John Innes Centre

Project provider name: John Innes Centre

Where research placements take place: John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UH.


How many years has the John Innes Centre offered placements to Nuffield students for?
26 years and with Nuffield since 1997.

The picture shows the 2006 Nuffield scholars with their supervisors and senior scientists. The man in the front row is Professor Sir David Hopwood, the world expert on the antibiotic-producing organism Streptomyces and an emeritus member of staff at the Centre. Sir David attended the scholars’ talks and gave a short talk thanking them for their work and encouraging them to consider careers in science.

How is the scheme run within the John Innes Centre?
The Norfolk Education Business Exchange let us know how many places they can fund. A panel then selects the most suitable students from the students’ applications. The panel consists of representatives from across the spectrum of science at the Centre, and includes senior scientists, postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and research assistants. The panel aims to identify the students who will benefit the most from the experience, and to take students from a wide cross-section of schools in our area.

All senior scientists, postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and research assistants at the Centre are asked to provide outlines of projects. The selected students are then matched with projects, based on the availability of the project supervisor and the student and on the interests and preferences of the students expressed on their application forms. In cases where the project supervisor is a postdoctoral researcher, a PhD student or a research assistant, overall responsibility for the student’s welfare and health and safety is taken by a senior scientist.

Students visit the Centre about a month prior to the start of the project to find out more about our working environment and to meet their supervisors. The students then work for four weeks at the Centre during their summer holidays. During this time they present short talks describing their project to an audience of other students and their supervisors.

The scheme within the Centre is administered by Helen Ghirardello, and the Panel is chaired by Prof. Alison Smith, a senior scientist at the Centre.

What do you feel the main benefits of the scheme are?
From the point of view of the students, the scheme provides a sample of what work in a real international science lab is like. The projects are directly related to the main research themes of the supervisors, so that the students are able to make a genuine contribution to a research programme. The students encounter both practical and theoretical aspects of science that are not taught in schools, and have the opportunity to discuss many broader practical, social and ethical aspects of scientific research with the scientists they meet. The students also receive help and advice on making a short scientific presentation.

For many students, we understand that the opportunity to work at the Centre has helped them decide about their future careers and their choice of University course. Many of the students return to the Centre as summer workers during their summer vacations while at University. The experience also provides an addition to the students’ cvs that may help in University applications.

We believe that schools as well as individual students benefit from the scheme. Most of the students are encouraged to share their experiences with fellow students during the following term, and the scheme provides direct contacts for schools and in particular biology teachers with research scientists.

The scheme is valuable to the Centre in many ways:

1. We appreciate the opportunity to work with and to help to train and encourage the next generation of scientists, and we thoroughly enjoy their enthusiasm. Many of the students stay in touch with the labs in which they work for years afterwards.

2. The research results from the projects are almost invariably of value to the research programmes of the labs concerned, and they sometimes open up new research opportunities.

3. Discussions with the students provide us with a practical view of how science is taught in schools, and help us with our other schools outreach projects. We also gain direct contacts with the schools concerned.

4. The scheme provides an excellent opportunity for junior and assistant research staff at the Centre to receive hands-on experience and training in managing people and projects.

Would you recommend the scheme to others?
Yes, wholeheartedly. As described above, there are great rewards for all parties concerned.