Anna Ashton

Phewy, so many good questions on the chats today!

Favourite Thing: It’s a great feeling when you’ve been working hard at an experiment for days and then you get some really exciting new results, especially if it’s something no-one’s ever done before!



University of Bristol, 2008 – 2012, St. Cutherbet Mayne school, 2000 – 2007


GCSEs, A Levels in Maths, Biology & Art, and a degree in Neuroscience

Work History:

I worked at Pfizer pharmaceutical company as part of my degree at university, that was my first science job. Other than that I’ve done lots of different things in the holidays, including working in an arcade and a Victorian museum

Current Job:

PhD student (basically a trainee scientist)


University of Aberdeen

Me and my work

I’m looking at vitamin A and how it might be used in a part of the brain called the pineal gland, which is important for controlling sleep

The pineal gland’s job is to make melatonin, a very important hormone that’s released into the bloodstream at night. It helps to control changes in the body’s activity, for example it makes you feel sleepy in the evening and awake in the morning.

We think vitamin A might be important for the pineal gland to make the right amount of melatonin each night. I’m trying to find out if this is true and what else vitamin A might be used for in the pineal gland.


My Typical Day

Every day is different but it’s usually a combination of working in the lab doing experiments and looking over the results.

I probably usually spend about 70% of the day in the lab and the rest at my desk.

In the lab I do experiments to find out what proteins are in the pineal gland and where they are, and look at how vitamin A can change this. Sometimes I teach students how to run experiments in the lab too.

There’s also lots to do out of lab, like looking at the data I get from experiments to try and work out what it means! I also do reading to find out about research other people have done. Then there’s more mundane jobs like shopping for lab equipment!

What I'd do with the money

I’d donate it to Au Science Journalism Society to help them keep telling people about science

They produce a magazine for the public three times a year with stories on all sorts of things from the science world including science research done here in Aberdeen.

It’s produced totally by students from Aberdeen University, they even have to find the money from sponsors to print it themselves and they’re a little broke at the moment!

The magazine writes about science in a way anyone can understand (you don’t need to be scientist!) so it’s a great way for anyone to learn about science and all the new discoveries out there. Science is a fast-moving world so it’s good to stay up-to-date with what’s going on!

You can find out about it in this video that we made for a competition to try and win some funding money, it shows what goes into making the magazine…


And here’s when we made the periodic table out of cupcakes to try and tempt new recruits!



My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Patient, curious and independent

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Ooh that’s hard, there’s too many! The Black Keys might win though

What's your favourite food?

Cake! With lots of tea

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went travelling before going to university and got to go zip-lining above the treetops of a jungle in Laos

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t really know to be honest! I just knew I really liked Biology at school and was especially interested in the brain and how it works so I went to study Neuroscience at uni and it just all went from there.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not really, I was a pretty good kid

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology, Maths and Art were the best, I can’t pick!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Probably starting my PhD! It’s great to be able to have my own PhD project, I basically get to do lots of experiments on something that no-one’s looked at before, so it was exciting to get offered it and start the project.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I was fascinated by the brain and everything it can do, how it can produce our emotions, our personality and also keep the whole body in check by controlling things like balance and appetite. It’s very complicated so a lot about how it works is still a mystery and it’s a scientist’s job to try to work it out. That sounded like a pretty cool job to me!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I don’t think I’d want to do anything else! I was tempted to do art at uni instead of neuroscience, so maybe an artist if that had worked out!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To make an amazing new scientific discovery during my PhD, get a job with a really prestigious research group afterwards, and work in a really cool location like Singapore!

Tell us a joke.

You can’t trust atoms, they make up everything!

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is the lab where I do my experiments:


And this my desk where I do lots of reading and look over my data (sometimes happily, sometimes with a sad face):