Meet Ryan Biscocho

  • PhD project: Evaluating the contribution of transposons to agricultural domestication – Standard studentship based at Exeter (Cornwall campus)
  • Past/current DTP student roles: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Student Champion + Student Representative for students based at Exeter

What was your journey into academia? 

I moved to Wales when I was 5 years old; my mum is a nurse and managed to find a job here, allowing me and my dad to immigrate with her. My dad works for Tesco and I grew up in the Rhondda Valley and so I came from a very working class background! 

After A-Levels, I managed to secure a place at Jesus College, Oxford (known informally as the Welsh college) to study Biological Sciences. I only ever applied at the behest of my Head of Year at school – as someone who came from my background I assumed that Oxford would not be the place for me and that I wasn’t good enough to get in. However, I ended up really enjoying my time there. 

After graduation, I wanted to continue studying but I wasn’t sure exactly what course I wanted to do so I applied for jobs. I ended up working as a Lab Technician in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. This allowed me to save up a bit of money to do a Masters by Research. My Masters was concerned with computational genomics and I enjoyed the skills I learned as part of it so this spurred me on to do a PhD in a similar field. 

What was it that attracted you to the SWBio DTP? 

The taught structure of the DTP appealed to me the most. I wanted to do a PhD to continue learning and I thought this was the best way to learn a wide range of skills and get a good foundation in my first year of my PhD. It’s also great being part of a cohort with people from other institutions! 

I did my Masters by Research at Bristol and was there when we went into the pandemic. I was only there for 7 months, but it was a worthwhile experience in research. I applied for the programme half way through my Masters after encouragement from my supervisor to consider the programme, and after speaking with some current SWBio DTP PhD students.  The environment at the interview was really relaxed; I gave a research presentation and met other students on the day. 

What has your experience been like so far with the SWBio DTP? 

Despite starting fully online, I am enjoying my time in Penryn (the Cornwall campus of Exeter). SWBio DTP have been accommodating to our needs and though we couldn’t meet in first year (due to COVID), my cohort still got along really well with each other and it was nice to know a bunch of people starting at the same time! The taught year really helps in forging bonds with the other PhD students in the cohort (as well as being able to commiserate with research not going to plan!). 

What about the social side of being a SWBio DTP PhD student? 

In Penryn, there is a really good work-life balance owing to the very relaxed atmosphere here. Everyone has a lot of hobbies and there’s a lot on your doorstep. I wouldn’t consider myself too outdoorsy but I like to go climbing, running, coastal walks, playing squash, doing art, and generally hanging around at the pubs.

Regarding SWBio DTP there are various DTP cohort activities, such as the yearly student-led retreat. It’s good to be part of multiple PhD groups, in my case the Penryn folk and the SWBio DTP cohort. I’m also now on the SWBio DTP EDI committee as the student EDI champion as well as the SWBio DTP Student Representative for Exeter so there are opportunities to get your voice heard to the DTP. 

What would you say to others who are thinking of applying for a PhD? 

I would say think clearly about what it is specifically you want to research in a single sentence. This will help you condense your interests together and help with communicating what you want to do to potential interviewers. For me that is wanting to “investigate how genomic evolution relates to phenotypic evolution: how do changes at the genome level affect the phenotype of an organism and how can this relate to adaptation?”. 

If you’re put off by applications, know that everyone has imposter syndrome. Just go for it and let your achievements speak for themselves!