Meet Mireia

Mireia is a first year PhD student at the UCL School of Pharmacy working under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Hilton. Her work focuses on the development of a low-cost automated continuous flow system to monitor photochemical reactions.

Discovering the researcher within
PhD applicants are believed to enter into a doctorate program with different motives: willingness to improve their credibility and career prospects, to manifest their passion for research, and to drive their intellectual curiosity to discover and learn new things. What is your story? What has influenced your career choice? Are there any inspirations you can point to?

I have always been interested in chemistry and healthcare since I was a child. As I grew older and started university, I started to build a strong passion for pharmaceutical chemistry as it is always evolving to discover the next generation of drugs.

Pursuing a PhD had always been in the back of my mind, but I never took the step forward and fully considered it until the opportunity came up itself. In the last year of my undergraduate course, I had the chance to participate in an Erasmus program at UCL to work on my final research project. I moved to London for a few months to complete the project that Dr. Stephen Hilton had designed. The main goal of the project was to create an “Internet of Things” platform for laboratories. I enjoyed every step of the journey; it was challenging at times, but the result was very satisfactory. When I concluded my research project, I began to consider what I should do after graduating from university. One thing I had clear is that I wanted to continue my studies abroad, maybe doing a masters or even a PhD. I scheduled a meeting with Dr. Stephen Hilton to discuss the possibilities in the UK. He offered me the option to turn my research project into a PhD at UCL, so I applied a few weeks later and began my PhD a few months afterward.

The Big Picture
What challenges are driving your research within that larger question? How is your research making an original contribution to your field?

This is a great question to respond to. I feel I did not choose the topic; instead, the topic found me. As I mentioned before, my PhD topic arose from my research project where I developed an “Internet of Things” platform for laboratories. When I first started working on it, I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to do it. The project involved C++ programming, microcontrollers, and sensors to be able to develop the system. I had no prior experience with programming or Arduino, but as I learned more about it, I grew to enjoy it. I know it might not sound very scientific but as I worked more on the project, I became increasingly interested in continuing my research in this area. My thesis focuses on tangible techniques to bridge the gap between pharmaceutical chemistry and innovative technologies. Even though it might be a futuristic concept, it will lead to a more optimized, cost-effective, precise, and automated approach to the drug development pipeline.




All-important student-advisor relationship
The healthy sound student-advisor relationship is the basis for good performance and success of any such research collaboration. How is your experience working with your PhD advisor?

From my experience, building a relationship from the ground up after the Covid-19 pandemic was difficult. Physical access to the laboratory was restricted when I first went to London to begin the Erasmus programme. During those months, all contact was conducted remotely, which was at times challenging but ultimately beneficial in helping me establish effective communication and trustworthy relationship with my supervisor.

The first months of a PhD can be overwhelming because there is a lot of information to understand and learn. I appreciated that my supervisor took the time to guide me through the first months and help me in overcoming the initial difficulties which motivate me to continue this journey and face any challenges that may arise. The best advice I could give is to be transparent and honest with your supervisor, as well as to receive constructive feedback and support. Those, in my opinion, are important characteristics when building a supervisor–student relationship.

Life outside of work
Having a healthy work-life balance is imperative that takes care of the overall wellness of the individual and boosts one’s productivity. Is there such a thing as work-life balance for a research scholar? How do you motivate yourself to keep going?

A PhD is equivalent to running a marathon, not a sprint. Finding a balance between the PhD and personal wellbeing and social life is vital. Every day, I try to dedicate sometime to myself and listen to what my body needs by going to the gym, listening to new music, talking to my friends, enjoying a nice coffee… This does, in fact, help me in sparking my creativity and increasing my productivity. On the weekends I also try to disconnect from my PhD life, unless it is necessary, and spend time with my friends, family, or myself.

Thriving, and not just surviving
Embarking on a PhD is life’s big decision. It may not always be smooth sailing. Sometimes rewarding and sometimes test your patience. How was your experience so far?

Pursuing a PhD is not a decision to be made lightly; you must think it through and consider all that it entails. One of the most important pieces of advice is to take into consideration the facilities, the research group, and the laboratory equipment in addition to selecting a good supervisor. The laboratory and the research group will feel like a second home and a second family at the end of the day. Feeling at ease in your place of research will help you boost productivity, creativity, collaboration, and profitability. It goes without saying that you must also choose a topic that will pique your interest for several years. It should be something you are passionate about because a lot of time and effort will be invested.

Compiled by
Piyushi Nautiyal,
Science communication and Outreach Manager, India UK ISCC