My Dissertation Experience – Jed Winstanley

My Dissertation Experience

Supervisor(s) and project title(s):

  • Karen Wright – The endocannabinoid system as a therapeutic target in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Cell Biology)
  • Prof Christian Holscher – The pathophysiology of depression and current therapeutic approaches (Neurobiology)

Why I chose these topics…

I’ll start with a brief overview of both my projects because my dissertation set-up was slightly different to how it is now but for the rest of the article I will mainly discuss the laboratory project as it may be more relevant to you guys lucky enough to be in the process of completing your dissertation as you read this.

My dissertation was split into two 5000-word projects, one being a literature review and the other being a laboratory research project. My literature review fell under the category of ‘Neurobiology’ and was entitled ‘The pathophysiology of depression and current therapeutic approaches’. I chose this topic because I am really interested in mental health and so took the opportunity to integrate my interest into my academic studies.

The 5000-word laboratory project I carried out was in the field of Cell Biology and was entitled ‘The endocannabinoid system as a therapeutic target in acute lymphoblastic leukemia’. I opted to research a Cell Biology project after enjoying the techniques modules I completed in my second year of study but this project was assigned to me by my project supervisor, Dr. Karen Wright.

How much time was spent in the lab…

Due to the dissertation split my total compulsory lab time amounted to 80 hours spread over 3 weeks.

What I investigated…

I don’t want to give too much away just in case there is anybody reading this who is researching a similar area (can’t be going giving unfair advantages now, can I? ;D) but my investigation concerned the well-researched endogenous cannabinoid system. More specifically the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) and protein kinase B (PKB) pathways and how cannabinoids, namely the synthetic cannabinoid CB65, may or may not influence the viability and invasiveness of the Jurkat leukemic T cell line via these pathways.

A typical day involved…

Carrying out typical cell biology techniques, e.g. cell counting; stimulation of Jurkat cells with the CB65 cannabinoid followed by lysing the cells; SDS-PAGE and immunoblotting using the Western Blotting of proteins method; and regular assessments of cell viability via metabolic activity assays.

What I discovered…

Based on the results of my experiment, the synthetic cannabinoid CB65 helped the Jurkat cells to proliferate by acting on the CB2 receptor, therefore suggesting synthetic CB2 agonists may be useful for the clinical development of anti-cancer therapeutics.

Feedback from supervisor…

Both Karen and Christian were extremely supportive and provided regular feedback throughout the entire writing process. Having a supervisor there to touch base with and keep yourself on track is something you should not take for granted. Use them as much as you physically can and I guarantee you will reap the benefits when you come to your write-up.

If I could do it again I would change…

Being more proactive with my allocated lab time and thoroughly ensuring I know what I am doing each day before entering the lab so I can use my time more productively.

Any hints or advice?

When writing up your final report try to focus on writing one section at a time. I say this because I made the mistake of attempting to synthesise and write little bits of each section all at the same time – this led to a very stressed and confused Jed. This strategy may work for some but I discovered my highest productivity levels when I sat down and concentrated my efforts on writing my introduction, for example. Multitasking is a myth.

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