Meriame Berboucha

"This phenomenal experience has opened so many doors for me – it was one of the best things I have ever done!"

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

The Nuffield Research Placement was introduced to me by my inspirational physics teacher who mentioned that this would help strengthen my university application as well as allow me to enhance many skills; this was also the perfect opportunity for me to increase my self-confidence. I was rather sceptical at first but having read the numerous success stories, incredible experiences and knowing that I could be one of the very few individuals to be given the chance to take part in ground-breaking research alongside accomplished scientists in a real research laboratory – I just couldn’t say no. 

Was the work what you expected?  

Days before I was going to start the placement I was dreading the work because I thought it would be impossible for an A level student to understand the complex terminology and experiments. I was worried that I would not be able to learn all the new laboratory skills and put it into practice with equipment that seemed alien to me. After the first day of experiments I quickly found out that the work was easy to grasp once you had a little bit of practice

I didn’t expect to be able to carry out the assays and experiments independently – I certainly felt like a real scientist! On top of that I was able to work with living cancer cells and knowing that my work could be applied to the real world was irreplaceable. Nuffield Research Placements make scientific research enjoyable, rewarding and beneficial to both you and the world. 

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

My supervisors offered me outstanding help, support, patience and knowledge throughout the project duration. They provided me with the project outline, the experiments that I had to carry out in order to accomplish my aim as well as always being there to teach me the essential practical skills and theory behind my experiments and project aim. It was an honour to work with all those in the Comprehensive Cancer Imaging Centre at Imperial College London as they allowed me to work independently and contribute my ideas to the work.

What was your project about?  Did you know much about the area before you started?

My project investigated four different bis-dimethylaminopyridine compounds as choline kinase alpha inhibitors and the effect on cancer cell proliferation. Put simply, I worked with four different drugs that acted on enzymes abundant in cancer cells, and I managed to discover which out of the four different sized drugs was best to decrease cell growth by the greatest amount. The project was carried out at the Imperial Centre of Translational and Experimental Medicine and won me a Gold CREST Award.

Before I started I only really had my knowledge from AS Biology but this was a good enough base to get the overall gist of the theory behind the project and get me started. Once I began the project I read into cancer and enzyme controlled reactions in more depth which helped me whilst analysing graphs and coming to conclusions.

My knowledge before the project was miniscule compared to my knowledge after the project – I was pleasantly surprised!

Did you learn any new skills? Has this helped you with your university applications?

Taking part in this challenging research project enhanced my communication and teamwork skills having worked co-operatively with a diverse selection of people particularly in a pressured environment. Balancing laboratory work, literature, meetings and discussions required great time management. Numerous complex experiments were carried out requiring knowledge beyond the AS level syllabus, impeccable analytical, observational and listening skills which allowed excellent results to be obtained. Problem solving skills were of great importance particularly whilst analysing data. The fact that I was able to work in one of Imperial’s laboratories and obtain results that may be of use to the academe of science was unique and exceptional.

Carrying out this Nuffield research project has aided my university applications immensely as it was a great way to show academics that I had the skills and qualities for a physics degree which were enhanced by the placement as aforementioned. Having carried out the placement it shows that you are passionate about science, academically able and a determined individual. 

Did the work you did over the summer help you to decide what you want to do next?  

Doing this exceptional research project over the summer was a great opportunity for me to step into the shoes of a research scientist and allowed me to discover my passion for research. I would love to be a part of the research environment and work on something that could help save lives. I hope to do a PhD in the field of medical physics and hopefully discover something new!

What are your future plans?

I shall be doing a degree and Masters in Physics at Imperial College London. I then hope to later become a medical physicist. As I am entering a male dominated subject the placement made me aware that females can be as good as the males in science subjects.

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

For anyone that is thinking of applying or in the process of applying I would say definitely go for it, it is one of the most amazing experiences. You will be carrying out research that may have never been done before, you will get to work alongside accomplished scientists in a field you love as well as getting your hands on cutting edge equipment that is much more advanced than that at school! It is a great opportunity to increase your confidence, knowledge and skills helping to make you a more rounded person. Do not miss this incredible chance of being a young research scientist over the summer! Make your summer special with a Nuffield Research Placement. 

Any other comments?

For all those that are having second thoughts I would say take the plunge and definitely apply, you have nothing to lose and there is no harm in trying. Coming from a state school I never thought I would get in, however, I plucked up the courage to apply and was successful. I went on to attain the Highly Commended prize in the National Science and Engineering Competition which was a great way to show off your project to like-minded students, accomplished scientists and engineers and I was even lucky enough to showcase my work to Professor Brian Cox and other celebrity judges. 

If the opportunity to apply to the competition is open to you definitely, definitely apply, it is a fantastic experience that will remain with you forever. You will be able to make essential contacts that shall help you in the future with career decisions and/or gaining work experience. Make the most out of your placement and use your supervisors to the max and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions they will be happy to answer them. Once you complete the placement grab all the great awards and experiences that come your way.