Researcher Spotlight : Assel Akhmetova

Published: 6 April 2018

This week, Elle Lindsay has put Assel Akhmetova under the spotlight.

Assel 1This week, Elle Lindsay has put Assel Akhmetova under the spotlight. Assel is a second year PhD student studying epidemiology and is also secretary of the University’s KAZ Society (society for Kazakhstani students), allowing her to engage with people from her home country and contribute to the exchange of cultures.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I have a BSc in Biotechnology and completed my MSc in Biotechnology from The L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Astana, Kazakhstan. After finishing my bachelor’s degree in 2012, I started my career at The National Reference Laboratory for Veterinary Medicine of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Astana – I worked in the molecular biology laboratory for 4 years as a key specialist.

What can you tell us about the origins of your PhD project?

When I started my work at the laboratory in Astana, I discovered that veterinary science is not very well-studied in my country. I decided that having a PhD in epidemiology would help me to do something important for Kazakhstan. I applied for the International Scholarship “Bolashak” and got the grant, which gave me a great chance to do my research in one of the world’s top universities.

My first supervisor was Prof. Rowland Kao; he helped me a lot in my first year and we still work together. During this second year, I am working with Dr. Katarina Oravcova and I am very glad that I can be a part of her team. I am also supervised by Dr. Liliana Salvador and Dr. Theo Pepler, who guide me through the research. I think is very important for a young researcher to be supported by a good supervisory group.

What is the focus of your research?

My research is dedicated to understanding the spatial and genetic aspects of Mycobacterium bovis, causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle, in a multi-host system. The aim of my Ph.D. is to investigate the transmission of bTB amongst livestock and wildlife populations in Northern Ireland. I use molecular typing and next-generation whole genome sequencing data of M. bovis along with epidemiological data to infer properties of important transmission processes.

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?

I chose Glasgow because it is at a high level among universities in the UK for Veterinary Medicine. University of Glasgow was the first place to which I applied, and I think I made a right choice; I was inspired by its great history and excellent reputation. Of course, doing a PhD for four years abroad was a big decision for me, but the University and Institute creates a very good environment for a comfortable university life.

What do you find most interesting about your work?

For me, the work I do is valuable. Bovine tuberculosis is a huge problem for the agricultural sector in many countries and also in my home country of Kazakhstan. I really like that my project incorporates the whole timeline of sample processing: from conducting laboratory analysis and preparing the results to the final data processing. Getting the final conclusions and epidemiological inferences is more satisfying when you’ve seen it through from the start.

Assel 2What has been the most positive aspect so far?

All the research experiences I had during the first two years of my Ph.D. and interactions with the research team from the institute. My supervisors have also helped me become more confident and enthusiastic with my research aims and direction.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?

I think for me it is to work independently – you need to manage your time and work by yourself, but also make decisions regarding your analysis. I believe I cope with it well.

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?

Just to be more confident in your work and make sure that you really like what you do!

Tell us about your future plans.

Currently, I don't have an explicit plan for future, however it is most likely that I will try to split my time between academia and governmental work back in Kazakhstan. I would prefer to use the knowledge I gain throughout my PhD to improve the system of disease control and epidemiology in agricultural sector. 

Don’t miss Assel’s talk “Understanding spatial aspects of Mycobacterium bovis genetic diversity in a multi-host system” at the PhD Seminar Series on Friday 13th April at 4pm in LT2 of the Graham Kerr Building.

First published: 6 April 2018