PhD interviews – Round 1

You’re sitting in front of a panel of four principal investigators (PIs)/group leaders and they start by asking you to simply summarise the paper you were assigned a week in advance (Radford et al. (2014)). You had read the paper carefully, analysed the figures and written down the main things you liked about it, the few things you thought could have been improved, and importantly, what future experiments you would want to do. Simply summarising the paper should have been simple, but was in fact surprisingly tricky. However, after some rambling you do manage to relay the gist of the article.

Next, they start asking about previous research experience and when you mention CRISPR as a genome-editing tool one of the PIs immediately starts questioning you about where it originally came from and what its purpose is. Luckily, having read about the subject, thought about it a fair amount and written about it, those questions did not pose any difficulty.

The toughest question during the panel interview was undoubtedly, “which biological question would you like to answer?”. I thought honesty would be the best policy and so I said that I wasn’t sure since my research interests are still broad. There are probably better ways of phrasing this though. All in all, the panel interview was far less painful than I had anticipated and somehow I even managed to make all four of them laugh.

The next stage involved speaking to potential supervisors in one-on-one meetings, half an hour each. At the end of these we were required to submit our top three choices:

1. Jean-Baptiste Vannier


His group works on telomeres (the DNA stretches that protect the end of each of the 46 chromosomes in your cells) and how their maintenance is impaired in various medical conditions, ranging from cancers to dyskeratosis congenita. The PhD project would involve mainly in vitro work in mouse cell lines with a lot of fluorescence microscopy and hopefully the use of CRISPR to knock-out various factors that normally protect telomeres. His own post-doc work is summarised in Vannier et al. (2014).

2. Mathieu Latreille


Mathieu has made type 2 diabetes his research topic. In particular he studies how the dysregulated expression of certain microRNAs (short RNAs that regulate the translation of messenger RNAs into proteins) affect beta cell function in the pancreas. His PhD project, for which the foundation work was laid in Latreille et al. (2014), would be a combination of in vitro experimentation and modelling the disease in mouse models.

3. Simona Parrinello


Lastly, and this is a testimony to the fact that I really do find a lot of biological problems intriguing, Simona’s group studies the interactions between neural stem cells and endothelial cells, the cells that make up blood vessels. Their most recent paper is Ottone et al. (2014). In particular, the PhD project would investigate how this “vascular niche” influences neurons’ responses to injury. Probably the hardest question she asked was, “if I offered you the position would you accept?”. Again, I thought honesty would be best and I said that I had also applied at other institutes (probably like all the other candidates as well) and that this set of interviews at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre was the first. They will let us know of the outcome next week…

And on that note, best to end with this cheery bit of news: I’ve been invited to the PhD interviews for the Crick/London Research Institute (LRI). At the moment the LRI is situated in central London at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but will be moving into the new Francis Crick Institute just behind King’s Cross, and they focus exclusively on cancer research.


Latreille M, Hausser J, Stutzer I, Zhang Q, Hastoy B, Gargani S, Kerr-Conte J, Pattou F, Zavolan M, Esguerra JLS, Eliasson L, Rulicke T, Rorsman P, Stoffel M (2014) MicroRNA-7a regulates pancreatic beta cell function. Journal of Clinical Investigation 124: 2722-2735

Ottone C, Krusche B, Whitby A, Clements M, Quadrato G, Pitulescu ME, Adams RH, Parrinello S (2014) Direct cell-cell contact with the vascular niche maintains quiescent neural stem cells. Nature Cell Biology 16: 1045

Radford EJ, Ito M, Shi H, Corish JA, Yamazawa K, Isganaitis E, Seisenberger S, Hore TA, Reik W, Erkek S, Peters A, Patti ME, Ferguson-Smith AC (2014) In utero undernourishment perturbs the adult sperm methylome and intergenerational metabolism. Science 345: 785-785

Vannier JB, Sarek G, Boulton SJ (2014) RTEL1: functions of a disease-associated helicase. Trends in cell biology 24: 416-425


2 thoughts on “PhD interviews – Round 1

  1. Pingback: Michaelmas Term Round-Up | Gotta Love Cells

  2. Pingback: PhD interviews – Round 2 | Gotta Love Cells

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