Wild animals carry all sorts of viruses. Not only do these viruses harm animals, they can also spread widely between animal populations and can sometimes affect human health too. Viruses that we know affect humans, such as rabies, HIV and influenza, all originated in animals.

Scientists today

Helen Fryer, PhD Student
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford


Helen FryerCareer path and qualifications

At school I studied Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A-level. I really enjoyed both science and maths and I wasn't completely sure what to do at university, but I opted for maths and studied for a Maths degree at the University of Oxford.


What inspired you?

After my degree, I was keen to apply my mathematical skills to 'real world' problems, so I accepted a summer 'internship' in the statistics department at Oxford. This gave me a flavour of what it would be like to be a researcher and introduced me to the world of mathematical modelling. When I was doing my degree I had retained my deep interest in science and I realised that doing mathematical modelling research in the biological sciences would be the perfect way to combine both of these interests.


My project

I initially worked on a project to measure the potential risk to humans from sheep if they had been infected with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or 'mad cow disease'. This project opened my eyes to world of computers and how they are able to answer complex problems that even the best mathematicians can't do by hand. It is very rewarding when you see lines of code on a screen turn into pictures and answers to your biological problems.

For the past four years I have been working towards a PhD in the same research group. However, my research focus has changed to studying human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).


What do you enjoy about your job?

I find it incredibly stimulating, because, by nature, research is progressive rather than repetitive. It is rewarding to be part of the wider community of scientists who collectively contribute to understanding the world around us and tackling problems such as the global HIV epidemic.

One of the things I love most about research is that I get to work and socialise with people who are experts in a wide variety of subjects. This often leads to interesting discussions over lunch. It is also a great way to meet other researchers who share my non-academic interests.


The future

I have now completed my PhD and I would like to continue as a research scientist. Over the next few years I hope to broaden my skills by working on new projects supervised by different scientists. In the longer term, I would like to supervise a research group of my own.


Outside the lab

My favourite pastime is sport. I particularly enjoy tennis, rock climbing and swimming. I often get together with other researchers from my department to train for, and participate in, sporting events including the Blenheim Triathlon.


Meet another scientist who studies infectious diseases: Dr Olivier Restif.