January 17, 2022

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Vanessa Burns tells us about the passion which led her to study a MSc (Reproductive Science and Developmental Biology) here at Imperial and the tremendously rewarding career prospects ahead.

Vanessa Burns
10th November 2021

During my undergraduate studies in the United States, I found myself pursuing two apparently opposite passions.

Having been a competitive dancer for many years, my foremost priority was to choose a university which allowed me to continue my career within the performing arts. After starting as a dance major, and confronting my own fears and doubts, I expressed my desire to declare a second major within the sciences. Despite being told that my course load would be unmanageable or that I likely wouldn’t finish within the standard four-year period, I stuck to my intentions and completed an additional major in Biological Sciences.

As an active member of both the College of Performing Arts and the School for Science and Technology, I took part in several exciting opportunities, from annual participation in choreography showcases and performance gala fundraisers, to participation in medical conferences as well as various research endeavors. Through my pre-medical path, my academic pursuits were accompanied by various other involvements including a volunteering position at my local hospital, participation in a fellowship abroad for physician shadowing, and certification as an emergency medical technician within the state of California.

With my simultaneous interests in both science and the arts, I sought opportunities to merge the two. Initially, I took up a lead instructor position for my local hospital’s Art Therapy program, and later involved myself with clinical research using ballet as a means of physical therapy for children with Cerebral Palsy. Following this, I found myself wondering if I should route my career pursuits towards a field which would justify both interests. I considered whether I could entwine both interests through performance medicine or movement therapy. Although greatly appealing to me, these options didn’t quite seem like the right fit.

As I am a product of IVF technology, I have always had a genuine interest in reproductive science! Having particularly enjoyed my undergraduate molecular genetics course, I made the rather spontaneous decision to pursue a one-year master’s course in the UK, prior to returning to my pursuit of a medical degree back in California. I was thrilled to be accepted on a course at the University of Cambridge and embarked on my MPhil degree in Genomic Medicine. Through this, I was introduced to topics spanning the genetics of infectious disease, common and rare disease, and bioinformatics. My personal interests within prenatal genetics allowed me to pursue a dissertation project which addressed the genetic variation associated with epigenetic inheritance of developmental phenotypes in fetuses.

With a newfound interest in scientific research, I reassessed my decision to return to the States to pursue medicine. Instead, I moved to London to supplement my knowledge and skills through enrolling in a Reproductive Science and Developmental Biology course here at Imperial College London. I am greatly interested in understanding embryonic development and its wide-reaching clinical implications. I suppose I am not quite ready to let go of research!

I intend to pursue a PhD with applications in the genetics of embryonic and fetal development, before progressing to a clinical career within fertility services. Whether I will be an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a clinical scientist, I am excited by the opportunities ahead. Whilst working in assisted reproduction would undoubtedly have an associated emotional toll, I do not think that there is any career I would find more fulfilling than helping people create the families they so desperately desire.


Vanessa Burns is currently studying an MSc in Reproductive Science and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London, and has a passion for both arts and sciences!