Jonathan: PhD Biosciences

Jonathan, a PhD Biosciences student, describes his experiences of being a doctoral research student in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham.


My name is Jonathan Cox. I’m a doctoral researcher in the School of Biosciences in the Institute of Microbiology and Infection, and I work on antibiotic drug discovery and tuberculosis.

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Birmingham and applied all over the country, but the PhD that most interested me was this one because – of all the ones that I applied for, because this one was in collaboration with an industrial partner, GlaxoSmithKline, and it meant that I’ve been able to spend, during my PhD, a year in Madrid, researching at their drug discovery headquarters in Tres Cantos, Madrid.

It’s excellent, actually. Every day is different. You never know what it is that you’re going to be doing in the lab or whether you’re going to be in the office, dealing with paperwork – but, happily, there’s not too much of that to deal with in the long-term. It’s very interesting. Every single day you’re trying to think about how you can move your research forward and how you can solve the problems that have come up the previous day, and, although sometimes it can be difficult, ultimately, if you’re interested and passionate about your research problem, it’s very easy to find the motivation to keep working.

We have a very strong postgraduate community in the School of Biosciences.  We have a lot of events that are run within the school, such as we have the Biosciences Graduate Research Conference, which has just run last week, which is organised by graduate students within the school, for graduate students, and that is a really nice, aside from being a social event, it’s a very nice opportunity for people to be able to talk about their research and put it onto a national platform, which has been extremely useful within the school.  But there are a number of events such as that that run throughout the year.

My favourite thing about my PhD, without a doubt, is the sense of satisfaction you get at receiving the email that says, ‘Your paper has been accepted.’  That is an amazing feeling, when years and years of work go into a publication and it’s accepted in press and is presented to your peers in the scientific community. That is the best feeling, and I’m lucky enough to have done it three times so far, and I’ve got two more in the pipeline. It’s – yeah, that is the best feeling. Aside from that, waking up every morning, knowing that the research that you’re doing, long-tem, makes a difference, and will do something positive to society and, to be honest, I can’t see a better job in the world. Getting paid for doing something that you’re interested in, but also that benefits other people – there isn’t a better job than that.

I am very passionate about the work that I do. I’m extremely interested in antibiotic drug discovery and, thankfully, my PhD has been very successful, and it’s led to the identification of around 300 new antibiotics that kill tuberculosis. So, as a result, there’s an awful lot of validation and an awful lot of work that still needs to be done in order to bring these antibiotics to a platform where they can be used in clinical implementation, so my intention is to continue to do this work as a post-doc and to bring as many of these antibiotics to the public forum as possible.