• Jess

5 W's of My Research

I'm going to be honest with you, I've been full of the cold all week so I've not had a lot of time to work on this post and I had intended on posting this at the start of the week!

For today’s post I thought I would tell you a little bit about what I'm actually researching in my PhD. There's a hashtag I saw on Instagram #5wsofmyresearch where PhD students share their research by answering 5 questions. Before I get onto that, some of you may be wondering what a PhD actually is, so here's a brief summary of what a PhD entails:

What is a PhD?

A PhD is essentially a large research project spanning over 3-4 years full-time (5-6 years part-time). A PhD student is required to conduct a piece of research and produce novel findings in their subject area. The research is presented in a thesis which can be anywhere between 60,000 to +100,000 words. The work is then defended in a viva voce exam where the student answers questions from examiners and the viva can last up to 4 hours.

What is the point of doing a PhD, what do you gain from it?

A PhD is one of the highest qualifications you can achieve. Upon completion you become a doctor of philosophy and with that earn the privilege of calling yourself 'Dr'. Like any qualification, a PhD enables you to progress higher up the career ladder. You gain invaluable experience as a researcher in your field and you become a specialist in that specific topic.


Now onto the interesting bit, the 5 W's of my research...

What is the research?

I’m researching the epidemiology of Mycoplasma bovis in Scottish dairy herds. To break that down, epidemiology is the study of the occurrence and patterns of disease/health conditions in populations.

My project aims to estimate how many dairy farms in Scotland are affected by the bacterium Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) which is shown in the image above, and why some farms are at more risk than others. You can see why M. bovis is described as looking like a fried egg under the microscope!

I’m working on a bulk milk prevalence study on a number of farms throughout Scotland. Dairy farmers registered in the study are sending us bulk milk samples (from the tank where all the milk is collected at milking) 4 times throughout 1 year which are then tested for the presence of M. bovis and also antibodies to M. bovis.

We are also gathering information via a questionnaire on the farm structure and management practices which may be linked to the presence of absence of the disease.

Why is the research needed?

M. bovis causes a range of symptoms in all ages of cattle including pneumonia and ear disease in calves, and mastitis in adult cows. Some cows & calves don’t develop any symptoms, but they are still able to infect other members of the herd, these animals are known as ‘asymptomatic carriers’.

M. bovis spreads in a variety of ways within a farm and I’ve created a diagram below to illustrate some of the routes.

There are limited options for treating M. bovis. As the pathogen has no cell wall surrounding it, antibiotics such as penicillin are ineffective at treating these infections as they target the cell wall. Infected animals are culled – this means that they are killed & removed from the herd.

We don’t know much about M. bovis and how it behaves within herds. There has been a lot of research in recent years to better understand this pathogen, but no research has been done in the UK dairy industry and as a result, we don’t know how many farms are affected with M. bovis and why it is present on some herds and not others.

Who will benefit?

The dairy industry in the UK will benefit as this is the first study of its kind researching M. bovis in the UK. Although the project is specifically using Scottish farms, the results will be relatable to the UK as a whole. The results will also contribute to the global understanding of M. bovis.

The findings will be beneficial to vets and dairy farmers as we will have more insight as to how many farms are affected and we may identify key factors that increase the chance of a farm having an M. bovis problem.

When will it be ready?

The findings of this phase of the study will hopefully be published next year.

Where is the research occurring?

The study is taking place in dairy farms throughout Scotland.


I hope you enjoyed that brief overview of my research! If you have any questions you can ask them via the contact page or DM me on my Instagram @welliesoverheels.

In the coming months I'm going to talk more about careers in STEM and the different routes into STEM-related careers and PhD life!


Microscopic image of M. bovis from: https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.b4864

Diagrams created using BioRender.com

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