Heidi de Wet
Associate Professor of Physiology
Tell us a bit about your role
I was first employed as a University Lecturer and Director of Studies for Medicine at St Catherine’s college in 2013. As a Tutor for Medicine, I teach a wide range of subjects to medical students and biomedical students from years 1-3 and give departmental lectures, lead practical sessions and tutor small groups of students. I also lead a research group and oversee and mentor students at different stages of their careers, from summer and FHS students, to students completing MSc and DPhil degrees, as well as postdoctoral researchers. I completed my PhD at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and came to Oxford to gain wider research experience on a Wellcome Trust training fellowship.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
I enjoy working with students at all levels very much. Helping students be the best they can be is one of the most gratifying aspects of my work. This does not always translate into helping students achieve the highest marks or academic accolades. We all have personal limitations that hold us back; it is hugely rewarding to see a student break through their own barriers to finally realise that they are, for example, not ‘bad at understanding scientific papers’ or not ‘bad at giving oral presentations’.
On the research front, nothing beats the feeling of getting a new result, and understanding some obscure aspect of life better for the first time. There is that brief period where you hold data like a piece of gold in your hand – it is a very special feeling to realise that no one else in the world knows what you know at that point in time. For full disclosure, I have to add that it is usually at this point when it all goes horribly wrong, and you realise that you cannot reproduce the results, or that the pH of your buffer was incorrect!
Can you tell us about something you've done or contributed to that you're most proud of?
When I started my new research group I agreed to host an Erasmus exchange student for a short MSc training project. She was the first student I had ever supervised as an independent Principal Investigator, and she stayed on for the remainder of her MSc project. She completed her MSc with a distinction from her European institute and progressed to PhD studies. She mailed me her PhD thesis with a short thank-you note. It is tremendously gratifying to watch the careers of MSc and PhD students from your laboratory flourish.
I also have a copy of the first paper I published as an independent researcher up on the wall in my office. The paper won an award for one of the top 20 most downloaded papers from that journal in 2018. I was particularly pleased with this work, as it was a collaborative project with Professor Kieran Clarke and her then DPhil student, Dr Brianna Stubbs, based on an idea we hatched over a cup of tea during a departmental coffee morning.
What changes would you most like to see in the medical sciences in the next 100 years?
I would very much like to see changes made to childcare provision for young families in academia; within the next 10 years, not the next 100! I would like to see all barriers putting academically outstanding students off from pursuing a career in the sciences removed. In my mind, outreach is key to involve all members of our society and to leave no student under the impression that a career in the sciences is somehow not for them.