Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Holidays! What Holidays? I worked in the Research Laboratories

We always encourage our students to seek extra-curricular experiences, which enrich and support their academic studies and allow them to be more competitive in the work market once graduated.  To that end, over the last few years the school has developed a summer vacation research bursary scheme, offering a rich variety of research experiences working alongside research-active staff and post-graduate students.  This summer, 16 students (a combination of both 1st and 2nd year students) successfully undertook a wide variety of bursary research projects focussed on anything from proteomicsand genetics to immunology and virology .  But enough from me, don’t take my word for it, what do the students have to say?

Jessica Yanwube 2nd year Biomedical science student
This summer I undertook a placement in Prof. Neil Avent’s lab based in Davy building 802. The reason I chose to apply for a placement in this lab is because I will be doing my third year project on this same topic area which is Non-Invasive prenatal Diagnostics (NIPD), and wanted to have a taste of what it would be like when it comes to doing the project. I was able to gain a lot of practice with techniques involved in traditional and real time PCR, western blotting and also to watch some techniques of DNA extraction from whole blood and blood plasma. The main focus of my summer placement was on designing new forward and reverse primers for improved efficiency of an RHD real time PCR assay used for detection of the presence of the RHD gene. Using some computer software packages such as Oligoanalyzer and BLAST, we were able to design an array of primers and pick the best ones based on factors such as GC content and melting temperature. We then tested their efficiency using a real time PCR assay and analysing the results given on the StepOnePlus™ software used. I can honestly say throughout the years of studying science based subjects, this placement was the first experience I had that made me feel like an actual scientist. The experience gained was invaluable and we all got a chance to do experiments we would have never had time to do during the term time. It was great finally being able to put a lot of the theory learnt through the year into practice. With such small intimate groups it’s a great opportunity to ask all the questions you might be too embarrassed to ask in an environment such as a lecture theatre. Given the choice I would do it all again and would recommend it to any first or second year student because it’s too good an opportunity to let pass you by!

Lindsay Ussher 2nd year Human Bioscience student
My research experience with Plymouth University was thoroughly enjoyable, challenging and extremely satisfying.  My work used the field of bioinformatics to explore the possible cure for HIV by exploiting the proteins produced by Endogenous retroviruses. Since my work was bioinformatics based, this gave me the opportunity to develop my computer and problem solving skills. Although I was mostly independent in carrying out my research, I had the chance to work alongside research active staff and found it very helpful to engage in the weekly meetings and discussions with my research supervisor and share my ideas with other members of the research group, researching into similar topics.  This helped develop my communication skills and my overall understanding of science, as I was required to apply the knowledge that I had acquired from lectures to engage in such discussions regarding my research.  Finally, in regards to the future, having first-hand experience of scientific research has changed the way I view science. It has given me more of an appreciation of the processes involved in scientific research and development as well as understanding the implications of scientific discoveries.

Keaan Amin 1st year Biomedical Science student
My school vacation experience within the Centre of Biomedical Research helped me continue and build my ongoing passion for biomedical and clinical medical research through attaining and enhancing analytical and experimental skills, which are considered imperative for a career in the medical field.  This research project experience allowed me the unique opportunity of analysing and interpreting a cancer genome and detecting putative causal mutations through changes in gene expression. Simply an opportunity not many first year university students can say they experienced. I had access to facilities housing the latest and cutting-edge bioinformatics software, I was able to investigate the significance of changes in expression of genes pertaining to cancer induction mechanisms.  Regular scheduled meetings with project supervisors concerning project material and any ongoing issues truly gave me confidence to look above-and-beyond the outlined aims in my initial project application.  Being able to share and communicate concepts and ideas to fellow students whether PhD or Post-Doctorate students provided me with invaluable insight into accruing academic knowledge that I would have once believed to be above my scope of understanding. This honestly made my placement a remarkably fulfilling and engaging experience. The overall vacation project helped me realise the independency, dedication and fervent interest required to complete an academic research project as part of the curriculum in the third year of a Biomedical Sciences degree.

Are you interested in boosting your CV and undertaking a similar vacation research bursary? 
It is simple; start identifying the research area that you are interested in and approach the appropriate research-active member of staff.  Details of next year’s bursary scheme will be announced early next year through the Centre’s Director of Research, Professor Simon Jackson.

Andy Foey, Sept. 2014.