Jennifer Young

’The experience has made me even more determined to apply for place on a science course at university, mainly due to the confidence this placement gave me and the impression it gave me of a career as a research scientist.’

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

When this opportunity came up, I had to grab it with both hands as it would give me valuable experience in a research-based environment. This type of career appealed to me and I felt it was appropriate to gain some first-hand experience of the work they do there and the different projects going on. Finally, it would allow me to learn some practical skills including how to use some of the lab equipment which would surely aid my UCAS application and show that I have had valuable experience in my subject area.

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before getting started?

My project focused on determining how gamma radiation affected the digestion of feedstock, in this case a poor quality grass from the hills of Cumbria called scrow, and how the pretreatment may affect the yield of biogas from set amounts of grass silage and slurry. In order to identify an appropriate method, several preliminaries were carried out such as trials to determine the best volume of inoculum and the mass of grass silage per 50ml vial. A few other trials were undergone to determine grinding time and “mashability” so the investigation was quite thorough.

This project was requested by Riever Renewables, a major anaerobic digester development company which gave the research a real sense of importance and it showed that it was relevant to current science. The research could even be used for a future PhD or paper which could prove to be beneficial to renewable energy production in the UK.

My previous knowledge about the affect of radiation pretreatment on feedstock was limited as it hadn't really been done before. The only familiarity I had with the project was the process of anaerobic digestion but even then I have gained a bounty of knowledge in the subject.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

The experience far exceeded my expectations as I was trusted to use extremely expensive equipment and spent a lot of my time working in a laboratory environment without supervision, which allowed me to gain plenty of experience while also being independent and figuring things out for myself. It was amazing to undertake scientific tasks while expanding my knowledge of the area. It really helped me understand what it is like to be a research scientist and it has given me an insight into the world of research.

What advice would you give to students applying for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I encourage anyone thinking about a career in a STEM subject to apply for a Nuffield Research Placement as the opportunity is invaluable and skills learnt there are simply not covered in school. The skills learned will benefit you greatly especially if they are thinking of going to university. It is a great way to spend some of your summer holidays as it is an experience that not many people get this early in life. The opportunity will require work and perseverance but it is entirely worth it as it not only teaches you new skills but fills you with confidence in your ability.

Has your experience helped you to decide on a career path?

This experience has made me realise that I would love to pursue a career in research and thanks to their advice I know exactly what path I want to take. Even if this path doesn't work out I know many other ways to work in research and after my experience I can say that I would enjoy working there and I find it really interesting.