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.
First year students may yet to have read one in depth but second and third years should be getting to grips with what is the primary mode of communication of scientific research.
They can seem daunting, especially at first. For a start there are thousands of journals out there and it can be difficult to get a measure of the differences between them. Which is better — Nature or Science? The EMBO Journal or the Journal of Biological Chemistry? How do you find out?
As an undergraduate student, you may feel that you are in no position to criticise the contents of a paper that has obviously been written by an ‘expert’. But you should never be afraid to ask questions.
This week I gave the 2nd year Biochemists on my Macromolecular Structure and Function course a short lecture on how and why the scientific literature has the form it does (and what changes might be around the corner). You can have a look at the slides from my talk (PDF – quality reduced a tad to keep the file size small).
If the slides pique an interest please let me know — either by email or by leaving a comment below. The information in the slides is only sketchy so I would be more than happy to arrange a repeat the lecture if there is sufficient interest (this time making sure there is enough time for Q&A at the end).
Update (13 Feb 2013): I did a re-run of this lecture on 12th Feb 2013 for the whole department. For this latter occasion I expanded my comments. You can access the slides via SlideShare. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below or by email.
Congratulations are due to Dominic Swift, a biology student who has not only just graduated, but also become a published author.
Dominic’s account of his research into the effects of logging on primate populations, which was performed during the Uganda field-trip on the Tropical Biology course, has now appeared in Bioscience Horizons.
His supervisor, Prof Vincent Savolainen, is justifiably proud of Dominic’s work — as are we all.
If any other students have succeeded in publishing their results, please do let us know.
In a lecture on Protein Science to 2nd year Biochemists the other day, I mentioned the reducing agent DTT — dithiothreitol — and pointed out that it should not be confused with DDT, a chemical that used to be used to control mosquito populations. Though effective, it was taken out of service because of toxic effects on other species.
Coincidentally, DDT features in science writer Brian Clegg’s latest podcast for the Royal Society of Chemistry. Have a listen (it’s only about 7 min) to learn something about how biochemistry can have an impact on biology.
There was definitely a buzz in the room as the final year lab project students gathered to present and assess their mini-posters.
Not only was there a tremendous variety of project work on display…
…but there was also a great range of styles. Some more successful that others? That was for the students to decide; each had 5 posters to assess and there will be £20 Amazon vouchers for the best ones.
Hopefully all the final years in attendance saw something to take their fancy — or perhaps even to stimulate a new idea.
I was so excited my hands were shaking. Which explains the blurring in the photographs.
There is a very interesting article in the Times Higher Education magazine today on the knotty subject of failure — something that anyone who wishes to succeed will inevitably encounter.
To quote just one small snippet:
“It’s entirely understandable; parents want their children to succeed. Unfortunately, they may be ensuring just the opposite. As Tough notes, protecting students from experiencing failure also prevents them from gaining the self-confidence that comes from overcoming it. There are no safe routes to success. If we want to prepare our students for life’s inevitable slings and arrows, then, for their own sake, we must let them fail.”