A PhD student who uses impressive ball skills to help explain her cancer research

·3-min read

Meet Britain's brainiest juggler - a PhD student who uses her impressive ball skills to help explain her cancer research.

Hira Javaid, 24, is reading oncology, the study and treatment of tumours, at the University of Oxford.

She has a particular interest in DNA methylation, a biological process affecting the functions and expressions of genes - which she helps to describe using juggling.

Hira decided to do something different to the usual slideshow when asked to present her findings via video due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She learnt to juggle with her sister several years previously, but had largely forgotten about it until spotting a fellow student's tricks on campus.

So Hira decided to combine her love of science and other talent - and has since become a social media star.

Known as 'The Oxford Juggler', Hira's videos have been viewed more than a MILLION times - and counting.

Hira said: "It was so unexpected! So many people commented. It means the world to me. My little videos, bringing happiness to people.

"When it was happening I was telling my friends; 'This is getting a lot of views and retweets'.

"The next morning I woke up to 100,000 views. That was in a single night. It was really surreal. I even got recognised on the street the other day!

"My supervisor, Professor Tim Humphrey, has always been incredibly encouraging.

"Sometimes, when my experiments aren't working or I hit a low point, he will be like: 'Hira, just take a break and go and juggle'.

"He knows how much I enjoy it."

Pakistani-born Hira did her undergraduate degree at Queen Mary University of London and her master's at University College London.

She is now affiliated with St John's College at the University of Oxford - where she rediscovered her love of juggling.

Hira learnt the skill by watching online videos around seven years ago, but hadn't kept it up.

But watching another student's tricks impressed her enough to dig out the balls - and now she's hooked.

She said: "The way I got into it - my sister, she saw a YouTube video that taught you how to juggle in a couple of days.

"I didn't know at that point that you could just learn it all by yourself. So I obsessively tried to juggle for a week - that was about seven years ago.

"I then hadn't done it much until I saw someone doing it outdoors to classical music [at university]. He looked like he was having so much fun.

"It's quite linked to my Oxford experience now.

"But I think that's why do many people enjoy my videos - I also look like I'm having fun."

Aspiring scientist Hira decided to combine juggling and her research after being told a presentation could be less formal due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

She said: "I had always wanted to use juggling as a way to communicate. I thought that the visual aspect could help break down the cancer stuff.

"There was a competition, where we had to show our research.

"Usually it's a PowerPoint but, this year, because of coronavirus, they decided to add a creative element.

"I thought: 'I have to use juggling'. I thought: 'Why don't I try and explain different changes in patterns by using different juggling patterns?'.

"I wanted to use juggling to actually improve the quality of the presentation."

Hira said she usually uses a tripod to film herself, although will get friends to help if necessary.

And she will often keep clips of her dropping the ball in the final edit - as she thinks it's a good lesson for life.

She said: "I want to show people that you don't have to be perfect, and it's about having fun. It's actually helped me learn about failure."

You can find Hira on Twitter @its_hira and on Instagram @oxford_juggler.

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