Welcome Dr Dennis
We were delighted to welcome Dr Rebecca Dennis to the Science Department at the start of the Autumn Term. We took the time to interview her to find out more about her passion for Biology and her desire to encourage natural curiosity and lateral thinking in her students.
You are a doctor, can you tell us about your education?
Whilst completing a BSc in Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield, I developed a strong interest in the cellular mechanisms of allergic diseases. This interest led me to undertake an Astra Zeneca funded PhD in Molecular Cell Biology at the University of Southampton. My research focused on how gene activation in airway cells causes inflammation and how this is amplified in people with asthma.
Following a Pfizer funded postdoctoral research position with the same group, I left academia to work in the biotechnology industry. I spent a number of years as a Senior Research Scientist at Immunocore, based in Oxfordshire, where my role was developing and evaluating immunotherapy based treatments for various cancers.
How did your interest in Science develop?
I am naturally incredibly curious and used to drive my parents crazy with constant questions. It was during my final year at university, when I undertook my research project on inflammatory cells, that I really knew the area where I wanted to pursue a career. I have always just followed my interests and fortunately this approach has worked well. Science as an international subject has given me the opportunity to travel and work with people from all over the world.
What do you like about being a Biology teacher?
I love Biology and working with people. Biology is such an interesting and important subject; the range of topics covered in school is really relevant to our health and the environment. A day as a Biology teacher is never boring! It can involve anything from sharing in the excitement of Year 7 students staining leaves for starch for the first time to supporting Year 13 students adding fluorescent genes to bacteria.
I also work as an examiner during the examination season and take great pleasure in helping my own students perfect their technique to achieve the highest possible grades. For many students completing a Biology course at school is an important step in recognising long held aspirations and I do my best to help them realise these. Seeing students work really hard over many years and eventually secure a place at university or on an apprenticeship scheme fills me with joy.
How is it going so far at St Gabriel’s?
I am settling in well; the students are so polite, enthusiastic and hardworking. They really value education and the opportunities that doing as well as you possibly can brings. I am enjoying getting to know my teaching groups and love being asked questions by the students.
All the Senior School staff have been so welcoming, especially the Science Department where I spend most of my time. Any Science teacher is very reliant on the technical staff and we are fortunate to have a fantastic team, who come up with creative ways to support socially distanced safe experiments.
What did you focus on during the recent Biology Week?
As the days draw in, it seemed like a good opportunity to focus on photosynthesis during Biology Week. We modified how we carried out some practical investigations to allow them to continue without me getting too close to the students. Year 11 students enjoyed investigating the effect of light intensity on the rate of photosynthesis; Year 8 made an excellent effort at preparing leaves for staining with iodine.
What are some interesting career paths for any pupils interested in Biology?
As a teacher, I realise that GCSE and A level Biology courses help students develop a broad range of skills. It is not just about being able to recall the equation for respiration, critical thinking and problem solving are skills that set students up for any career. At A level, in particular, a great deal of lateral thinking is required, which is an invaluable life skill.
Since becoming a teacher I have supported students in pursuing careers in veterinary medicine, medicine, paramedic science, midwifery, marine science, nursing and physiotherapy. Career opportunities also exist in business and industry, science communication and publishing and clinical trials, to name but a few.
Who is your hero?
I have the upmost admiration for Michelle Obama, her sheer determination and hard work truly show where education can lead you no matter what your background. I love her positive outlook to social barriers and the way she encourages young people not to dwell on negative aspects of their circumstances but to work on ways to overcome them.
What is your view on solving some of the worlds problems today?
I think the most interesting, and possibly the most important, question at present is the development of a vaccine for coronavirus. The work of scientists is rarely recognised by the media and the public but now this is in the public eye it is great. Of personal interest to me is the development of medicines for the treatment and prevention of diseases, such as malaria, which affect the world's poorest nations.