Category Archives: YCG Interviews

Meet the YCG – Natalie Tatum

Time for the third instalment of Meet the YCG! This time round we are delighted to introduce Natalie Tatum! Natalie is our Biological Structures Group (BSG) representative and is the first in a mini series to introduce our group reps. Just a reminder that Meet the YCG is a weekly series of interviews with YCG members starting with the committee.

Name
Natalie Tatum

Current position
Post-doctoral research associate at Newcastle University, in the structural biology team of the Cancer Drug Discovery group at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research

What do you currently research?
The structural biology team in Cancer Drug Discovery provide protein production, crystallography and assay development for ongoing projects. In practice this means we produce protein for crystallisation and assay, often screening tens of constructs at least to optimise for various purposes, we have a variety of tagging systems at our disposal for use, and we have access to SPR, ITC, and NMR for screening in addition to building assays on a variety of fluorescence-based formats. I’m currently the only researcher on the biophysics side of my target project, so I’m the one doing it all from cloning through to crystallisation and beyond.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
I really relish the challenges. Protein crystallography is regularly described as a dark art, and particularly for a novel protein, it can be months or years of banging your head against thousands upon thousands of conditions and constructs until you find The One. Sometimes you’re lucky, and sometimes it’s just hard graft, but the pay off – seeing even optimisable crystal hits in one of your trays – it makes every protein prep worth the effort.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I was always scientifically inclined, but it wasn’t really until I was late in my undergraduate degree that I got a taste of research science and discovered a passion for it. It suits my problem solving nature and curiosity. I had few real-life scientific role models growing up, however, and so I had to make do with fictional ones: Dana Scully and Sam Carter. When I became a researcher and started to interact with other scientists – particularly female scientists – out there, in the real world, I found an inspiring community.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
I think there are two, but they’re quite linked: first, give it a go. I had no idea what a research scientist did on a day to day basis, or what that life even looked like, so I think the important thing is to get stuck in and try it out – a summer project, an MSc, etc.; but secondly, make sure you really want to do it. Scientific research is difficult, often the rewarding moments can be sparse and seem so distant, and often experiments fail. You have to learn to be resilient, optimistic, and above all, you have to keep your head about you. Bad days happen, so you have to be able to have a cup of tea, go home and sleep, do whatever it requires for you to get back on the work-horse tomorrow.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I try to keep a good work-life balance and protect my weekends as much as possible from the intrusions of work; obviously it can be unavoidable to put in some working hours in the evenings and weekends, but generally speaking I try to get everything done in my normal working hours, and I rely heavily on to-do lists and weekly goals to stay on track. I’m also quite introverted and often need the time to re-charge, so outside of work I enjoy swimming or running at the gym, I read voraciously – particularly science fiction but I try to stay away from science non-fiction (with mixed success) – and of course spend quality time in the cinema or watching Netflix. I find that really enjoying my free time helps me be more focused when I’m working and makes me a happier and more productive person, so I value proper boundaries in my work-life balance.

Meet the YCG – Sam Horrell

Name
Sam Horrell

Current position
Post Doc at the University of Hamburg in the Pearson group and Chair of the YCG

What do you currently research?
I am currently working as part of a team to design, build and eventually test a new end station at PETRA III to enable time-resolved serial crystallography experiments on fixed targets. P14.EH2 (we’re working on a better name) will be a dedicated Time-resolved X-ray Crystallography beamline using Hadamard Time-resolved X-ray Cryatsllography (HATRX) to produce high quality pump-probe serial diffraction data for the study of structural dynamics in biomolecules. Also, there will be lasers. I’ll be talking about this at the BCA Spring meeting this year if you want to learn more.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
I like how varied the field of crystallography can be, I started off as a biochemist and am now helping build a beamline. If you told me at the start of my undergraduate, I’d have worked at two particles accelerators by age 27 I wouldn’t have believed you. But my favourite part of crystallography has to be when you get that new structure that nobody else has seen, and you get to dig into the fine detail of how exactly it works.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I’m sure everyone has had that moment at school where a teacher tells you what you learned a few years ago was actually a massive oversimplification and life is in fact a lot more complicated. Respiration is not just breathing, and the cell doesn’t look like a fried egg, etc. This always annoyed me and made me want to know more about what w

as really going on. A healthy obsession with Sci-Fi and comic books probably helped lead me down this road too.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
If you are going to start a PhD make sure of two things, that it is a subject you are interested in, and your supervisor is someone you can work and get along with. If either of these are not right, it’s going to be a very long 3-4 years.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I have recently moved to Hamburg for my new job so outside of work I have enjoyed exploring a new city, I’d definitely recommend moving to a new country if given the opportunity. One of the great perks of a career in science. But in addition to that, I enjoy playing ultimate Frisbee, board games and the guitar.

Meet the YCG – Charlie McMonagle

This is the first in a new series of interviews conducted on members of the YCG. We are going to start with the members of the current committee in the run-up to the BCA Spring Meeting and see how we go from there! If you enjoy these posts, please like and share.

Name
Charlie McMonagle

Current position
PDRA Newcastle University / YCG Webmaster

What do you currently research?
My work at Newcastle is to develop and uses the extensive facility’s here to do ultra-low temperature and high-pressure single crystal diffraction experiments. Currently I am looking at a range of magnetically interesting compounds at temperatures as low as 3 K, and this will be coupled with low-temperature high-pressure measurements in the new future. I am also finishing up my PhD that was joint between the University of Edinburgh and I19 at the Diamond Light Source. This focused on looking at porous materials at pressure and the development of new techniques to do this. During my PhD I developed a pressure cell that will allow you to perform single crystal X-ray diffraction from 0 to 1400 bar, a pressure range is currently very difficult to investigate with common high-pressure cells.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
Probably my favourite aspect is how collaborative it is. I have the good fortune to work with many different scientists that are experts at their niche speciality and their enthusiasm for their work is infectious. Being able to bring your own expertise to the table is also great and providing the key to unlock new problems is something that has always driven me.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
Breaking new ground is probably what I find the most inspiring thing about science. Whether it is new experimental set-ups, novel compounds or just new ways to make something work it all adds up and it’s amazing just how many things there are still to do!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
If you want something done right, do it yourself.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Having been living in Scotland and now in Northumberland, I have the great opportunity to make the most of the outdoors. Walking in the Highlands, the Pennines, or the Alps are great ways to unwind and exploring a new city and region is also fun.