Sarah Walsh

“Whatever area of science, technology or maths you’re interested in, you should definitely consider applying for a Nuffield Research Placement. The programme is so unique and it will make you stand out from the crowd after you finish school or college.”

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I had been thinking about what I’d like to study at university for a while but couldn’t decide between a health-related subject and the more general life sciences. I was also keen to get some hands-on experience of life at a university and learn more about how scientific research is carried out. For these reasons it seemed like a good idea to apply for a place on the programme and I’m extremely happy that I did, too!

What was your project about and how did you prepare for the placement?

I worked on an ecological data science project. I studied various populations of moth in the Portland area of the United States, in order to investigate whether there was a link between the success of different species of moth and long-term climate change in the region. I’d studied evolutionary theory and biogeography in my AS-levels which proved quite useful during my placement. However, the best preparation came by reading through several research articles which my project supervisor sent to me before the summer holidays. Although it was a bit tough going to begin with, the reading really stimulated my interest in moth biology and captured my interest from the start.

How did you supervisor help you with your research project?

My supervisor sent me plenty of background material to read through before starting the project. On my first day at the university, he explained to me what the research entailed and how to go about finding the necessary data in specialist journals and online databases. We had weekly catch-ups to talk about my progress and I had plenty of support from him by email, too. I worked alongside research students who were always on hand with advice, guidance and technical support when needed.

Did you gain any new skills from undertaking your placement?

The placement was fantastic – even better than I expected! I gained some highly useful research skills, such as critical reading, working with large datasets and carrying out advanced statistical analyses using Excel. Although I understood the purpose of statistical tests I hadn’t really understood why they were used beyond my A-level studies. However, having applied the statistical procedures to real biological data, I understand their purpose and usefulness far better. Beyond these specific, academic skills I developed my personal skills, too. I had to travel a fairly long way from home to reach my placement each day which taught me about taking responsibility for my own organisation and time management. I feel much more confident when faced with new situations and challenges since completing my project.