My experience of the Janet Thornton Fellowship - Carla Jones-Bell

Wellcome Sanger Institute
Carla Jones-Bell, Janet Thornton Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute
Carla Jones-Bell, Janet Thornton Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

My experience of the Janet Thornton Fellowship - Carla Jones-Bell

The Janet Thornton Fellowship offers scientists who have taken a career break, for any reason, the opportunity to return to science with a high-quality, three-postdoctoral fellowship in one of our faculty research teams. Below Dr Carla Jones-Bell shares her experience of being a Janet Thornton Postdoctoral Fellow.

For context: how long was your career break?

After the birth of my children I took a six-year career break.

How long have you been working at Sanger Institute?

I have been working at Sanger for two years.

What was the most challenging thing about coming back to work?

I have always enjoyed new challenges and learning new skills, but coming back to academia was somewhat a leap of faith. The six years I was away from research had a big effect not only on my career, but also on how I saw myself as a scientist. It has been a great challenge to get my confidence back, to consolidate my past knowledge and with my newly acquired knowledge, develop a new scientific identity.

What was the first thing you mastered or remastered after joining Sanger Institute

On my first day back in the lab, I felt somewhat apprehensive with the idea of doing something wrong. Very quickly I realised that most of my practical skills had never left me and I was ready to learn the new skills I needed to develop my research. However I found that re-starting my scientific career meant that I needed to constantly look for opportunities to stretch myself in ways that didn’t always feel comfortable.

Tell me about some of your work that you are doing

I am interested in finding out how differences in our DNA affect our likelihood of developing certain diseases. There are over 200 regions (or loci) of the human genome that increase susceptibility to the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I am currently undertaking studies to investigate how these variations influence immune response and consequently how they contribute to IBD pathology. I am editing the genome of primary human T cells using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to evaluate cell function and transcriptional consequences of these alterations. I am also using powerful tools such as genome-wide CRISPR screens to better understand the differences in patient responses to drugs which are being used to treat IBD patients.

Is the fellowship what you expected?

In many ways, this fellowship is exactly what I expected; I have the scientific exchange, support and resources that I need to develop my research. In other ways this fellowship and the Institute are beyond my expectations. For example, the flexibility and support given to scientist parents to help them achieve their goals while defining their work-life balance.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working at Sanger?

There is a long list of things I like about working at Sanger. There are not many places in the world where we could perform research on the same scale and with the same creativity that we can at Sanger. But, just as important for me as its scientific excellence, is the Institute’s commitment to staff wellbeing, diversity and inclusion – all of which helps makes our science even more stimulating.

What does the Janet Thornton Fellowship programme mean to you?

After difficulties getting back into science, the Janet Thornton Fellowship programme has given me a second chance to fulfil my ambitions as a researcher.

Best advice to someone who’s thinking of applying to the Janet Thornton Fellowship programme

This simplest advice I could give is perhaps ‘just do it’, after all if you don’t try then you will never know. Talk to as many people as you can, it is very important to have open and honest conversations not only with those close to you but previous supervisors, colleagues, potential supervisors and so on before applying to this programme. Returning to academia is not an easy undertaking but having clear and realistic expectations will help smooth the transition back into scientific life. I would also advocate finding a mentor who will support you throughout this process.