In the latest post in our series of blogs written by students who undertake summer placements at the WIMM, Isabella Watts (a second year medical student at the University of Oxford) tells us why she would definitely advise other students to do a research placement as part of their training, and that actually science can be quite fun…
As a second year medical student at Oxford I have spent the majority of my first two years learning about the science that underlies medicine. Across all my subjects, my lecturers highlight the importance of critically examining the evidence that underpins the different concepts we learn.
However, no matter how much time you spend trawling through PubMed to find a new and exciting paper for an essay, it’s not the same as getting hands on experience in a laboratory; seeing what really goes into understanding the processes in our body and the rationale for designing drugs that doctors prescribe every day.
This summer I was lucky to get the opportunity to work in the laboratory of Professor Tatjana Sauka-Spengler, with Amy Kenyon as my supervisor. I was helping Amy with her PhD project, which involves using zebrafish to study the immune response to melanoma and tuberculosis (TB). This was an incredibly exciting project using a unique model system to examine how different white blood cells (specifically, macrophages and neutrophils) respond to both of these disease conditions.
From my very first day the WIMM was an amazing place to work, and I loved having the chance to learn more about laboratory life. I hugely appreciated both the teaching I was given and the opportunity to work independently on some different aspects of the project.
Looking back at the time I spent in the lab I can’t quite believe how much I learned, and the learning curve was definitely vertical at times! When I arrived procedures like DNA and RNA extraction were things I had only ever heard mentioned in passing in papers, yet they soon became part of my weekly routine.
The breadth of this project meant I was able to try my hand at a huge number of different techniques, using various technologies such as the NanoString Counter, a robotic instrument that allows scientists to look at how the DNA inside each cell is being read under different conditions. Each week involved doing something new and exciting, and the stereotype of someone sitting in a silent lab, mixing chemicals until they get a pipetting blister is definitely far from true.
As well as enjoying exploring different laboratory techniques it was also interesting to learn more about the process of scientific enquiry. One of the most exciting things about working on a project is how your results and findings one week can influence your experiments the next. It was amazing to get to work with the cutting edge technologies available at the WIMM, and bounce ideas off experts in their respective fields.
Overall I have had a fantastic time here. My project has convinced me that I want to combine both clinical research and medicine once I have qualified, and I know the techniques that I learned this summer will be incredibly useful in the future.
I would definitely advise other medics to do a research placement during one of their summers as it is an incredibly valuable experience, as well as a lot of fun!
Post edited by Aimee Fenwick and Bryony Graham.