MINI MERMAID TALES: Selina Wray, PhD Professor of Molecular Neuroscience Alzheimer's Research UK Senior Research Fellow
This month's Mini Mermaid Tales comes from Professor Selina Wray. We got to know Selina while training for the 2019 London Marathon for Alzheimer's Research UK. In addition to the stellar work she does with of the University College London (UCL) Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, Selina trained as a COVID vaccinator with St. John's Ambulance (you know, in her spare time).
Named Alzheimer’s Research UK’s 2018 David Hague Early Career Investigator of the Year and voted Red Magazine’s Pioneer of the Year, Selina devotes time to encouraging young people from all backgrounds to discover and explore science.
Her best advice: Don't be afraid to fail. So very Mini Mermaid!
1. Can you tell us about your work at University College London (UCL), as well as Alzheimer’s Research UK?
I run a lab at UCL, which is trying to increase our understanding of Alzheimer's disease (AD). In AD, nerve cells in the brain become sick, leading to symptoms including memory loss. An effective treatment for these diseases would prevent this, however in order to develop such a treatment we need to understand the biological changes that occur in nerve cells. In the lab we will take stem cells from patients who have dementia, and because stem cells can become any cell type in the body, we change them into nerve cells that we can study in the laboratory. By comparing cells from people with and without dementia, we can understand what causes the cells to become sick in AD. Understanding these changes will aid the development of new drugs to reverse these defects and thereby halt or slow the progression of diseases including AD and FTD.
Alzheimer's Research UK fund a lot of the work in our lab, and I work with them closely to increase public awareness of dementia and also to help their fundraising activities.
2. You’ve been really open about your background and why you want to make science and research more accessible to children. Who inspired you and in turn, what are your favourite ways to champion the next generation of scientists?
I was really inspired my science teachers, who were always so enthusiastic and made the subjects fun and interesting. Particularly at A-level when they would go above and beyond to show us what practical science could be like – i.e. what sort of jobs a scientist had, rather than just the theoretical side. We try to help support junior scientists gain experience in the lab, through the In2Science scheme, which provides support for students from under priviliged backgrounds. We also take part in open days through schools and several people in the department are STEM ambassadors. Its never too early to be interested in science!
3. When you were awarded the Red Magazine Women of the Year “Pioneer Award,” you praised the women scientists with whom you work - that you celebrate together and you commiserate together. How has this cohort influenced your research and career?
Science has many ups and downs – there is the thrill of discovery but also disappointment when papers or grant applications get rejected. Having a good support network means you have people to celebrate the success with, but also people who can make you feel better when things don’t work out – although the disappointments are hard they are inevitable and not the end of the world, so its important to have people around you to help you see that and put things in the context of the bigger picture.
4. Building resilience is a big part of Mini Mermaids - showing girls that it’s ok to take risks and that setbacks/challenges don’t equal “failure.” How do you learn from your research, even when it may not be the outcome you wanted or expected? And why is this so important?
Every experiment we do is informative, whether it works or not. If things don’t give the expected outcome, we spend time discussing what went wrong and how we can improve next time. Mistakes and failure are the best way to learn, so it’s important to not be scared of them!
5. How does physical activity fit into your life? What are some of your favourite ways of being active and why is this important to you?
I think keeping active is really important. I love to feel strong and healthy – and also being active is the best way to keep your mind healthy and destress after a hard day! Pre-lockdown I used to do 3-4 classes per week at Barry’s Bootcamp. I also like running, so I would do parkrun every Saturday as well as other races, including London Marathon in 2014 (EDITORS NOTE: Selina would run to and from the lab to check on cells as part of her training runs. Very cool). Since lockdown began I’ve been doing home workouts over Zoom with the trainers from Barry’s as well as running 2-3 times per week.
6. Lock down dog or cat?
Cat ☺ I have a kitten called Billy and he’s been such good fun to have around! I love dogs too though and would definitely like a brother or sister for Billy in the future!
To learn more about Professor Selina Wray's work and for updates on Billy's workouts, follow her on Twitter @SelinaWray