Jennie Douthwaite

Favourite Thing: Testing methods in the lab



UWE – ages ago



Work History:

University of Bristol and Bath Spa University, a private laboratory in Wiltshire and other local colleges

Current Job:

University of Bristol


Help run a Masters course in Reproduction and Development

Me and my work

Research, lab work and teaching

I look at hormones, what they do and how they work.

My Typical Day

No one day is typical

When I was in the lab, I would come in and take everything I needed for my experiments out of the fridges and freezers. I could have a cup of tea while I was filling out sheets with all the details of what I needed to do that clearly recorded. These would be used in the lab along with my lab book.

Then I would sort out samples into racks so I could work my way through them without getting muddled up. Sometimes I could be using hundreds of samples and they have to be clearly labelled. This can be in my lab or another lab, perhaps in the hospital. This depended on the test I was running on that day.

When everything was thawed, I was ready to pipette things into tubes or plates. There are lots of incubation steps, where we’re waiting for reagents to bind, so I made sure I timed these to fit other tasks in between, such as washing up or making up reagents. At the end, the tubes or plates were put into a machine that can read either colour or radioactivity. The reading you get tells you how much of the substance you’re looking for is in each sample. This has to be worked out from either the absorbence (colour) reading, or the counts per minute of radioactivity. Using radioactive isotopes can be quite dangerous; there are a lot of procedures to follow, everything has to be recorded thoroughly, and you have to be very careful with what you’re doing.

Some days I would get a phone call from the research nurse telling me they’d managed to take a bit of a persons tissue, like flesh but from inside.  We would have to get their consent first of course, before the surgeon nipped a little bit of the flesh off for us to study, and I would have lots of tubes ready and put the small pieces of squidgy samples into these, on ice or sometimes dry ice, to keep them cool.  These would have to be mashed up in special solutions, spun around in centrifuges, and the cells taken out and put into dishes. These an be grown in incubators, which are ovens set at the same warmth of the body. With tissue culture, the timing is not so easy to plan. Sometimes cells don’t look how you’d like them. They may have grown too much or not at all, so you have to work thinking on your feet. All this work  is carried out in separate labs with special hoods to circulate air around so you don’t contaminate the samples, and any nasty agents in the samples don’t infect you.

Sometimes, I could work on the computer reading papers to see what other researchers had found out in similar experiments, entering results into data sheets, drawing graphs and working out what the results meant. These days I spend more time on the computer, sorting out what other people have to do for their studying and research projects.

What I'd do with the money

Help understanding of reproductive science through preservation of a very rare and old breed of donkey called the Baudet du Poitou

In a marshy region of Northern France, Poitou mules were once used a lot as they are strong, sturdy and fearless. The donkeys that sired these mules (as the mules themselves are infertile) were fairly common and highly sought after. However, especially since the 2nd world war, they have become very rare, and a large farm in the region has dedicated itself to a breeding programme. They have a lab with very basic equipment, but they have managed to carry out IVF with the donkeys.

I would like to help their research and publicity about the breed as this also increases awareness of how advances in reproductive science have helped with other animals, not just with people.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

I would never try to describe myself

Who is your favourite singer or band?

JJ Cale

What's your favourite food?

Spaghetti, tomatoes,chocolate

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Racing on a motorbike and sidecar outfit

What did you want to be after you left school?


Were you ever in trouble in at school?


What was your favourite subject at school?

Maybe chemistry – I didn’t like school

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

Difficult – I’ve done lots of interesting things

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I wanted a practical hands-on job

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

Chicken farmer or windmill keeper

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

If you tell your wishes, they don’t come true!

Tell us a joke.

My only joke is far too long

Other stuff

Work photos: