Ever since I was a child, I have always wanted to become a doctor, and I can honestly say that I still feel truly vocational and passionate about my chosen career. After completing my medical undergraduate training at Cambridge, I decided to train in Paediatrics, initially completing an SHO rotation at Guys/St Thomas’ Hospital. I then undertook subspecialty training in Paediatric Neurology at a number of different centres including Dublin, Birmingham and Belfast. I found that working in different places, with a number of different neurologists gave me excellent clinical training, as well as broad exposure to child neurology. Towards the end of my clinical training, in my early thirties, I was hugely drawn to the idea of research. I had come to the realization that a significant proportion of children with childhood neurological disorders did not have a firm diagnosis accounting for their underlying symptoms and there was a frustrating lack of both curative and disease modifying therapies for these children.
Research and PhD
In the final year of my Neurology Grid training I was fortunate enough to meet Paul Gissen, who at the time had just started an intermediate fellowship at Birmingham University. He introduced me to Professor Eamonn Maher and I joined his genetics group in 2007 to undertake a project looking to identify novel genes causing neurological disorders of childhood. After securing seed funding from Birmingham Children’s Hospital Springboard Fellowship scheme and BDF Newlife, I started in the lab, learning new skills in molecular genetics. I absolutely loved the laboratory environment and soon came to the realization that it was a great avenue through which I could explore some of the questions regarding aetiology and causation that were a constant theme in my clinical practice. After around 7 months in the lab, I secured an Action Medical Research Training Fellowship which allowed me to complete my PhD in 2010.
Becoming a consultant neurologist and clinician scientist
A few months into my PhD I was pretty sure I wanted to continue down the clinical academic track. I loved the research laboratory but also loved seeing my patients and really wanted to try and work out a career path that allowed me to do both. In 2011, we moved to London so I could set up at Great Ormond Street as an academic consultant paediatric neurologist with 20:80 clinical:academic divide. Setting up independently as a Principal Investigator was the hardest career move I have ever had to make. I found balancing a new research group with the responsibilities of a new consultant and my own young family pretty challenging. In 2012 I secured a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellowship, which provided me with the momentum to establish my own lab and research group. Within my group, I currently have a mixture of clinical research fellows, PhD/MSc students and post-doctoral fellows. Our research now focuses on identification of novel genes causing neurological disorders of childhood as well as using cell and animal models to elucidate disease mechanisms and explore novel treatment strategies.
Work and family
I married David in 2002 and we now have two beautiful daughters, Imogen, born in 2007 and Allegra in 2011. Words cannot express how much I love our family life, and being Mum to our girls. Like all working parents, managing career and family is a constant juggle, but we have found a good balance, and it certainly seems to get easier as the girls get older.