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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Meet the Postgraduate – Raphaella Jackson

In this student blog, we spoke to Raphaella Jackson, who is currently undertaking a Bioinformatics MSc at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS). She is a citizen of three countries – Canada, United States and New Zealand.

Bioinformatics student Raphaella Jackson

Bioinformatics student Raphaella Jackson

Prior to studying at Queen Mary, Raphaella received a dual undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia (BSc in Genetics, BA in French) and spent a year teaching at a high school in Paris.

Why did you choose to study Bioinformatics?

During my Genetics degree I had a class on Bioinformatics and I found I was particularly well suited to it. I enjoyed all my classes, but I found that Bioinformatics was especially enthralling. I grew up with both of my parents being computer engineers and being determined to do something, anything else but at that moment I think I realised that some work with computers was inevitable. Unsurprisingly, I found that I really liked working with computers and I’m fairly competent at it, so it made a lot of sense to combine my love of genetics with my skills in computer science. That’s why I chose to study bioinformatics.

Why Queen Mary?

I wanted to return to academia after my year teaching in France and I found that I really loved living in Europe. So I started looking to see if there were any bioinformatics courses in Europe or the UK that I could apply for. I saw that Queen Mary had a course and one of the things that struck me as I was looking at job opportunities in my field, was that the skills employers were listing as required or desired were exactly the same as what Queen Mary was teaching on the course. So clearly this course would teach me the skills I needed to get a good job in the future. I think the marketable skills I’m learning are extremely useful. 

The second reason was when I visited the campus and met the Head of Bioinformatics Conrad Bessant. I was really taken aback by how I was treated with noticeable respect and as someone who was taken seriously as a scientist. I was very impressed by that. It made me feel like Queen Mary was the ideal place to go because if I was treated like a serious scientist, then I reasoned I would be educated like one as well. My experience has more than demonstrated this to be the case.

What are your plans for the future?

There are tons of jobs in computer sciences and programming around the world and they’re well paid but I want to stay in academia. There are two reasons for this. The first is that when I started my Master’s degree I found that I feel really comfortable in this environment and the people I work with are my kind of people. Being a Canadian and who grew up partially in the southern United States, I sometimes felt a bit isolated and like I didn’t quite fit. So finding a community of people I understood and who felt like me, gave me a meaningful feeling of belonging. Secondly, I love my work. There is so much more to be learned from the biological systems I am working with and I would be loath to leave it behind. 

Tell us about your research

Humans have bacteria in our stomachs, which help us digest our food, without them we would become very ill. This is an example of a mutualistic relationship, we need the bacteria and the bacteria needs us. A lot of organisms have these kinds of relationships, including ants. I’m currently working with a recently discovered bacteria that shares this relationship with certain kinds of ants. I have been working on assembling genomes for different strains of this bacteria in several ant species in order to compare them.

To learn more about the Bioinformatics MSc at SBCS, visit the course page.




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