Sheeba Jem Irudayam

PhD in Chemistry

Sheeba Jem Irudayam

I love the interdisciplinary nature of my work which broadens my perspective each day. Also applying my expertise in computational chemistry to understand biological problems has been a rewarding experience.

Current position: Postdoctoral Research Associate

Company: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


What route have you taken to get to your current position?

One of the reasons I was hired for the current position was my expertise in free energy calculations and computer programming; most of which I acquired during the course of my PhD through active discussions with my advisor, Dr Richard Henchman, and through the courses offered by the IT services.

Networking was also key for me to get this job, since the job advertisement for my current position was forwarded by my colleague at the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre, Dr Sarah Hart.

What does this position involve?

My current research involves modelling antimicrobial peptides on lipid bilayers and performing free energy calculations to understand their mechanism of action. This study is aimed at providing insights that will help develop effective antibiotics. We use computer simulation techniques to achieve this. 

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

I love the interdisciplinary nature of my work which broadens my perspective each day. Also applying my expertise in computational chemistry to understand biological problems has been a rewarding experience. 

What did you most enjoy about your course?

The Manchester Institute of Biotechnology hosts seminar series with lectures from experts in the field working at other universities in the UK and sometimes international speakers. After the lecture, the speakers were invited to have lunch with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. This provides a unique opportunity for students to interact with the speakers, which would be much more difficult under normal circumstances. This is one of the experiences I enjoyed most about doing my PhD at The University of Manchester. 

What skills/knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?

The Matlab training, programming with Fortran and scientific visualisation courses offered by the IT services have been immensely useful for my current research. Equally important were the workshops provided by the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) Graduate and Research Development team.

The EPS workshops I found particularly helpful included writing Lay summaries, funding applications, stand and deliver presentations, impact at meetings, networking, and career planning.

Being an international student these workshops were brain storming and helped me build my confidence and improve my presentation skills. I was awarded an oral presentation prize at the Molecular Graphics Modelling Society's Young Modellers’ Forum meeting in 2008 and a major credit for it goes to the EPS workshops and to my advisor for encouraging me to attend them. 

What advice would you give to students applying for the same course that you took?

The University of Manchester provides excellent support to students in terms of computational facilities, library resources and training workshops. It also hosts meetings and seminar series which updates the students on ongoing research in different fields.

There are Postgraduate Research Student Conference Travel Funds for which students can apply to attend conferences held outside Manchester. This fund helped me cover the costs for attending the RSC Faraday Discussion 145 held at Cardiff in 2009. The Faraday Discussion is one of the prestigious events I have attended. It involves extensive discussions on the papers submitted and in most cases it was the experts in the field who raise questions or give comments. As a graduate student I was only observing these discussions, I had a few questions but I hesitated to ask them. Professor Michael Ashfold, University of Bristol, encouraged me to ask questions and gave a few tips on how to phrase my questions. With his help, I gained the courage to raise a question on one of the papers discussed the following day. Professor Ian Williams, University of Bath, appreciated my effort and said that I was the first graduate student to raise a question at that Faraday Discussion. It was a memorable experience and I thank The University of Manchester for providing me with the funding to attend this conference.

The University offers plenty of opportunities and my advice to students would be to make the best out of it. Get involved, attend workshops and meetings, network and expand your horizon.

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