The WIMM plays host to many students over the course of the summer months, offering them a valuable insight into the life of a scientist, and introducing them to fundamentally important concepts and techniques in the lab. In this post, Rahul Shah, a medical student about to start the third year of his degree at the University of Cambridge, tells us about the two months he spent working with Andrew Wilkie and Steve Twigg in the Clinical Genetics lab.
As I arrived at the WIMM, armed with my project title, a set of papers relating to craniosynostosis (a condition which causes babies to be born with abnormally shaped heads) and a basic knowledge of molecular medicine from the first year of my degree, I feared I might be slightly out of my depth. However, as I began working in the Clinical Genetics lab, my fears were quickly dispelled due to the invaluable support that I received from day one from all the members of the team.
I had the privilege of spending eight weeks of my summer in the laboratory of Professor Andrew Wilkie, under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Twigg. With Steve, I was trying to understand how underlying changes to the DNA of patients with craniosynostosis actually lead to the physical features of the disease. This involved working with mice that have the corresponding DNA alterations to those in individual patients, as craniosynostosis arises during the development of the embryo, and therefore would be impossible to study in humans.
From the outset of my placement I was able to gain the hands-on, practical experience that I had been craving since I began my undergraduate degree. Using DNA extraction and PCR became a part of my daily routine, and although it was often frustrating when results were inconsistent, troubleshooting and finally achieving the result I was aiming for felt like a true achievement.
As a student keen to make the most of my time in the lab, the project was an incredible opportunity. Steve ensured that I was able to learn and carry out a range of experiments, and other members of the lab were also happy for me to hop onto various aspects of their projects, allowing me to learn the key principles of techniques such as tissue culture and microscopy, which will undoubtedly be of great value in the future.
The sense of the community within the lab was clear, with tea and cake for every birthday (we had at least one per week during July!) and the occasional picnic making it impossible not to feel part of the lab-family.
The WIMM is a wonderful scientific hub, evident from the well-attended seminars, the various lab visits by collaborators and simply from researchers discussing current work over lunch.
My experience of working in the WIMM was solely positive, and I would not hesitate to recommend a summer placement to any science/medical student. My time here was simply not long enough to answer the all questions that the work demands, and so it has furthered my desire to pursue a postgraduate degree, and to eventually enter the field of academic medicine.