Female scientist in a lab

Meet Lizzy Morritt

Female scientist in a lab

An Interview with Lizzy Morritt

Lizzy Morritt graduated from Lancaster University with an MSci in Biomedicine in 2022. She is a first year DiMeN DTP PhD student at the University of York researching Haematology and Haematological malignancies. Her research focuses on fine-tuning blood cell development; using antibodies as surrogate cytokines to modify receptor activation and signalling in haematopoiesis.

This interview took place in November 2022, when she had just begun her PhD.

When you were studying at school, were you already a Biology enthusiast?

Yeah, it was ever since I was about 14 when I started my GCSEs. I was pretty set from then. I knew I was going to study Biology, Chemistry, and Maths at A-level, and that I wanted to go into Biology in the future. I really liked science and maths and I wasn’t that ‘Englishy’, and from quite a young age I sort of knew that I wanted to do cancer research, which is what I’m doing now …

Did you have any science teachers at school that were inspirational or showed you the possibilities of what you could do at university?

In my A-levels one of my Chemistry teachers was a science doctor: he had done his PhD, gone and worked in industry and then decided he wanted to teach, so that was always quite an inspiration. It showed me that Science is a broad path, it's not one route, you can change your mind during your career. And my biology teacher at A level was a great teacher and really brought the subject to life. He told me that he could see that I was a keen Biologist, that I really had a passion for it. I had a real fascination in how the human body works and answering the question of why does something cause this or that disease? Why is it, that one tiny thing changes and you get ill?

When you first started down the Biology route you went more toward ecology conservation. But then at some point, you switched towards biomedicine, why is that?

I initially nearly did natural sciences in Biomedicine and Environmental Science, which would have been the Ecology route. But I think in my A-levels, I found the cell work a lot more interesting and it was anatomy that really interested me, how the heart works, how the kidneys work … I really liked the cell cycle and mitosis and that kind of thing, so I think when I knew that those were the areas that interested me more than, say, sand dunes, I also realised that was more the Biomedicine side. So, I started to research it and even though I hadn’t studied them before, the modules in Biomedicine all sounded really interesting.

Your passion for Biology and especially the human body could have pointed to medical career. Why didn’t Medicine appeal to you?

If I wanted to go into Medicine now, I would be perfectly capable of going into graduate Medicine, but as an A-level student I wasn't comfortable enough to go down the Medicine route. I just didn't want that extra pressure, and I didn't have a massive desire to do Medicine, more the science behind it. So that's what linked me to Biomedicine.

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You studied Biomedicine, not Biomedical Science, what was the thinking there? Because some people believe their degree has got to be accredited.

I never really wanted to work in the NHS in a lab, and from quite early on, I was very driven by the fact that I wanted to do research, though I don't think it was until my third year that I realised I wanted to do a PhD. But studying Biomedical Science felt to me like it would have narrowed down my options and I thought I’d rather have flexibility over the accreditation. I also initially applied to the placement year and that wasn’t offered on the Biomedical Science degree programme.

Choosing Biomedicine also meant that I could switch to the MSci at the end.

You did the (MSci) Integrated-Master’s. Tell us a bit about that then.

I had the grades to be able to convert, so for me it was a simple transition. Then that fourth year was just the best. It’s 50/50 taught modules and a research project.

I thought about doing a separate Master’s. But it was an entire year, and I just wanted the academic year. It's the same modules that you do on the separate MSc as you do on the MSci. I think a lot of people think stand-alone Master’s are better, and in some ways, they potentially are. But for me, I wanted to do a PhD, and so it was more about the experience. I had research experience and enthusiasm, and that was more important than whether I'd done it integrated or separately.

I really enjoyed my Integrated-Master's because you take the theory from the second- and third-year and apply it to research in those research modules. Learning about different research techniques and different equipment you'd use and why. I think it's set me up better for my PhD because I know a lot of people can go straight from a Bachelor's to a PhD, but I wouldn’t have been ready.

Close up of female scientist, Lizzy Morrett in a lab

At what point did you realise you wanted to do a PhD and how did you go about applying for it?

I really liked bringing together results and showing what it means, and I enjoyed writing my thesis, which people don't usually enjoy, but I was so proud of myself, and I enjoyed talking about what I'd done. At that point, I realised I did want to do research. Then when the Lancaster University internships opened including the North West Cancer Research ones I submitted my application, and got a place. This was for eight weeks between third- and fourth-year and I loved it. As soon as it was done, I knew that I wanted to continue doing research, and that meant a PhD.

What programme are you on now then?

It’s called DiMeN – Discovery Medicine North and is a Doctoral Training Programme. They fund 40 students each year. I'm very lucky because I'm on an iCASE PhD, which means I'm partnered with industry, so I'm partnered with Cancer Research UK and AstraZeneca, in a little lab based in Cambridge and I will spend a minimum of three months across four years there. Which means I get to go down and use all their equipment. It also means they have a say in what I do, so I talk to them regularly. They're shipping me some Plasmid vectors and antibodies this weekend for me to use in some of my experiments.

With a PhD, it's your own project, but it's basically four years of training you to be a research scientist in as many different areas as possible, as many techniques as possible, in different data analysis software, for example. Obviously, it's relevant to your project, but you're constantly learning, and you could be in your fourth year, you're about to finish and you'll still be learning new stuff. They don't just set you free, they help you out.

As well as being well-qualified academically, do you think anything else helped with your application to get this very competitive post?

One thing with my internship at Lancaster was it was the start of a new project collaboration. So, I was exposed to all the preliminary data, and I'd written a thesis from it. Then I did all the extra things: I was a student ambassador, and I was an academic Rep, so I had an insight into the degrees and how they work. It enabled me to talk respectfully with senior members of staff. At the interview I was able to tell them about how I have presenting and communication skills because I did a lot of talks as an ambassador.