Nicky Whiffin

Nicky Whiffin

Please briefly introduce yourself and what you are currently doing 

I very recently moved to Oxford to start a research group at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics (WHG). We use computational methods and large genetic datasets to try to understand why some people develop rare diseases. Understanding this underlying biology, can help with diagnosis, family screening, counselling, and finding personalised treatments.

When did you join St Anne’s and how have you found your time at the College? 

I joined St Anne’s in October of 2020 when I became a Junior Research Fellow with the Centre for Personalised Medicine (CPM). I really love this new role. The CPM is a platform for outreach, so this position gives me the opportunity to help organise events (including an upcoming conference on inequality in healthcare), and I have been helping to set up a new CPM blog.

What is your favourite place in Oxford?

Sadly, the pandemic has curtailed any plans to come to Oxford since starting my post at WHG in September so I have yet to discover a favourite spot. I look forward to getting some recommendations from other members of the college when I finally make it across from London.

What is your specialist subject and how did you become interested in this area? 

My interest in the genetics of rare disease came initially from my cousin, who sadly suffered from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I was fascinated about why this had happened to him, and I have always followed the huge progress in treatments for DMD over recent years. I am driven by the fact that my research can make a real difference to individual patients and their families – giving them answers, and even hope. I am also a huge geek, and I find computer coding really fun and immensely satisfying.

Have you found any challenges working in academia? If so, how have you overcome them?

Academia is no doubt challenging – we have to learn to be resilient and how to deal with rejection and failure. With all the downs, however, discovering something new and exciting and knowing how that could make a big difference is incredibly rewarding. This feeling more than offsets the challenges for me. I also have a group of amazing mentors, who have been immensely supportive through any issues, and chatting science with my team will always pick me up on a bad day!

What is your advice for any others looking to pursue academia?

Follow what you enjoy, surround yourself with people who support you, and always take care to take time off to reset. Finally, academia is not for everyone, and leaving is not failure – there are many equally rewarding jobs out there.

Have you joined St Anne’s from another institution? If so where and how do you find the two places differ?

Before joining WHG and St Anne’s at the end of last year I was a research fellow at Imperial College London. Imperial does not have the same collegiate set-up, and I am very excited to get more involved in college life when the pandemic allows.

What is your favourite way to relax?

I love to play (field) hockey, read, cook, and go hiking (preferably somewhere remote with a rewarding view at the top).