Aleksandra Pak

“The placement turned out to be even better than I thought it would. It equipped me with many new, varied skills and each day I found myself becoming more and more engrossed in the subject. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my summer!”








Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I applied for a placement in order to gain hands-on experience of real-world research, which is the career path I would like to pursue after university. I was very aware that practical experience is vital when deciding on a suitable career, so the Nuffield opportunity seemed ideal.

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

My project centred on a branch of probability theory known as Bayes’ Theorem, which is also referred to as Bayesian statistics. I applied Bayesian principles to the problem of locating the missing Malaysian airplane MH370 which disappeared in March 2014. I used various statistical software packages known as ‘R’ that enabled me to generate a probability ‘heat map’ showing the likely locations where the missing plane went down. Prior to working on the project, I had never encountered Bayes’ Theorem before and I had little knowledge of computer programme. During the placement, I gained a fairly comprehensive understanding of Bayesian methodologies and learnt some standard programming techniques used to code in the ‘R’ software suite, too. I would say that around 90% of the material covered in my project was completely new to me.

How did your supervisor help you with the project work?

In the first two weeks of the placement, I had short meetings twice a day with my supervisor  to monitor my progress and check that I was on the right track with my research. Once I felt more comfortable with what I was doing, the frequency of our meetings was reduced until we met once every two days to touch base. I was able to contact my supervisor at all times during the placement so I never felt that I was out of my depth. This approach enabled me to build my confidence gradually and take more and more responsibility as the placement went on.

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

Give it a go – you should definitely apply if you are interested in any STEM subject. Although you may not get the exact project you wanted to begin with, the experience of working alongside professional researchers is unparalleled and you will learn a huge amount in the process. You will find that your Nuffield placement provides a real boost to your UCAS applications and allows you to develop highly transferable skills which will benefit you throughout your academic and professional career.

See also

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths

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