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The immune system

How students see scientists: Part X

In the last of our series of blogs written by students who chose to spend their summers at the WIMM, Kristian Rutenberg-Houchen tells us how his time in Jan Rehwinkel’s lab has inspired him to pursue this ‘exciting and ever-changing career’.

This summer I spent two weeks with Professor Jan Rehwinkel and his team after my first year of studying Biomedical Sciences at university.

I wanted to sample what I could expect from a career in research science. Jan kindly arranged a small project for me to help out with, the results from which would be used in further experiments.


Electron micrograph of Varicella zoster virus. By NIH NIAID via Flickr.

Jan’s team work within the MRC Human Immunology Unit at the WIMM and my contribution was to start their investigation into how the Varicella Zoster Virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles, evades the innate immune system.

Having my own investigation gave me a focus throughout the fortnight, making it infinitely more interesting than shadowing could ever had been.

Having covered the basics of many aspects of the human innate immune system over the past year in lectures, I thought this would be the perfect project to compliment my studies.

It was an invaluable couple of weeks. The first few days Jan accompanied me as he demonstrated the techniques and protocols I would be following. This included PCR, gel electrophoresis and transforming E. coli: some of the main techniques discussed both at university and during A-Level, yet I had never had the opportunity to see them in action or how all the stages fit together to give a meaningful result.

By the end of the first week I was able to run these experiments by myself and that, in turn, has given me a much better understanding as to how these methods work in a real working lab – it doesn’t always work out like it does in the classroom!

The placement also gave me the opportunity to discuss the working of a modern day lab with members of the team along with the benefits and possible disadvantages of a career in scientific research. It has all given me a real insight into what I should expect from that career path. I can, therefore, base choices on my future on this experience and knowledge rather than mere speculation.

I learned of their own career paths and the general set up of a lab and career prospects. I took part and observed lab weekly meetings, and attended one of the many lectures given in a variety of specialties by international experts.

At the beginning of the placement I wasn’t all too sure about how this career path would suit me. However, I found that the life of a scientist consists of problem solving; constant advances in the field and life-long learning and planning and recording all their experiments – an exciting and ever-changing career, which I don’t think I could tire of.

Most of all I enjoyed the social aspect of working at the WIMM. At lunchtime people from all different labs joined in the lobby-cum-canteen and discussed their projects, what was working, what wasn’t and advising or suggesting different solutions. This exciting scientific community of intelligent and similarly interested individuals is definitely one I would love to be a part of.

The past two weeks has made me think that research science could very possibly be a part of my own future. I’m very grateful to Jan and his team for spending their time with me and giving me this opportunity. I would definitely recommend gaining a similar experience to anyone thinking of a life in science. I had a great and extremely informative time at the WIMM!

Post edited by Bryony Graham and Jan Rehwinkel.


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