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Day in the life of … a genome unscrambler and paperback lover

Monica Della-Rosa speaks to us about how her DNA curiosity led to working in next generation sequencing.

September 12, 2018

Monica Della-Rosa speaks to us about how her DNA curiosity led to working in next generation sequencing and unravelling organisms - sharing wise words to be kinder to yourself and to try and stick to a plan!

How did you get into genomics, why did you choose EI?

I first developed an interest in genomics and DNA sequencing technology during my MSc work. The Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology has revolutionised genomic research over the past decade, with more technologies available to investigate and answer questions that couldn’t have been addressed or asked in the past, reshaping scientific research completely.

EI gives me the chance to be exposed to the latest advanced technologies in the NGS sector, and I’m confident the skills that I’ll be able to acquire working in the Genomics Pipelines Group will be helpful in my future career path.

Can you tell us about your role at EI? What’s your motivation?

I’m currently working as a Research Assistant in the Genomics Pipelines. I am mainly involved in library construction, which represents one of the steps of the DNA sequencing workflow. As sequencing technologies improved, so have methods to prepare both DNA and RNA for sequencing and library construction methods.

NGS as a whole process is refined every day. Being involved in this process gives me the chance to constantly learn, which, in turn, puts me in a position not only to work with the latest technologies, but also to try and improve them!

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As sequencing technologies improved, so have methods to prepare both DNA and RNA for sequencing and library construction methods.

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What’s the best part of your day?

I do love to spend most of my time in the lab so, the more I’m in there, the happier I am!

The best part for me; the most rewarding one, is when you’re ready to look at your results (and usually it happens towards the end of the day, when you’re tired and all you’re hoping for is some good news) and you realise that your work and effort has led somewhere (or at least, it hasn’t failed completely).

A good result really has the power to change my mood!

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I do love to spend most of my time in the lab so, the more I’m in there, the happier I am!

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What does your typical day look like?

It really depends on what’s there that needs to be done! Every day before starting my day, I usually like to have some kind of ‘schedule’, some kind of plan and try to stick to it till the end.

(I need it really, because I could forget one thing or two so I’m better off having it in ‘black and white’, as I would say in Italian!).

What project are you currently working on?

I am currently working on the validation of our new RNA library prep pipeline, both low throughput and high throughput. Sometimes it could require some troubleshooting as protocols might behave differently on different type of samples (and we have quite a diversity here at EI!).

Despite the fact it doesn’t always work as you would of hoped, I always enjoy it and gives me the opportunity to learn more and more about the library construction process; and really, you should never stop learning!

Monica is currently working on the validation of a new RNA library prep pipeline

Monica is currently working on the validation of a new RNA library prep pipeline

What’s your proudest work achievement so far? Is there something you’ve worked on that you now would have done differently?

In a scientific environment you can find yourself in a situation where you constantly feel ‘out of place’ and it can be difficult to recognise and give enough credit to what you’ve already done and achieved. Before joining EI, I worked in a research group in Cambridge and I’m very proud of the work I was able to carry out, which is due to be published soon.

It’s very rewarding to be appreciated and seeing your name on a paper is very satisfying. Something I would have done differently? I guess that when looking back at things, there’s always something one would change but…

...I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and luckily everything worked out for the best!

What would you say has been your biggest challenge?

I still find it very challenging to ‘acknowledge failure’. There have been times when I had to spend months trying to figure out why my experiments wouldn’t work (I remember working on a RNA extraction on aged samples once … I’ve spent many hours in cold rooms during that period).

I remember feeling frustrated and disheartened. I started blaming myself, my capabilities, questioning whether I was really cut out for the job.

Luckily, I’ve had good mentors and they helped me understand that, although it’s good to question yourself (because it leads to improvement), you shouldn’t let so-called failure undermine your self-confidence.

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I remember feeling frustrated and disheartened. I started blaming myself, my capabilities, questioning whether I was really cut out for the job.

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What would be your ideal research project?

In the future, I’d like to explore more in-depth gene regulation. I like to think that DNA defines us more than we can possibly think of. It’s fascinating how its interaction with the environment dictates what a cell will become; what role it will play and when it will die, determining every little detail with such a precision.

The latest sequencing technology allows us to explore the mere sequence of our genome and beyond; I’d hope to work on a project to gain further intricacy and insight of these mechanisms using the latest, innovative technology.

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In the future, I’d like to explore more in-depth gene regulation. I like to think that DNA defines us more than we can possibly think of.

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Who or what inspires you?

I was lucky enough to have met many people along the way. As always in life, not all of them stood in my corner, but I’ve learned that everyone can give you a little bit of inspiration (to a certain extent) ... if you let them! What keeps me going, above everything, is the curiosity.

I like to learn about new things and to always self-improve and get better at what I already know. Yes, I would say that curiosity is the right word to describe why I do what I do!

What do you like to do out of work?

I have to be honest … at the moment, I don’t quite know how to answer this question! I’m struggling to find a meaningful hobby. I guess I like reading good old books. I might sound quite geeky, but besides biology and genetics, I also have a great interest in physics, especially when it comes to its application in astronomy.

Now, the names I look for in a bookstore are Brian Cox, Adam Rutherford and similar. I’m currently reading a ‘A brief history of everyone who ever lived’, by Adam Rutherford …a very interesting and amazing journey in human evolution through our genes!

I still like to have my shelves full of paperbacks; when it comes to books, I’m not a fan of the latest technology! But I’m always open to experience something new, so maybe I still haven’t found the right one!!

Monica likes to read books to relax in her spare time

Monica likes to relax reading books
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I still like to have my shelves full of paperbacks; when it comes to books, I’m not a fan of the latest technology!

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What are your career aspirations; where would you like to be in five-years’ time?

I always find it very hard to answer these sort of questions … I certainly see myself working in science - to be honest, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

What advice would you give to those who are interested in getting into genomics research?

What I’d say is: stay curious, always keep an open mind, work hard, and seize every opportunity that might come your way.

Article author

Monica Della Rosa

Research Assistant