by Stephen Curry
A guest post from Rui Gao sharing her impressions from a year out working at the Institute for Cancer Research
As part of my degree, I undertook a placement year between my second and final years. I thoroughly enjoyed my placement experience and highly recommend other students who are thinking seriously about pursuing postgraduate studies to do the same. My year at the Institute of Cancer Research allowed me to gain countless experiences and insights not necessarily attainable by just attending lectures and practicals.
As someone who had always been considering postgraduate studies, the year in industry/research programme was an excellent fit for me because in many ways, the placement was a “test run” which allowed me to determine if a postgraduate degree was the right choice for me. During my placement, I gained deep and meaningful insights into the world of research and what it was like to work in a lab day in and day out. Short-term summer placements can also offer students a glimpse into research and expose them to new techniques, but with a year-long placement, I could really delve deeply into my project, and develop and optimise it, which is not always the case with a short-term placement because simply learning the techniques used and doing the necessary background reading can take up to weeks or months.
I also found it highly inspiring to spend a year working alongside talented scientists who were already established in their fields. My social interactions with them were just as rewarding as the practical work I carried out and I received invaluable advice and suggestions from them simply through lunchtime discussions or even over a few drinks after work. I attended seminars by leading figures in cancer research on a regular basis and on a few occasions had the chance to sit down and discuss their research with them, which were exciting and eye-opening opportunities.
One of the greatest rewards from my placement was the sense of accomplishment I felt. As with anything, what you get from it is proportionate to the amount of effort you put in, but it was immensely satisfying to observe in myself a marked improvement in my technical and analytical skills. Over the course of the year I matured and developed as a scientist. There were of course some setbacks and frustrations along the way, but that is part and parcel of research, and I think learning how to deal with failures efficiently is an essential skill to succeed in science.
Now, as a result of my year in research, I am more motivated than ever to return to Imperial and do well in my final year, then continue on to postgraduate studies. It has allowed me to ascertain that a career in research is the right path for me; I can now apply for a postgraduate degree knowing what it entails and what is expected of me. Finally, having substantial research experience and good references from my placement supervisor will undoubtedly enhance my application for a variety of positions, whether Masters/PhD courses or other careers.