Marcellus Augustine

Marcellus Augustine completed his placement in 2016 at the Department of Biomedical Engineering at King's College London. He is currently studying Medicine at University College London. 

What was your project about?

My project involved deciding on the best method for measuring the extent of mid-wall fibrosis, and then using ITK-SNAP to analyse and segment patient MRI scans to investigate the relationship between the volume of mid-wall fibrosis and both the degree of left ventricular dilation and the volume of the left ventricular myocardium. The final aspect of my project involved simulating action potential propagation along a line of ventricular myocytes by using MATLAB to combine the Beeler-Reuter model of cardiac action potentials and the 1-dimensional Monodomain Cable Equation. This was used to obtain a basic idea of how mid-wall fibrosis affects action potential propagation throughout the heart.

What was the highlight/best bit of your placement?

The best part of placement was developing completely novel skills such as programming and modelling with MATLAB. It was difficult to learn this skill as I had no prior experience in programming at all and being faced with encoding action potential models seemed a very daunting task. However, by persevering through the initial syntax errors (and seeking a little help from my supervisors), I was able to successfully work through, code and run these complex models.

Also, the opportunity to work as part of a team of highly skilled researchers was incredible, as was being able to observe and use computational research methods – these were completely alien to me prior to my placement.

What was the your least favourite part of the placement?

The least favourite part of my placement was that there was no gentle introduction to the work I would be doing. I was given some papers and a textbook to read about the formulae and models I would need to code up and then left to my own devices, unless I sought help from my supervisors. Coming from school life where I was constantly supervised and told what to do, this was a tough change to adapt to at first. However, after some time I realised how useful this method of doing things was – I was able to develop my ability to learn independently, and in doing so I felt like I made plenty of progress and personally achieved more.

What is your current role? If you are currently studying, what course are you doing? Where are you studying?

I am currently an undergraduate researcher, a Laidlaw Research and Leadership Scholar, and a Medical Student at UCL. I work in the Research Department of Molecular and Structural Biology alongside a team of three other medical students at UCL to carry out original research into the human skin microbiome. In addition, I work at the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, within the Research Department of Metabolism and Experimental Therapeutics, where I use computational methods to investigate and analyse in vitro tumour morphology.

I also serve as the Oncology Academic Officer of UCL Medical Society and lead a fortnightly journal club which looks at the effects of cancer on patients and their lives holistically, which involves critically appraising and presenting on key papers in the field of oncology. Also, I helped promote and organise an extremely successful fundraiser for the cancer charity: CATS.

I am a co-founder of the UCL Laidlaw Scholars’ Society, within the Office of the Vice Provost of Education and aim to build and maintain networks between Laidlaw Scholars of all cohorts and across all universities, both in the UK and overseas.

What path did you take after finishing you NRP and how has that led you to where you are today?

My NRP helped me discover where my personal professional interests lie. It provided me with the experience, abilities and skillset I need to achieve these interests, and contributed hugely to the start of my academic career.

After finishing my NRP, I developed a keen interest for academia. I applied for and was selected for many academic opportunities and programmes. These early experiences of academia have benefited me in my applications to universities and continue to do so as a strong addition to my CV for jobs, extracurricular roles and internships.

Did your Nuffield Research Placement have an effect on the choices that you made after finishing school/college/university?

My Nuffield Research Placement hugely affected the choices I made after finishing school, and at university. During my placement, I realised that I loved undertaking research projects, and so I became determined to ensure that I worked in academia in conjunction with being a doctor. Therefore, I applied for research scholarships and opportunities at university, and it is due to my Nuffield research placement that I am now undertaking 2 research projects whilst reading Medicine.

My experience with computational methods in my placement was also the catalyst for me teaching myself and seeking opportunities to learn and improve my computational abilities. I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed coding and so I sought out research projects and internships involving coding and programming. I also intend to undertake an intercalated degree in Maths, Medicine and Computers, a prospect that I would never have even considered prior to my placement.

Have you been involved in supervising NRP students yourself? If so, please tell us about this experience.

I have not had the pleasure of being involved in supervising Nuffield Research Placement students, but I have every intention of doing so in the future.

If you could give one piece of advice to Nuffield students about to start a placement what would it be?

The best way of getting the most from the Research Placement is to be proactive. I would advise all Nuffield students to be proactive and approach their supervisor to ask how they can prepare for the project, so that they can arrive ready to begin their project, and not spend a large aspect of it getting to grips with the basic scientific knowledge they need to actually achieve the project’s aim. Furthermore, it is fantastic to read around the subject area, and voice any ideas they might have to their supervisors. Whilst you are still in further education, this does not mean that you can’t have an idea that could improve the project, whether in a small or a large fashion.

What would your advice be to young people thinking about a career in STEM?

I would advise to seek out help and information from those who have already succeeded in the fields you are interested in, and to be resilient in doing so. A lot of the time, when you contact these academic or industrial figures, they will ignore you, but you must be persistent. Sooner or later, you will find someone who will be able and willing to give you all the information you need, who will put you into contact with other experts in this field, and to provide you with practical, real experience within this field. It is only through experience and speaking with others that you can be sure that a STEM career is the right thing for you, as this way you will learn about the numerous benefits, but also the challenges that accompany such a prestigious career.

Did you stay in touch with your supervisor? 

I did stay in touch with both my supervisors. I have not yet had the opportunity to undertake further work with them, but they have been instrumental in me receiving a place on the Laidlaw Research and Leadership Programme.