Onward and Upward – Making Progress Through COVID-19 Confinement

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Grace Russell, an alumni at UWE Bristol, has written an inspiring, motivating blog article. This article endeavours to spark you into getting your own career life on track and achieving what you want by making the most out of what you have and taking new opportunities as they come! Enjoy the read. 

An introduction  

Hi, I’m Grace, a recent graduate from the Biomedical Science Master’s (MSci) programme at UWE. I’m writing this blog as I have taken an unconventional path into my career as an academic.  

During the 4-year programme, I adapted to university life by becoming involved with my subject, the tutors, the technicians and administration staff alike, and poured a lot of energy into it. I became a student representative, founder of an academic society, landed two Summer internships, and produced a series of magazines. Sounds like a lot, looking back on it I can only admit that I am an ambitious person. I like to be busy, and I’m curious, not a ‘whodunnit’, but a ‘what does this do, and what does that do’ kind of person. 

Photo by Ian Schneider from unsplash

The process 

I was fortunate to find a great supervisor in Professor John Hancock, who mentored me through my undergraduate projects and instinctively knew how to tap into my potential and reveal the budding scientist within me. The great working rapport led to my first publication in the journal ‘Reactive Oxygen Species’. To my surprise, we made the front cover! To put this into context, I didn’t just ‘off-the-cuff’ write an article. I was taught how.  

The first Summer internship programme I did involved an 8-week investigation into biologically-active turmeric metabolites. It truly was an insight into how research is applied to business and commerce that we see in everyday life (FYI – I was a second-year undergrad and I had no idea what a career in research could look like). But, possibly the more valuable lesson I learned was how to conduct a professional and systematic review. This skill directly led to my first publication, which coincidentally was achieved through my second internship, directly funded and supported by the university and its staff. 

As you can imagine, I was chuffed at having my article accepted for publication; I wanted the world to see it. I recalled a seminar by Dr. Emmanuel Adukwu in my first year, who described how important it was to promote yourself and your work when building your career. The platform that stuck in my mind and seemed perfect for this purpose was ResearchGate. And so, I uploaded my paper onto here. 

Photo by Markus Winkler from unsplash

Making the most of everything 

Time went on and I completed the laboratory projects required for my qualifications. Then COVID-19 struck. I was nearing the end of the MSci course and thankfully had uploaded the work that was needed to complete the degree. Nevertheless, it was still an unnerving time – with COVID, everything was delayed. It was during this unstable time, that Prof. Hancock asked whether I’d like to write a review focussed on the potential benefits of hydrogen therapy for people suffering with COVID-19 symptoms. It was an extension to the project work; it was timely and interesting – and I said yes.

After 8-weeks of intensive study, meticulous planning and wide-reaching collaboration between colleagues in Pakistan, the UK and the US, our review on the effects of molecular hydrogen and how it could be implemented as a treatment for COVID-19 was accepted for publication – note: use the folks you have at your disposal – they genuinely want to help. 

Photo by Angela Compagnone from unsplash

Moving forward 

The third paper is a bit of a blur to be honest. As I had been working on the effect of hydrogen on the activity dehydrogenase enzymes in nematodes, my supervisor asked if I would like to contribute to an article, he and a colleague were putting together for a journal called ‘Plants’. I had little to do at this point as we were all in lockdown, so I said yes. My supervisor (Professor Hancock) had the idea and the contacts in the realm of publishing, whilst I and the other authors all contributed to the writing and editing of the piece. I now have access to the editorial teams of two international journals and can confidently approach them, developing my professional network and building my profile as a respected academic in my chosen field of study. 

Once each article had been accepted for publication, I again uploaded them onto ResearchGate; this proved to be a great decision. Not only have thousands of people worldwide read our work, but it inspired a company director to contact me and ask whether I would be willing to work alongside their team with a view to carrying out the research they needed to validate their device as a medical product.  After a few online meetings, we agreed on a plan of action that included PhD funding. Letters of intent have been sent, and I’m working on extra funding applications. It’s a busy time. Throughout the current restrictions, I am keeping myself engaged with research by working evenings and weekends, and I now have two further papers in the final stages of editing. The next step is to submit the final manuscripts for peer-review.  

