Me: You’ve worked in Ireland, the UK and Australia. How did your experiences compare?
Ellen: They were all very different. I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to travel and work in different research institutions. Comparing different ways of working broadens your mind and enhances your experience and knowledge.
Me: What do you like to do outside of work (hobbies, interests, etc.)?
Ellen: Spend time with my husband, family and friends. Good food, wine and books! I would love to have a dog but as I’m at work all day it would be unfair.
Me: Do you have any funny stories from working in labs?
Ellen: I can’t think of one in particular but have made some very good lifelong friends during my time working on the bench and have shared a lot of laughs with them.
Me: Tell us something surprising about yourself!
Ellen: A few years ago myself and my husband went mountain-biking on the most dangerous road in the world The Yungas Road near La Paz in Bolivia South America.
From the team here at Tempo, thank you for interviewing with us, Ellen!