Emma Ashley

Favourite Thing: Investigating new methods and techniques in the lab…science is forever evolving and there’s always new technology being introduced into the hospital laboratory to improve testing on patient samples.



Parkstone Grammar School (1997-2003), University of Oxford (2003-2007), University of Surrey (2009-2011)


School: A Levels Chemistry A, Biology A, Geography A, ICT A. University: Masters in Biochemistry (Oxford), Masters in Clinical Biochemistry (Surrey)

Work History:

At school and in university holidays I worked at a supermarket. During my gap year after Oxford, I tried out a job in accounting but it wasn’t my cup of tea!

Current Job:

I’m a trainee Clinical Biochemist, hoping to qualify in the next couple of months (fingers crossed!)


NHS – Royal Berkshire Hospital

Me and my work

I analyse all sorts of different samples (blood, wee, even poo!) to find out what’s wrong with the patients and help in their diagnosis.

Hospital labs are often overlooked but they are a vital department and often help out many different patient pathways. I work in the Clinical Biochemistry laboratory in Reading which receives over 3000 samples a day from both GP surgeries and from patients in the hospital.

Clinical Biochemistry means measuring the concentrations of different chemicals and compounds in your body fluids.  For example, we measure blood sugar (glucose) to help in the diagnosis of diabetes, tumour marker proteins to monitor how well cancer treatment is going, and enzymes to check for damage to different tissues.

For the routine tests, we use massive automated analysers that churn out the results.  However, for the more unique tests, manual methods are used and it sometimes really is like doing school chemistry at work!

Luckily, the majority of patient results are normal and go straight back to the doctor. However, the more unexpected or unusual results need a little bit more investigation and interpretation… that’s where I come in.

My Typical Day

Luckily, my work is varied and no two days are the same!

As I’m in my fourth and final year of training, I still work in the lab on the bench one or two days a week.  I set up new methods on the analysers and have to do a fair bit of reading on new techniques to check it is the best option.

Other days I help out with the clinical validation of the results.  This means I check whether the doctor needs an explanation of the result or whether it would be a good idea to add on more tests that might help explain the result further.

I’m also part of the nutrition support team which sees patients on the wards twice a week.  Most of these patients have had surgery on their stomach or intestines and need feeding through a vein.  I check that they are receiving enough nutrients, vitamins and electrolytes (eg. sodium, potassium) by measuring them in the blood and provide biochemistry advice to the doctor, dietician and pharmacist.

What I'd do with the money

As a STEMNET ambassador, I’d like to donate my money to STEMNET.

STEMNET is an educational charity that brings science into schools and educates you about future career opportunities in science, engineering and maths.  I believe this is a brilliant organisation and really useful if you’re interested in science but not sure what your possibilities are after you’ve left school.  I certainly wish an organisation like this was around when I was at school.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, adventurous, hard working

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Daft Punk

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I spent 2 months in Madagascar completing a marine conservation project. Scuba diving everyday and surveying marine wildlife is certainly a good way to live!

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

To be happy and successful, and to be able to keep on helping patients throughout my life in my job.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wasn’t really sure, I knew I wanted to continue working in Science so I chose to complete a degree in the subject.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Very occasionally….

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

Doing research with the doctors on the Intensive Care Unit and being involved in a clinical study.

Tell us a joke.

Other stuff

Work photos:

The automated lab in Biochemistry – we get about 3000 samples a day.  The samples go onto the track and then taken to the right analyser.


Sue setting up the samples for measurement of vitamin D – many of us may not have high enough levels in our blood. We get vitamin D from sunlight and from certain types of food!


Gail analysing samples for illegal drugs on the gas-chromatography-mass-spectrometry analyser (GS-MS for short!)


Some of my friends working in the lab