For those of you who AREN’T interested in the epic tale to follow, here is the reason for this blog in a nutshell:
My grandpa has a Ph.D in entomolgy and has inspired me to follow in the same route. After working at a vector control agency I have become interested in medical entomology. I have applied to the London School of Hygience and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Liverppol School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) as they are the top in the medical entomology field. I’ve dreamed of going to one of those schools since I was a bachelors student at Cal Poly in 2005. In short, I’ve been accepted to LSTM and will be leaving to meet my potential new professors and see the school this Thursday. If all goes well, hopefuly I will be moving to England at the beginning of next year and will be studying Phlebotomine sandflies and leishmaniasis. This blog is to talk about the joys and trials of getting a Ph.D and going to another country to do that. This will be an American student in England sorta deal and if you are interested in that, please, do read on.
And now for the long story:
Since I have to give a bit of background for why I decided to start this blog, this post may get a little long. Sorry about that.
To start at the VERY beginning I’ll have to explain a little about my family and how I grew up. My grandpa is a entomology professor at Cal Poly Pomona. I was raised by my grandparents and spent most of my childhood at various insect fairs and helping to raise our menagerie of reptiles, insects, cats, dogs, mice, etc. Some of my fondest early memories are of working at the insect fair, coaxing people to hold tarantulas, scorpions and so on. My grandma taught me the meaning of the word Diptera when I was very young.
As I grew up I flirted with many other career ideas. As a grade school student I wanted to be a veterinarian, a chef, a ballet dancer, a doctor. By the time I was in high school I thought that I would be a pediatrician. Until that is, I found that I didn’t really care for children and I didn’t really want to go into such a competitive field as medicine. So, basically, that idea died pretty quickly. By the time I was a senior I knew that I would go to Cal Poly to major in Agricultural Biology and from there I would continue on to get my Ph.D in entomology. This, of course, made my grandpa really happy as I was essentially following in his footsteps. I even got to take classes from him at Cal Poly. From my senior year on that goal has not changed (although it wavered a bit when I debated if I really wanted to get a Ph.D. Grad school is HARD).
As a Ag. Bio. major it is required that you do an internship. As my grandpa has a Ph.D in entomology and teaches Ag. Bio. he has a lot of contacts in our field. He called up an old friend, Dr. Webb, who ran the Orange County Vector Control District (OCVCD) at the time to see if there were any internships available. This proved to be the first step on the path I chose to be my life.
Vector Control agencies do surveillance and control of insects pests such as mosquitoes and ants. They monitor the disease frequency of arthropod borne diseases such as West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, plague and many more. I fell in love with this type of research and decided then that I would focus on medical entomology for my Ph.D. It was from some of the personnel at OCVCD that I learned about the London and Liverpool schools of tropical medicine and that they were the top school in the world for medical entomoloy research. It was at that point that I vowed that one day I would go to one of these schools. This was back in the summer of 2005.
I continued with that dream for many years, through getting my bachelors and now through my masters. I went to the University of California, Riverside to get my Masters, focusing on mosquitoes as they are vector insects. As I got my masters I never forgot about the London and Liverpool schools and read papers hoping to come up with a good research proposal idea to send them. I wasn’t really sure if I would ever actually make it to those schools and it wasn’t until my major professor offered to help me with the application that I became excited.
And then I realized I still had to come up with an idea. I had thought at first that I would study mosquitoes that were the vectors of malaria. I was, and still am, really interested in malarial mosquitoes and though I think the idea of a vaccine is nice it is still way in the future before that is a viable option. Control measures I needed NOW. Unfortunately malaria is a well researched area.
I was about to despair of ever coming up with a novel idea for a research proposal until fairly recently. In January of 2009 I took a class called Medical and Veterinary Entomology. We were assigned a really interesting paper on the use of zooprophylaxis (as defined by WHO: “the use of wild or domestic animals, which are not the reservoir hosts of a given disease, to divert the blood-seeking mosquito vectors from the human hosts of that disease.”) with Phlebotomine sandflies. I had read some papers that had used zooprophylaxis and pesticides with malarial mosquitoes to not only divert the mosquitoes from people but also reduce the population in the area. I decided I could do something like that with sandflies. And voila! I had a proposal.
Some people might wonder why I would abandon my old passions of researching malarial mosquitoes to go to sandflies. It is true that some people feel that mosquitoes are more important as they are the carriers of much more horrendous diseases like malaria, dengue, yellow fever, West Nile, etc. But sandflies and leishmaniasis are a severely underresearched group. Don’t believe me. Go look up leishmaniasis in Google Scholar. And then look up malaria in the same engine. Go ahead. No really. Go! I’ll wait.
So, what did you find? For myself I found 150,000 reserach papers on leishmaniasis listed (this was in November of 2009). That’s a rather respectable number, I’ll admit. What did you find for malaria? As of November 10, 2009 I found that there were 998,000 papers that related to malaria. That is over 6 times more that leishmaniasis. So, the competition in that field is much less than in the malaria field and we have already established that I’m not that fond of too much competition.
So I sent my applications off to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). After a couple of agonizing months of waiting I got an email from LSHTM. I was excited when I saw it. Ecstatic even! Then I read it and my world was plunged into DARKNESS and DESPAIR. Unfortunately, although my application was strong and I was a good candidate, there was no one available to take me on as a Ph.D student in my field. I’ll admit I spent a rather large portion of that day sobbing.
As for LSTM, I had not heard from them in over 3 months. I had just about given up hope when I decided to email them and see if anything became of my application. Rebecca Riley, the nice lady in the registry said she would track down what had happened to my application for me and get back to me soon. I then got an email from Dr. Rod Dillon. He was interested in my proposal and application.
We spent the next few weeks chatting through email and had one nice skype conversation with Dr. Philip McCall who is also interested in my research. To sum it all up, they’ve accepted my application.
I’m going to Liverpool. The dream continues! In fact, I leave for Liverpool on Thursday to meet my potential new professors and see the school. Hopefully we all like each other and hopefully, come next year, I shall be a new expat in England.
That’s it for now. I’ll be keeping this up to date on the trials and tribulations of getting a student visa, moving to another country and getting a Ph.D.