Get to know… your Comms Team

Want to know more about the students working behind the scenes to cover events, create newsletters and keep you up to date with everything WRDTP? Look no further!

Katie Hardman – Lead

I am a third-year PhD student in the Pliotas group at the University of Leeds. Our research aims to characterise the structure and function of mechanosensitive (MS) membrane proteins, i.e., those that sense tension in the membrane, rather than (or as well as) classical forms of stimuli. My work looks at tracking conformational transitions of MS GPCRs using a spectroscopic technique called electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). More recently, I have been trying to determine the 3D structure of a MS ion channel by cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Before I started my PhD, I completed a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology at Leeds, and I also worked as a research assistant.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my PhD has been the opportunity to teach undergraduate students. I demonstrate in lab practicals for several modules, and I have also had numerous third-year undergrads complete their research projects in our group. I love breaking down complex ideas into digestible ones and seeing students progress with my help. This is why I think science communication is so important and is the reason I joined the comms team in the first place!

When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy listening to music, going to gigs, cooking and hiking.


Emma White – Lead

I am a third year PhD student in the Plants, Photosynthesis and Soil cluster group at the University of Sheffield (Fleming Lab). My research involves studying the structure and development of wheat leaves using 3D and 2D microscopy techniques and assessing how variation in architecture affects water-use efficiency. Previously, I completed an MBiol in Biotechnology and Microbiology at the University of York.

The coolest part of my PhD is the range of things that I get to do; from confocal imaging and 3D image analysis, to CRISPR-Cas9 editing of wheat, to being out in a field for a week clamping a gas exchange analyser to hundreds of leaves! I am passionate about plant science and sustainable agriculture, so I can definitely see myself continuing in this area of research after I have completed my PhD. That being said, I am very enthusiastic about science communication and writing and would also love to continue doing this in the future, such as writing for a popular science magazine or online media!

When I am not in the lab or thinking about science, I’m probably out on a hike with my camera, reading fantasy novels, or playing videogames (I am slightly embarrassed by the number of hours I have managed to rack up on Skyrim and Breath of the Wild)!


Becky Menday

I am a second year PhD student at the University of Sheffield within the Bullough and Fagan lab groups where I am studying the 3D structure of bacteriophages using cryoEM to investigate the molecular details of their infection process. I previously did my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Sheffield studying Biochemistry and Microbiology.

I was keen to become a member of the Communication Team so as to broaden my skill set and be a part of something related to my PhD in a non-science setting. That being said, I really enjoy the use of CryoEM in my PhD and getting to blast my samples with electrons to determine their structures. I am an avid reader, enjoy walks in the many parks Sheffield has to offer and absolutely love a movie duvet day every now and again to re-set my brain ready for more science. My current future career plans are unclear as I am just trying to focus on completing my PhD!


Iso Hurst

I am a second year PhD student in the Muench group and the Astbury Biostructure Laboratory at the University of Leeds. The aim of my project is to increase our understanding of the causes of sample damage during sample preparation for cryo electron microscopy and use this information to find better sample preparation techniques. Before I came to Leeds, I did a BSc in Biochemistry at the University of Bristol with a year in industry at Diamond Light Source in Oxford – where I first got hooked by structural biology!

The coolest part of my PhD is the freedom to just give things a go. I love Friday afternoon experiments, putting some music on and trying out some random idea that will almost definitely not work. I also love the moments in data processing where I get my first 2D classes and then the first 3D model – it’s like opening a present! (these are steps in the process of generating a model of your protein from the 2D images of protein particles in the micrographs collected from the microscope).

I joined the comms team so I could try my hand at some written scientific communication. I think  communication about science is so important to maintain trust in scientific research and to keep research relevant to society as a whole, so it’s something I’m passionate about contributing to now, and potentially as a job in the future.

Apart from science, I’m learning German and try to spend a lot of my time there. I also enjoy running and going to the pub (not at the same time).


Gemma Banister

I am a second year PhD student in the Boucher Lab at the University of York. Our lab studies an innate immune signalling pathway called the non-canonical inflammasome! This pathway can recognise intracellular bacteria during infection and start an inflammatory response. My project focuses on how the bacterial molecule lipopolysaccharide is recognised by this pathway inside the cell and how this affects the downstream response. Before coming to York, I did a BA in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

I joined the comms team because I wanted to get more involved in the DTP and thought this would give me good experience in scientific communication, writing and an understanding of how the DTP works behind the scenes.

One of my favourite things about my PhD is trying to come up with new ideas for projects and learning how to come up with new ideas and plans when problems come up, and following my curiosity. I also love the cool experiences that come with a PhD such as conferences, placements and undergrad teaching.

Outside of the lab, I love to dance! Almost every night of the week you’ll find me doing ballroom and latin dancing with the University of York society and competing on weekends! It can be very busy but I love it and love having something else to work towards outside of the lab.

I’m not sure about my career plans but I am exploring options and hoping to use my PIPS placement to experience a different type of work outside of my PhD.