Kay Penicud

Favourite Thing: Show your hunch for how something could work was right (finding out your idea was wrong is less fun!)

Me and my work

I’m a PhD student working on why cells don’t always repair damaged DNA properly and how this can lead to cancer.

Cells are the building blocks of your body. Every cell has DNA, which is the instuctions telling the cells what to do. You’ve probably all heard that smoking and too much sunbathing can cause cancer. The reason they can is because they can damage your cells’ DNA. This lead to your cells receieving ‘wrong’ instructions. This  can lead to cancer. Its important therefore to fix your DNA when it gets damaged. The question I’m trying to answer is how cells know their DNA is damaged, and how they fix it.

My Typical Day

Arrive about 9ish, grow some cells, have coffee, damage the cells’ DNA, have lunch, look at the cells under the microscope, leave around 7ish.

 I tend to arrive anytime between 8 and 10 depending on how early I need to get experiments started and how late I went to bed the evening before! I spend most of my day ‘at the bench’ which means wearing a white labcoat. I grow cells which have come from tumours in big incubators. Most of my experiments last a couple of days, so I tend to juggle doing a few at once. A standard experiment I do a lot has several stages:

First of all I’ll spend two days turning off specific genes in the cancer cells. Then once thats done, I’ll add chemicals to the cells to damage their DNA. Then, I spent two days staining the different parts of the DNA and things in the cell that repair the proteins differnt colours. Finally, I look at the cells (in their multi-coloured glory!) under a microscope to see how well they are repairing their DNA (and therefore if the genes I turned off at the beginning are needed to repair the DNA). 

I also might go to a seminar (a talk from a visiting scientist about their work), have a meeting with my boss, spend a while reading experiments other people have done, plus my cells need to be fed and put into new containers every other day….

What I'd do with the money

I’d use the money to fund going on a conference (meeting other scientists researching similar topics to myself – so DNA Damage and Cancer)

When scientists talk about conferences, they mean when groups of scientists from all over the world, that research similar areas of science, get together to talk about their work. Scientists give talks, and I know that all sounds a little boring it is actually very useful and interesting to hear other peoples ideas! People tend to be pretty friendly, and they’re normally held in places you’d want to visit anyway.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Half-Irish Londoner

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went around Kenya on a football tour with my uni team. We had a whole load of fun playing lots of football, went on safari, saw lots of the coast. I’d definitely go back!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) Get a ticket to Glastonbury this year. 2) Never have to do any housework ever again. 3) Bottomless bank account

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t really know, I decided to do science at uni because I’ve always been fascinated by how the human body works.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not that much, sometimes for talking in lessons

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Last year I spent a week in Germany and met students from all over Europe. It was fun to meet so many people from different backgrounds.

Tell us a joke.

Why did the dinosaur cross the road? Because chickens weren’t invented yet.