Manuela Pacciarini

Manuela Pacciarini

PhD Medical and Health Care Studies

Postgraduate researcher Manuela Pacciarini (PhD, Medical School) and 2020 Three Minute Thesis Swansea University winner discusses her love of science communication, lipids research and Swansea’s coastline.

My PhD research explores why and how we develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, by identifying relevant differences in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that surrounds the brain) lipid content between people affected by these diseases and healthy people. Understanding this difference could help us to more quickly diagnose and more effectively treat people affected by these neurodegenerative diseases.

Before I came here, I studied in Italy and worked in other laboratories around Europe, including France. I have always had a passion for lipids research and its contribution to human health, and I am a trained medical chemist. Professor William Griffiths and Professor Yuqin Wang were looking for a chemist to undertake research on lipid biomarker discovery, through the Swansea University Research Excellence Scholarships (SURES) scheme, which offers fully-funded PhD studentships with an annual stipend. This opportunity combined my love of helping people with my love of chemistry of lipids – I had to apply!

When I got here and saw Singleton Campus, I thought it was beautiful. I had seen so many pictures before, but nothing compared to reality. I realised that this is where I wanted to be for the next four years.

I started my PhD in October, and I decided that for my first year I would live in campus accommodation to properly have the Swansea University experience, which I was really happy with. I have since found a private house for the rest of my PhD studies.

Swansea as a city is near to the sea and the countryside, which makes it a great place for me. The coastline is amazing, you can explore Swansea Bay, Mumbles, Langland, Rhosilli… it’s amazing.

But it’s not just the position of Swansea that makes it so pleasant to live in – the people here have been so lovely too. People want to get to know you and everyone is as kind as possible. I also discovered a very big international community here, with lots of nights out and events that are designed to help us get to know each other and to share our culture. I love it!

I had heard about the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition for postgraduate researchers and decided to take part. Around two weeks beforehand, I was able to have a one-to-one coaching session with a member of the PGR Office, and I would recommend it to anyone.

In the future I want to do more science communication, thanks to Swansea University’s encouragement to share high impact research with the public. When it came to performing in the 3MT Competition I was nervous initially, but when I saw all the fantastic postgraduate researchers from across the University sharing their ideas I relaxed. I loved the experience!

My Group and my Supervisors are always there for me, giving me advice. This doesn’t mean that they give me the answers, but they encourage me to reflect on what I am doing and find the solution myself. I have worked in laboratories all around Europe, and I have never been in such a supportive and friendly environment. When I first saw the Institute of Life Sciences lab and the equipment, such as the mass spectrometer, it felt like a dream!

The Postgraduate Research Office team are also always very kind and quick to respond to all of my questions, and they run very important events and training – including a fantastic data analysis course. I have really enjoyed the PGR nights out, such as the pub quizzes, which are a great way to meet other postgraduate researchers.