Elizabeth Coker

Elizabeth Coker completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2007 at Brunel University. Se went on to study Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and is now in her final year of a PhD in Computational Biology at the Institute of Cancer Research.

What was your project about?

I was working with Dr Chris Skelly in the Institute for the Environment modelling deaths from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. This involved downloading and processing mortality counts for a number of European countries over a thirty year period, breaking these down by age and sex, and considering how to estimate the number of excess deaths caused by the pandemic, taking into account deaths from World War I and other historical events.

What was the highlight/best bit of your placement?

A highlight for me was attending the science fair at Imperial College at the end of the summer. I won five awards (I think): Exscitec Platinum award, BA Gold Award, Best use of Maths in a Project, Best Poster Presentation, and runner up for the overall best project.

What path did you take after finishing your NRP and how has that led you to where you are today?

After my placement I read Natural Sciences at Newnham College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA in Genetics. I have always had a strong interest in mathematical models of biological systems, and so I chose to stay at Cambridge to study for an MSci in Systems Biology. After graduation in summer 2012 I started a computational biology PhD with Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani and Professor Paul Workman at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

Did your Nuffield Research Placement have an effect on the choices that you made after finishing school/college/university?

I found that my research placement gave me a lot to write about in my UCAS personal statement, and when I went for interviews for my undergraduate degree my interviewers were very impressed. I found it a real confidence boost to be able to start interviews off by talking about my project and my work.