Photo by Susan Yin from unsplash

Onward and upward! 

It’s now a year since COVID-19 first hit the news. What a difficult time it has been for us all. Having secured a part-time position in retail before lockdown two, I have been able to continue my research whilst also maintaining a modicum of financial security through these testing times. By purposefully staying at home, I have had the opportunity to focus on academic study and the emerging role of molecular hydrogen in cellular systems. I have continued to liaise with a company who would like to sponsor further research in this area, and we are at the final editing stage of our first collaborative review (link below). This is really exciting as this field of research is in its infancy, with only a handful of researchers working on this subject globally, and thus our efforts are genuinely contributing to the advancement of medical science. 

I’ve also been accredited by the Molecular Hydrogen Institute as an advisor, and hope to complete the consultancy exam in the near future. And, as I’ve had an awful lot of time being at home, I have authored two more articles recently that are in the final stages of editing and due to be submitted this month. Whilst continued collaboration with both international and business colleagues has allowed me to co-author two more publications, I am currently undergoing the peer-review process.  

Finally, what does the future look like? Lambert Academic Publishing have offered to publish my first book, and I have been asked to present on stage at the Med-Tech International Conference in September. Here’s to better and brighter times ahead!

Photo by Damian Park Kim from unsplash

Final note 

The future is yours and you have the power to shape it.

For me, an important part of growing as an academic, a business woman and a scientist, is to find a subject that makes you ask questions. Connect with people who inspire you, ask them if they have the answers to your questions, be inquisitive, and be bold. In my experience, this opens doors.

Continue believing in your dreams and give them strength in a world that was built to challenge you.  

Thanks for reading.  

Please find the links to our journal articles below. 

First author:

Is glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase a central redox mediator? By Russell, Grace; Veal, David; Hancock, John T.

An overview of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection and the importance of molecular hydrogen as an adjunctive therapy By Russell, G., Rehman, M., LeBaron, T. W., Veal, D., Adukwu, E., & Hancock, J. (2020).

Hydrogenases and the Role of Molecular Hydrogen in Plants By Grace Russell, Faisal Zulfiqar and John T. Hancock.

Collaborative: 

Herbal Teas and their Health Benefits: A Scoping Review By Fatima S Poswal, Grace Russell, Marion Mackonochie, Euan MacLennan, Emmanuel C Adukwu, Vivien Rolfe.

You can keep up with my research or contact me on here

Written by Grace Russell 

Grace graduated from UWE in 2020 with distinction after studying Biomedical Science (Msci) for a total of four years. She lives and works in Somerset, UK, where she has set up her own company – Avalon Research Consultancy Ltd, providing editing, manuscript formatting and proofreading and publication services. 

Grace’s research interests include natural and sustainable healthcare products, including the new and emerging medical gases, molecular and oxy-hydrogen. Much of her academic focus has involved investigating the molecular mechanisms and downstream cellular effects associated both culinary herbs and the aforementioned gaseous compounds. 

Currently, like most people, Grace is waiting for the world to open up again, before she can fulfil her next goal, gaining a PhD. 

From the editors: Wow. What a great read! It is so inspiring and challenging (in a positive way, of course) to see someone doing so well, especially during such difficult times! It is a real testament to the fact that persistence and passion will take you a long way and it’s great to hear Grace’s journey since graduating from UWE. We hope you are also bursting to get your career rolling and your dreams fulfilled as the only one you need to get on board is yourself. 

We are eager to have more contributors so please do get in touch if you have an article you would like to release (like Grace has) or join our team of writers. Interested? Please get in touch via email – ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk. Also connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter

Enjoy the new month of February!  

Until next time, keep well and stay safe. 

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