Barbara Shih

It has been great fun - can't believe it's over!

Favourite Thing: Looking for patterns in data. It’s like solving puzzles in an adventure game, with added moments when you think to yourself: “I could be the first person in the whole world to see this!”



Clifton College, Bristol (1999-2003), University of Manchester (2003-2013)


BSc Cell Biology, MSc Immunology and Immunogenetics, PhD by Published Work

Work History:

University of Manchester (2007-present)

Current Job:

Research Associate


University of Manchester

Me and my work

I’m a post-doctoral researcher looking at the risks versus the benifits of sun exposure.

After completing my PhD studying gene expressions in two disorders (keloid scarring and Dupuytren’s disease), I am now looking at the good and bad effects sun exposure has on our skin. While excessive sun exposure can cause skin cancer, UV from the sun is important for making vitamin D in our body. To further complicate the argument on whether sun exposure is good or bad for you, there has been speculation that higher levels of vitamin D is related to a reduced risk in some cancers.

I work with volunteers with a range of skin colours, from the lightest to the darkest skin;  suprisingly there have not been many studies focusing on the pigmentation aspect in this area of research. It is exciting that my current work is directly relavent to the general population.

My work is funded by the Cancer Research UK.

My Typical Day

The only thing consistent about my “typical day” is that it changes on a monthly basis.

As a biomedical scientist, I wouldn’t say there is a “typical day”. I would say things changes on a month to month basis, and varies drastically depending on the project/job.

Clinical months/days: I would be working with research nurses on the recruitment and scheduling of patients or participants. Sometimes I would also be involved in collecting excised samples in the operation theatre.

Lab months: I could be repeating a number of lab procedures everyday one month, followed by a completely different set of procedures on the next. The length of each protocol varies; some are easy to manage and allow you plenty of tea breaks, others are harder to predict and you could end up being in lab for hours with very limited time for food or water. Generally speaking, there is a lot of physical activity during the months when I’m doing experimental work, which my friends who work in desk jobs are very jealous of.

Write-up months: After all the labwork has been done, there will be 1-3 month of data analysis, and then 1-3 months of writing up. A lot of reading are involved during this time. Background reading is also very important at the beginning of the projects. At the moment I just make computer scripts for analysing my images, read, and write up my experiment all day.

The ratios between the amount of time spent in the lab/at the desk writing varies drastically from project to project.


What I'd do with the money

Making an illustrative blog/webcomic relating high school sciences and maths to research. (for both teachers and students)

When I was in high school, I thought chemistry and maths were just stuff that get you to universities. Why would would I care about calculus or triganometry if I do not intend to do maths at the university? By relating things students learn from school to how/why they matter in real life or in research situtations, I am hoping to help students develop an interest in what they are learning, as well as decide on the subjects they want to study in the future. (Or maybe help the teachers to make the subject more interesting in class)

The current focus of the website content is relating high school science to research; however, the direction of the site will be guided by the questions asked by the students during the I’m a Scientist, Get Me out of Here event.


The money will go towards hosting a website and buying the required software for developing it. Once the site is up and running, I plan to promote it at science fairs, in addition to buying soft toys or pins (such as these: I heart guts) for prize draw at the stalls I host.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, creative, cheerful.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Two Steps From Hell.

What's your favourite food?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Spending my 30th birthday halfway up a mountain in the Lake district, eating soggy sandwiches with my best friend in the rain.

What did you want to be after you left school?


Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not that I am aware of.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Mathematics (mechanics) – my teacher was awesome!

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

Shown that it’s possible for someone with very dark skin to get a sunburn (just can’t see it with our eyes).

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

The Selfish Gene (book).

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


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

Rich, draw like a pro, all my loved one can stay healthy and forever young.

Tell us a joke.

I never wanted to believe that my dad was stealing from his job as a road worker. But when I got home, all the signs were there.

Other stuff

Work photos:

Each little wax block (like the one I put on top of the box) holds a very small piece of human skin that I work with. I have hundreds of these! (thanks to the awesome participants who took part in our study). The blue thing holds these super sharp blades that we use to cut the blocks into super thin sections (about 200 times tinner than 1mm).


This machine is used to cut the little block in the previous image into super thin sections (for microscope slides).


These are some microscope slides I have prepared.


Microwave is used quite a lot in our lab – a biology lab is a lot like a kitchen for not food! (we have oven, microwave, fridge, freezer, dish washer and sometimes a pressure cooker! What more can you ask for in a kitchen?)


Radio is a lab essential!