Rose McNelly

Rose McNelly completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2016 at the Earlham Institute. She went on to present her work at The Big Bang Fair, and won the London International Youth Science Forum prize.

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

When I first heard of Nuffield Research Placements it sounded like such an amazing experience and a really productive way to spend the summer holiday.  I wanted to complete a Nuffield Placement to gain some first-hand experience working in a science environment and to strengthen my UCAS application.  I also wanted to learn what ‘real’ science was like and how it was different to the science I studied at college.

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

My placement involved extracting DNA from European Polecat tissue and preparing 2 DNA libraries (a long mate pair and a paired end library).  I then sequenced these libraries using an Illumnia HiSeq 2500 and assembled the reads produced from the reader on DISCOVAR de novo.  Finally, I quality controlled my final assembly on 3 programs: BUSCO, KAT and the GenomeHelper N-Stats tool.

I knew barely anything about my project before I started my placement.  I didn’t even know what a European polecat was!  However, this really didn’t matter as I quickly picked up the theory behind my project and the practical skills whilst completing my placement.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

My placement went above and beyond my expectations; it was such a fun way to spend my summer holiday!  I didn’t realise how much I would be allowed to do, I thought that it might be a bit boring as I might be watching my supervisors for a lot of the time.  However this was definitely not true.  My project was truly ‘hands on’, I used some really high tech pieces of equipment and was involved in every single stage of the project.

I loved the fact that my project was real life research which the Earlham Institute wanted to carry out.  It felt my research had a true purpose and it made the experience more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.

Did you gain any new skills, both scientific and general work skills, from undertaking your placement?

My placement taught me so many new skills from many different areas. In the lab I learnt about new techniques and methods which I had never heard of before my placement, such as PCR (polymerase chain reaction).  This has been extremely beneficial to me as when I covered these techniques at college this year I had first-hand experience which made learning the theory easier.

During the assembly stage of my project I had to do a lot of work on computers and I learnt some basic computer code, this was something completely new to me, although I quickly picked up the basic skills with support from my supervisor.

Before my placement I had no idea how to even start writing a scientific report.  However, I received a lot of help and guidance and this enabled me to learn the skills required to write a successful report, e.g. referencing. 

My placement showed me that to be a successful science researcher not only do you need to have the correct scientific skills but you also need good skills, such as communication and team work.  My time at the Earlham Institute allowed me to practise all of these skills, for example I worked in the small group in the lab and attended lectures and liaised with other scientists.

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

I would encourage anyone who is thinking about studying a STEM subject at university, or would like to enter a STEM based career, to apply for a Nuffield Placement.  It is such an amazing opportunity and will allow you to experience first-hand what a STEM career is like and see if it definitely the career for you.

If you are lucky enough to be awarded a Nuffield placement you should try to make the most out of your opportunity, asking questions is an important part of the learning process and will make your experience even more enjoyable.

I would also recommend putting your work forward for a Gold CREST award.  This takes almost no additional effort and is a recognised and highly regarded award which universities and employers will love.

What was it like presenting your work at The Big Bang Competition?

Presenting at the Big Bang Fair was great fun!  I really enjoyed talking to other students about their projects and sharing what I had achieved with people who were genuinely interested.

I would encourage all Nuffield students to put their project forward to the Big Bang Competition as it is a great chance to meet other students who have carried out amazing projects and present your work to specialist judges.  There is even the opportunity to win prizes for your work.  I was lucky enough to be awarded the London International Youth Science Forum prize and have won a place on a two week science forum residential at Imperial College.  Without my Nuffield placement I would have never had this chance and I am extremely grateful for my Nuffield Placement and all the opportunities it has created for me.