Research & science communication experience for undergraduate students

 17 March 2020   Institute News

Around the beginning of November 2019, the MRC LMS welcomed a handful of undergraduate students from Imperial College London’s BSc Medical Biosciences (BMB) course. As part of their third-year project, the students had the opportunity to undertake a 20-week lab placement in one of the many research groups. There was also a chance for one student to experience working in the Grants, Engagement and Communications team (GECo) on 14-week work placement project.

Students were placed across the ‘Functional Gene Control’, ‘Integrative Skeletal Physiology’, ‘Cell Cycle Control’, Germline and Pluripotency’, ‘Chromatin and Development’, and ‘Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution’ groups to embark on an independent project contributing to their degrees.

BMB students are introduced to lab research in their first two years on the course. They have the chance to work on a small research project in teams guided by the lab module teaching fellows. However, the sessions take place on only one day per week and so this placement opportunity at the MRC LMS has allowed them to experience what it is like to be part of a real working research group and dedicate all their time and efforts to focus on a specific research project.

“The main difference from the first two years and what makes this placement really special is the fact that you take ownership of your own project. Because you’re so independent and you’re working on your own project, you can set your own pace.” – Michael Hew, Germline and Pluripotency.

“In the first and second years of lab pods, we only had one day in the lab per week, which meant that it was very stressful if something went wrong- you would have to wait a whole week to correct it and there was a lot of pressure to get things done in that one day.” – Elias Copin, Integrative Skeletal Physiology.

During the weeks spent on the project and under the invaluable guidance of their supervisors, the students picked up many skills, both practical ones in the lab and personal skills such as time management, organisation and the ability to work as part of a bigger team. There was no question that they would come across some challenges whilst undertaking their projects, but in a well-supported environment, learning how to troubleshoot and bounce back was a vital part of the experience.

“I’ve actually felt a major part of the team and that the research I’m undertaking and the results I’m generating are having a meaningful impact on the objectives and aims of the research group. The main thing I’ve learnt is to be resilient and to keep pushing on because sometimes it’s not always your fault when things go wrong.” – Kyle Greenland, Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution.

“At first I was concerned about not being able to do anything or not knowing how to, but actually there’s always people there to guide you and at first they really do give you a step-by-step because they do know that you’re not properly trained for some of the techniques.” – Carmen Petitjean, Functional Gene Control.

The placements have provided the students with invaluable experience and insight into working life as a full-time researcher. Meanwhile in the GECo team, the communications and public engagement student had the chance to facilitate and work on numerous small projects such as producing articles on Institute events and recent research publications, delivering engagement workshops and events with local community groups, and working on several multimedia projects to name but a few.

“One of the best parts was probably getting the opportunity to try so many things within the world of science communications and engagements. It was such a good experience helping out with all the events- I met so many people and got to hear so much about them and the stories they were willing to share, as well as their views and opinions on the event itself.” – Emily Jin, GECo