Carina Nicu

Dermal white adipose tissue regulates human hair follicle growth and cycling
The University of Manchester
Carina Nicu Profile Picture
Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?
I have just defended my PhD viva and am awaiting for my thesis corrections to be accepted. My project, a BBSRC CASE studentship funded by Unilever, has investigated how human scalp dermal adipose tissue affects hair growth and cycling. Throughout the PhD I have worked with human tissue collected from hair transplant surgeries from both male and female patients.

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BBSRC CASE studentships are collaborative training grants for bioscience graduates to undertake a PhD, within the context of a mutually beneficial research collaboration between academic and partner organisations.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?
A typical day is a combination of tasks. In the morning I typically tend to do the more brainy tasks of reading scientific papers or writing up original articles or reviews as I could always focus better on these first thing in the day. Late morning and afternoon I’d reserve for lab work, data analysis or organising documents for human tissue storage. A typical work week would involve a combination of all of these as well as collecting tissue from hair transplant surgeries and all subsequent tissue dissection techniques and experiments.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?
Certainly the chance to collaborate with world-leading researchers from all around the world, and the chance to travel to so many places at multiple conferences. I’ve had the opportunity to be hosted by various labs in America and Europe. In my first and second year of PhD I was a visiting student at Yale University and University of California Irvine in the labs of Prof. Valerie Horsley and Prof. Maksim Plikus, and have learned multiple techniques by shadowing and assisting postdocs and PhD students in their labs. I’ve also had the chance to carry out experiments in short-term placements at Unilever R&D centre in Colworth Park, UK as well as in a hair transplant clinic in Gran Canaria, and my supervisor’s company in Munster, Germany.

What’s been the most challenging part of it?
In the first postgraduate seminar I attended, we were told that the PhD would be like a roller-coaster. They were right. The hardest part of the PhD has been to stay mentally strong and positive no matter what happened. Because my PhD was lab-based, I experienced all the typical hurdles and stress-associated effects of this i.e. experiments not working or taking twice as long than expected to complete, contradicting data that took a long time to form a coherent story and feeling like there wasn’t enough data to pass the degree until final year. You do learn to deal with these failures and delays and it does get easier, but only by experiencing it yourself again and again.

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
Carina Nicu Interview
I definitely still see myself working in the lab – whether I’ll be working in academia or will switch to an industry job remains to be seen. But I know for sure I still want to work in science – after learning to deal with failed experiments, I realised that the lab is still the place where I am the happiest.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Make sure you’re passionate enough about research when applying for a PhD, and choose the right supervisor. Keeping motivated is hard enough when you enjoy what you do, let alone if you’re not keen on the subject. This is where a great supervisor makes all the difference – keeping you motivated at times when motivation will inevitable falter.

What makes your university a good place to study?
Front face of University of Manchester Building
Manchester University is an excellent centre for research, with extended facilities to enable easier access to machines for all the multiple biological research groups. They also offer a vast array of training courses and seminars to help postgraduate students to engage in teaching activities, public engagement and other activities including sporting events. The university is also constantly applying to secure funds to better the existing labs and core facilities.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I love reading fiction books and, more recently, I’ve started writing non-scientific articles on Medium. I’ve also become a big escape room enthusiast and go to musicals and theatre shows as often as I can. I also practise yoga a few times per week.

Want to know more about Carina?
Visit her ResearchGate profile, read her Medium blog and her published papers using the links below:

ResearchGate | Medium

1. Eccrine sweat glands associate with the human hair follicle within a defined compartment of dermal white adipose tissue.

2. A guide to studying human dermal adipocytes in situ.

3. Dermal white adipose tissue undergoes major morphological changes during the spontaneous and induced murine hair follicle cycling: a reappraisal.

4. Do human dermal adipocytes switch from lipogenesis in anagen to lipophagy and lipolysis during catagen in the human hair cycle?

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