Charlie Lamb

Charlie Lamb completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2018 at the NHS Blood and Transplant Centre, Liverpool. Charlie presented her project The Development of New Ocular Tissues for Transplantation at the Big Bang Finals. We talked to Charlie about her experience. 

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

It was advertised by my college and I was drawn to it after being informed of the opportunities and advantages the placement would allow me to have that would enable to me to enhance my personal statement for university. At the time of application for the placement, I had very little experience in extracurricular science and was hoping the placement would fill up this gap in my statement

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

My project involved finding a protocol to decellularise (remove cells in the tissue whilst maintaining the matrix of the tissue) tissue from the conjunctiva of pigs. The importance of this is to one day hope that the conjunctiva can be a tissue that can be offered as a transplantation. Porcine (pig) tissue was used as it was very early on in the process and human tissue was deemed too precious to be used this early on in the process. Before the project, I had no idea of decellularisation and actually had to sit at the computer after receiving the details of my project, googling a lot of the terms used. My knowledge on eyes was extremely limited, but this did not affect at all my performance whilst I was there, and I am actually now very informed on the topic.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

I expected my placement to be a little bit boring, following around a scientist and then writing a report about what they did, but that was certainly not the case. My placement was extremely hands on, and by the last week, I was practically doing the lab work myself, with my mentor following me around to make sure I was doing everything safely and correctly. I was able to use a lot of equipment that I would not normally have access to use and was treated as a member of the team rather than a student just there for the experience. Writing my report was certainly not a bore either, at the end each day, I would simply write a paragraph or two about what I had done that day, which took me thirty minutes tops, and by the end of the four weeks, I put all the paragraphs together. I had written a twenty page report without even realising.

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

My supervisor allowed me to be independent with everything I did, and often let me take over after she knew I had an understanding what to do, enhancing my placement and allowing me to get the full experience of what being a research scientist was like. She also sat with me and went through the importance of this project, and went through the aims of the NHS with me. It was truly an insight to what a researcher within the NHS had to consider, as the quickest protocol for our project may not necessarily be the best for the patients. We also went through some public engagement techniques for children between the ages of 4 to 16, which let me respect the work outside of the lab that these scientists have to think about, as many members of the public are unaware of the efforts of these scientists and the advantages of leaving your body behind for research or organ donation.

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

My success in the labs at college has dramatically improved after this project, as I have a more detailed understanding and more effective techniques for time management and how to keep things flowing smoothly in a laboratory environment. I am able to think more independently and use my initiative more confidently in order to make my practical work a success. My scientific knowledge has also greatly increased which has reflected in my studies, as my work has much better terminology and is able to read much more like a real scientist, rather than just a student.

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

My experience has secured my decision to work in the field of biology and has indeed allowed me to truly enhance my personal statement as hoped. I believe talking about my project and everything I have learnt on my personal statement has opened doors for me, such as an offer from Oxford University or a place at the young scientist of the year competition final, both of which will certainly take a place on my CV when I apply for jobs. Everything that has come from this project have all been positive impacts on my life which I firmly believe will help me when I leave university and hopefully become a research scientist.

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

I would definitely say to apply for it. The summer between year 12 and 13 is really long and it’s good to have something to fill it up a bit more. Everyone I know who did a project has had a positive experience for it. I would especially recommend it for anyone considering to become a research scientist in the future, to get an in depth experience of what it is like day to day inside and outside of the labs.

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

It was extremely useful presenting my work to the public, as I was able to gain more confidence and practise. The range of people that were coming up to me (children to academics) allowed me to practise presenting my project in a number of ways and experience presenting to wide range of audiences, tailoring the presentation to most fit them. This will be a skill that I will be able to take into university and enhance my prospective careers.