Maria Pisliakova

Maria Pisliakova completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2016 at the University of Dundee. She went on to present her work at The Big Bang Fair.

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I applied for a NRP, as I wanted to apply my passion for science outside a school environment and experience hands-on lab work, which I didn’t have the opportunity to do extensively in school. Furthermore, I wanted to confirm my career choice of scientific research, which I was considering last year (this year, I became confident that this is what I further want to do). Thus, I applied considering the Nuffield Research Programme as a ‘stepping stone’ I could use in the future.

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

My project revolved around a gene in the human body, which when malfunctions, is linked to cancer and tumour growth. It is a gene that produces a protein, which many are trying to target. However, this protein is inaccessible by regular molecules as we do not know its ‘shape’, and we cannot inhibit it (i.e. stop it from working completely), as it will have the opposite effect.

Thus, the research I conducted alongside my supervisors focused on targeting and investigating natural mechanisms which control this gene/protein i.e. numerous enzymes and proteins, and finding a way in which we can naturally control its regulation so that cancers and tumours wont arise in the first place, and if they did – restrict their uncontrolled growth.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

From a student who had no idea what a lab looked like, and how scientific results were achieved and proven – the lab was definitely not what I thought it would be like. The people I worked with were extremely supportive, and made the placement enjoyable and fun. Experimental results were conducted and numerous hypotheses were challenged, as results were obtained. I also realised that science is very inter-disciplinary, and some projects require many collaborations with worldwide labs.

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

Through conducting a presentation in front of my lab members, and individuals from other labs, I developed strong communication skills, as well as presentation skills. Throughout the placement, there were many times where I had to ‘think on my feet’, which developed skills of independent work. Everyday, I went home and did research on new terminology or previous studies, and thus expanded my knowledge of science which greatly helped me in Advanced Higher Chemistry and Biology (especially in the first part of biology as I had lab experience on all the theory we were learning).

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

Definitely – I was considering become a medic for many years, and never contemplated a research career, as I was preparing to become a clinic doctor (which wasn’t as appealing, to be truthful). Doing this research project, made me realise that there are many careers in which I can go into relating to both medicine, and research, which I truly enjoyed. Some lab members were very supportive, and arranged mock interviews for my university application, with people in the medic research field nearby. Thus, I am now studying and aiming for medical research. If it wasn’t for this project, I doubt I would have known that there is another side to a ‘coin’.

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

Be confident and don’t leave everything to last minute when applying. Really bring out your best points when writing an application, and show your passion for science. Try to present yourself as a unique individual (be it through a unique life story, or sport).

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

It was absolutely amazing and aspiring! Getting into a Nuffield Research Programme was incredible, and taking it further to Big Bang was definitely a ‘door-opening’ moment. Speaking to fellow competitors and presenting my work, truly felt special, as a lot of people came around and asked many questions. It was a pleasant feeling to inspire many primary school children, who had a strong interest in science. I remember there was a 14 year-old girl, who was absolutely astonishing – she came up asking many difficult questions, with a very solid understanding of science for her age, and when I asked her what she wanted to do she left school, she said she wanted to be a researcher who would cure Type 1 diabetes. She was so enthusiastic, and motivated that I became so as well.

Further, I made many friends and spoke to many experts who worked in the same field as my project was based in. It was definitely a one-in-a-lifetime experience, which I will have many fond memories of.