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Edith Paxton on assisting animal disease research

Supporting science experiments into a parasite that causes infection in cattle in sub-Saharan Africa, and a passion for hockey.

Edith and Fiona in the lab surrounded by samples
Edith and Fiona have collected hundreds of samples in Tanzania.

Edith Paxton is a Research Assistant at the Roslin Institute, where she supports scientists and PhD students who conduct research on animal disease, and coordinates the laboratory. In this interview, she talks to MSc Science Communication student Cheir Lu about her work.

Could you please tell me about your work in a nutshell?

I work with a group to research trypanosomes, which are parasites that cause infection in livestock, wildlife and people in sub-Saharan Africa. We can grow some species of the parasite in the lab to conduct experiments such as drug testing. Apart from conducting project experiments, I also manage the lab and I am the coordinator of my area of the building. This role involves keeping the communal stores stocked, reporting any faults and helping everyone with questions they may have about waste, recycling, standard operating procedures, equipment or where to find materials.

I heard that you have been to Africa for work. Do you have anything to share with us about that?

I worked on a few different projects in Africa and really enjoyed my time there. We collected samples and extracted animal DNA, there were always different tasks waiting for me.

I went to South Africa twice to use samples from drug trials in cattle. I went to Tanzania to help a PhD student who had collected hundreds of blood samples from cattle from different farms. We extracted DNA and prepared the samples in a way that was safe to bring them back to the UK. I recently returned to Tanzania to visit farms with our collaborators and help train veterinary assistants in a simple technique to diagnose trypanosomiasis, a parasitic infection spread by the bite of the tsetse fly..

I also went to Ghana to support a Principal Investigator and we visited farms, collected blood samples, and extracted RNA.

Could you tell me about a real-world application of your work?

We investigate trypanosomes to understand their biological principles and mechanisms, and I have been involved in the development of a diagnostic test for the disease they cause.

Why did you decide to become a research assistant?

I have a degree in Biological Sciences. One day many years ago, when I was looking for a job, I met a friend in the street who told me that she was going to leave her job at the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, here at Easter Bush and suggested that I could apply for it. Along the years I was lucky to work with a number of research group leaders who hired me because they found my work useful. So it was a bit by chance that I became a research assistant.

What do you like the most about working at Roslin?

Roslin is a very nice place to work. We have a multicultural working environment – I work with people from all over the world. Although the work here is busy, you can always find an expert in any area to talk with. If you want to try something new, you can always find experienced people in the building to communicate these technologies to you. And our projects here are interesting.

Do you communicate with non-scientists about your research?

I am always trying to communicate science to the public. I have participated in a comic book project to teach livestock genetics to children. I have also been to the Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre (EBSOC) several times to talk about research to the children who visit and help them participate in science workshops. But I think I still need to learn more about how to explain scientific words in a simple way.

Do you think the importance of science communication has been increasing?

Yes, it definitely has. Especially in today's social media environment, you hear about things as soon as they happen, therefore I think there is a lot more science communication. And at Roslin, we have EBSOC to communicate not only with school children, but also with adults about scientific information.

Do you have any advice for students who want to go into science? 

A job in science is very interesting. If you are interested in science and there is a specific research study you would like to conduct, you will find something that you are very passionate about, and if you're very passionate about a subject, you are more likely to get a good result. I always advise people to do science if that’s what they like.

If you didn’t work in science, what would you do?

I would probably be Physical Education teacher as I love sports. I played hockey for many years and now umpire to keep involved. I’m also interested in rare breeds and even have a rare breed dog. I would like to have a farm and breed rare sheep, goats and cows.

Related links

Scientists seek test for cattle parasite infection

Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre (EBSOC)