Samantha Decombel, BSc Biological Sciences (Genetics)

Samantha - BSc Biological Sciences (Genetics) alumna
'Birmingham helped me develop a wide range of transferable skills outside of my academic studies'
Samantha Decombel

Current role

I am currently running my own company called PlayDNA Ltd. which I set up in March 2010 as a result of support I received from the University of Birmingham.

I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Genetics from the University of Birmingham in 2002. I continued my studies at Birmingham, doing a PhD analysing gene flow in populations of rice. After graduation, I applied for the role of a Medici Fellow at Birmingham, and spent a year training in business activities such as finance, marketing and intellectual property alongside a more active role assisting Birmingham academics in the commercialisation of their research. I really enjoyed this role as it combined my two passions, science and enterprise.

Following this I secured a role working as a Technology Transfer Manager at the University of Reading, where I continued to apply my skills in science and business, aiding academics in securing funding, attracting investors and spinning out new companies based on their research ideas.

It was during my time at Reading that I stumbled on the idea of DNA Art after an article on it was bought to my attention by a friend. After initial excitement at what a great concept this was, I was disappointed to realise that the 'profile' produced had no forensic capability, couldn't tell you anything about yourself, and there were no distinguishing features to even guarantee that it was yours! At this point I considered how I would have done it differently, leaning on the experience gained during my PhD of genotyping plant material.

After pondering on it for a while, it was a chance opportunity through the BSEEN programme at the University of Birmingham that finally set me on the road to setting up my own business - creating DNA artwork with real meaning!

Outline the course you studied at the University of Birmingham and how it benefited you?

Samantha - BSc Biological Sciences (Genetics) alumnaI studied for a BSc (Genetics) at the School of Biosciences followed by a PhD investigating gene flow in rice populations. During my time at Birmingham I benefited from access to a wide range of opportunities for personal development as well as the more obvious academic support. From developing organisational skills and confidence in my role as School Sports Rep to participating in confidence building away days in the Lake District, there was so much on offer. Birmingham helped me develop a wide range of transferable skills outside of my academic studies, many of which I am now putting into practice in setting up and running my own business!

How did you find your first year in Birmingham?

My first year at Birmingham was a real culture shock. I went from having planned lessons and assigned homework to having to think and plan and organise my own time. One of the greatest skills I feel I've developed at Birmingham is my ability to organise my own time to get the most out of it.

How did going to University as a whole benefit you?

Going to University has made me a much more rounded person. It was my first experience of being given the responsibility to plan my own development, and there were numerous opportunities to do that at Birmingham. I met a broad range of people during my studies from all cultures, religions and backgrounds, which has made me more aware and tolerant as an individual. I had so many opportunities to pursue my other passions including playing University Sport (starting out in the weekly Active Lifestyle classes and progressing to playing for the Uni team in BUSA!). It was a gentle introduction to independence, living with other students of my own age and coping with living away from home for the first time together. Plus it was great fun! 

How did you find campus life?

With everything being self-contained the campus surroundings gave Birmingham a real community feeling. We would walk to our lectures together, have lunch on campus and even pop to the Guild for a drink or night out. 

How did you find living in Birmingham?

Birmingham is a great place to live, it has the best shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife outside of London, and the student community is overwhelming friendly and welcoming. You feel part of a huge family!  

Did you join any student societies during your studies?

I played football for the Women's 2nd Football team during my PhD despite never having had any professional training of any kind in my life. I'd always enjoyed having a kick about with the boys in the park, and I got the opportunity to play competitively for real for a cause I really cared about (MY University!). I was even made captain in my final year, which was a real honour. It was a great break from my academic studies, and I really looked forward to Wednesday afternoons! Birmingham has such a great range of sports you're bound to find something that you can excel at.

Any tips to pass on to students thinking of coming here?

As well as being one of the top Universities in the country, Birmingham is a beautiful place to live and study, and has the advantage of being one of the few real campus-based Universities. As well as its reputation for academic excellence, Birmingham also offers you real opportunities to pursue your other passions, especially in sport.

What are your aspirations for the future?

Establish and expand my company in the short term. Long term I'd love to do more science outreach work with schools and universities as science communication is a real passion of mine.