Naomi Osborne and Mark Hutchins

Senior Development Scientist, Thermo Fisher Scientific

"We're looking to publicise the Nuffield programme to other Thermo Fisher Scientific sites across the UK so that they can participate in future years. The students' work has produced some very valuable results that will benefit our current product development projects."

What type of research projects do you offer Nuffield students?

The Microbiology Division of Thermo Fisher Scientific develops products for the clinical, food and pharmaceutical industries. The projects that we offer are quite varied; for example, this year we had a student producing enzyme kinetics data on novel substrates which are used in our existing formulations. The data she obtained will further our understanding of these biochemical interactions and inform future product design. Another student obtained data on the effectiveness of antimicrobial compounds against a wide range of clinically relevant bacteria. His results will aid the development of novel products used in the detection of pathogenic organisms in both food and clinical samples.

How do you design a suitable Nuffield Research Placement?

As the placement students will have only just completed their AS-level studies, we need to design a project that is based on the concepts which they would have already encountered at school or college. Nuffield projects need to have a clear aim and the results should be relatively easy to obtain in a four- to six-week time frame. The projects are planned so that the students learn various scientific protocols and laboratory techniques. We feel it’s important to allow scope for the students to devise some of their own experiments from the results which they obtain earlier on in their placements; giving them a taste of what being a professional scientist is really like.

What motivates you to supervise a student through the Nuffield programme?

Nuffield Research Placements give students the opportunity to experience what working in a lab environment is really like. It also gives them an opportunity to work independently – a crucial life skill. We were very eager to offer students the chance to work in industry with scientists and technologists who have either gained professional-level qualifications before or after starting their working careers. Through interacting with personnel from a variety of backgrounds, we hope that that the students can appreciate the different routes available to becoming a practicing scientist. Undoubtedly, the experience they gain from the Nuffield programme will help them decide on a suitable career path, ultimately enabling them to secure a place at university and/or relevant employment. It is a privilege to be able to help guide young people towards a career in industrial research and development.

What do you feel have been the main benefits to you and your organisation from participating in the programme?

The high-achieving Nuffield students are the scientists and researchers of tomorrow. They have obtained valuable results which may be used to develop novel products and, when the vacancies arise, they are precisely the kind of high-calibre students we are looking for. Hopefully, they have been inspired to want to work for the organisation in the future.

Those who supervised the Nuffield students have gained important management and mentoring skills through teaching them practical tasks and the theory behind them. The experience has taught our staff how to plan workloads for less experienced team members as well as monitor their progress over the course of a project.

What would you say are the key benefits to the Nuffield students?

Through working on a four- to six-week project, the students get to truly master industry-standard experimental techniques as well as gain presentation and scientific writing skills that will help them in their careers. Getting the chance to become independent thinkers gives them a taste of what being a scientist is like. Our students have had the opportunity to carry out method development and technical problem solving, which is something that most people don’t get to experience in school or even when they reach university.