Interviews with Scientists: Dr Caroline Copeland
Dr Caroline Copeland is a lecturer in Neuropharmacology at the Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education at St George’s, and is currently setting up her first research lab focusing upon mechanisms of thalamocortical synchrony.
Dr Copeland has published several research articles, reviews and book chapters, including publications in The Journal of Physiology, Neuropsychopharmacology and Neuropharmacology, and has also attracted funding from the Royal Society to commence her research.
Hello Caroline, it’s great to talk to you! Let’s start by asking, what was your PhD in?
I did a PhD in Neuropharmacology at UCL (2009-2013) in Prof Thomas Salt’s lab. My research focused on examining how the Group II metabotropic receptors modulate the transmission of somatosensory information in the thalamus.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?
My aspiration as a child was to become a postman, all that fresh air and exercise looked very appealing! I achieved this aim at the grand age of 16 when I became a post(wo)man as a summer job, so I had to start thinking of others things I could do.
What made you want to pursue a career in your particular field?
When I was about 16 I was thinking about applying to study medicine at university, and arranged various clinical work experiences. I found that during my time on the wards, I was far more interested in how the various disorders and diseases were caused, and how the treatments worked. It became increasingly apparent that we desperately need new medications for treating mental health disorders, and I decided to focus on the laboratory side researching human disease.
What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?
When you are going to PhD interviews, you should also be interviewing your potential supervisor in return: are they someone that you can work with? The PhD student-supervisor relationship is a very important determinant in how much you will enjoy working on your PhD, and its outcomes.
What did you enjoy most about your PhD?
I enjoyed the feeling that I was doing experiments that nobody else had ever done before. This thought kept me going whilst sat in a windowless room with my head in my electrophysiology rig for hours on end.
Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment…
I'm just starting up my first independent research lab at St George's, University of London, where I will be using electrophysiology and optogenetic methods to investigate how the different layers of the cortex communicate with each other, both in health and disease.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
As I'm just starting up, it's an awful lot of grant writing trying to get the money to get myself in the lab on a regular basis. Once I have the funding (fingers crossed!), it will likely be two long days a week doing the electrophysiology experiments, with other shorter days in between prepping for performing the experiments, and analysing the data. I also teach pharmacology and neuroscience on undergraduate courses at St George's, which I very much enjoy.
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
Probably something that still has experimental and creative elements, something like architecture.
Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?
I play the trumpet in a brass band, rehearsing weekly and playing a variety of gigs around London. In the run up to Christmas we are booked for over 50 gigs, so if you hear a brass band playing some carols whilst out and about, there's a chance I'll be in there!
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
All the new tools and technologies that are being developed are really exciting, as they are enabling us to delve deeper and learn more about neuronal function, and that has never before been possible.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
It may not be the most obvious choice, but all my friends who are post-docs who work so incredibly hard, all the time. The hours that they are spending in the lab, including evenings and weekends, to try and get that last bit of data for the big paper that they so desperately need. It's tough to succeed in academia, and the tenacity that they all possess aiming to get there really is inspiring to see.
What’s your favourite science quote?
The quote is quite a long one, and it comes from Charles Sherrington in his book Man on his Nature where he is describing what might be happening in the brain upon waking. It's just such a beautiful picture that he paints: “The great topmost sheet of the mass, that where hardly a light had twinkled or moved, becomes now a sparkling field of rhythmic flashing points with trains of travelling sparks hurrying hither and thither. The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns. “
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
I would say the cloning and expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in mammalian cells. It's revolutionised anatomical investigations, and in its circularly permuted forms it has been engineered to sense calcium, thus enabling functional characterisation of cellular physiologies as well.
Find out more about Dr Copeland here and read the papers that she has published since receiving funding from The Wellcome Trust: