"I would advise anyone thinking about a career in any area of STEM to apply for a Nuffield Research Placement. The opportunity of a placement is extremely valuable and the skills you gain from the experience will benefit you hugely. Although you need to be willing to sacrifice some of your free time during the summer holidays, it will not be wasted and you'll be rewarded tenfold for your efforts."
Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?
I was considering studying either pure biology or biomedical science at university so began exploring the career pathways open to graduates. Research-based careers appealed to me and I felt it was appropriate to gain some first-hand experience of the work of a research scientist. Furthermore, being able to demonstrate my commitment to a career in the field would no doubt bolster my UCAS application. It only seemed sensible to apply for such a valuable experience.
What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before getting started?
My project focused on determining how different carbon sources affect the yield of recombinant protein produced in the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, in order to identify methods of improving the production of such novel proteins. My investigations complemented a much larger research project going on at the Centre for Intergrative Systems Biology, which gave my efforts a great sense of relevance and application to current science.
I had no previous knowledge about the discipline of systems biology or recombinant protein science. However, having carried a research placement in the field, I am able to confidently highlight the relevance of these bio-molecules to modern pharmaceutical technology and, most notably, in the development of drugs to combat the deadly Ebola virus.
How did your supervisor help you with your project work?
Cate, my supervisor, assisted me greatly throughout my placement. She would always ensure that I understood exactly what I was doing and the purpose behind it. At all times she was very approachable and supportive. Being an experienced research scientist, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to be able to work with Cate and ask her questions to gain a clear insight into her work.
Did you gain any new skills from undertaking your placement?
My practical skills developed immensely, something that my biology teacher commented on during my A2 studies in Year 13. I have gained much more confidence in my bioscience abilities and feel better able to tackle new, higher-level concepts. This newfound self-belief with surely be of benefit to me when I reach university.
Working on my project report enabled me to both demonstrate and further refine my literacy and scientific communication skills. Previously, I was anxious about my ability to compile a professional scientific report, however I was able to do just that and now feel more confident about writing detailed, self-critical evaluative reports. I feel that this is a well-valued skill for higher-level study in the life sciences.
Did the placement match your expectations?
On reflection, the experience far exceeded my initial expectations. Contrary to what I first believed, I spent most of my time working in a laboratory environment, which enabled me to gain plenty of experience using industry-standard equipment that I’d previously only read about in textbooks! It was a fantastic experience to independently undertake scientific tasks while simultaneously expanding my understanding of the concepts behind these protocols. The experience significantly aided my decision to apply for place on a biomedical science degree course, largely thanks to the practical element of the placement and the awareness it gave me around careers in research.
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STEM stands for 'Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths'