Matthew Edgington

Photo of M. Edgington
Current Workplace
The Pirbright Institute
Current Role
Postdoctoral Research Scientist
My Mathematics Success Story is...

At present I am a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at The Pirbright Institute. Here I work as a part of a team that are working to develop gene drive systems in the mosquitoes responsible for spreading viruses such as chikungunya, dengue fever, Zika and yellow fever. Gene drives are genetic systems that have been proposed as a method of spreading desirable genetic traits through a mosquito population (such as a reduced ability for their bites to infect humans with one or more of the above viruses). My role in this team is to produce mathematical models that can inform (a) the design of these gene drive systems and (b) the most efficient and cost effective ways of introducing gene drive mosquitoes into the wild. So, how did I get to where I am today? I believe that this goes as far back as my days in secondary school where some great teachers made me believe in myself and pushed for me to achieve my potential. These teachers really formed my A-level choices (Maths, Economics, Geography and Physics) and thus my future career path. Around this time I was planning on finishing up my A-levels and finding a job but again one of my great teachers convinced me that going to university was both a realistic choice and one that I should be making. As such I applied to study Mathematics at the University of Reading – eventually switching onto a combined undergraduate BSc course in Mathematics and Economics. Whilst at university I surprised myself with my overall results and how much I enjoyed the overall experience. Taking the skills I had learned at university, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of six graduate trainees at the UK’s largest IT distribution company. During this time I undertook three placements in different departments, namely Human Resources, Inventory Planning & Procurement and Business Analysis - developing a number of really useful skills along the way. Whilst this graduate program represented an incredible opportunity, I personally felt out of place and wasn’t enjoying my work as much as the other trainees. As such, I began looking for alternative career options. On a visit to the University of Reading website I noticed that there was a master’s degree course (MSc in Mathematical and Numerical Modelling of the Atmosphere and Oceans) with the potential for NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) funding to cover tuition fees and some living costs! Having successfully applied to this course, the year that followed pushed me to work extremely hard and learn a wide variety of skills and mathematical techniques that I still use regularly today. During this time I particularly enjoyed my dissertation project – my first real taste of scientific research and of studying problems where nobody knew for sure what the solution was when asking a question. Wanting to push my new found enthusiasm for scientific research on to another level I began looking into a number of potential PhD projects, eventually settling on a Mathematical Biology project at the University of Reading. In this project my aim was to produce mathematical models of the reaction networks that function in bacteria allowing them to swim around their environment and search for sources of nutrition (a process known as chemotaxis). Studying for a PhD gave me an amazing opportunity to do things that when I was younger I never imagined myself doing such as publishing work in academic journals; presenting at international scientific conferences; and even winning a prize from SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) for communicating a piece of mathematics in terms understandable for the general public. The final step on the road to my current position was a very brief temporary position as an Analyst for a company spun out of the Centre for the Mathematics of Human Behaviour at the University of Reading. This position allowed me to explore how mathematics research works in an industrial setting whilst also allowing me the opportunity to gain skills and experience using a number of programming languages I had never encountered before. This brings me back to where I began my story - working at The Pirbright Institute in Surrey. Here I am seeking to gain further skills and experience in the world of scientific research. In the longer term I aim to use these skills to help me establish myself as an independent researcher and begin to build a research group of my own.