- Course: MBiol Medical Biochemistry (Industrial)
- Year of graduation: 2023
- Nationality: British
The best place to start
I chose the University of Leeds due to its excellent reputation for biological sciences. With it being renowned for its high-quality education and research in the field of Biology with strong accreditation and a history of producing successful graduates and world-class research, I knew this was the university to better myself.
In addition, I loved the campus and the city of Leeds, for how vibrant and diverse it was in people and culture.
Contribute to real-world science
I loved how the course was very research focused, not just teaching us the general concepts but also going into detail about breaking and current developments.
The access we had to professional academic seminars really helped expand my knowledge beyond my degree.
The focus on an interdisciplinary approach to learning allowed me and other students to explore various aspects of life sciences, making our education more comprehensive. This has led to me being a much more well-rounded biochemist.
The opportunity to network with seminar speakers and other guests in the Faculty of Biological Sciences (through career days etc.) gave me a great outlook into what my future in this area could look like and connected me to various internships and other opportunities. Furthermore, the practical elements of the course really helped me fall in love with scientific research and I am excited for what my future holds in this area.
My MBiol project was a particular course highlight. I feel this was the time that solidified my passion for science. Before, my affinity towards Biochemistry was purely built on curiosity and an aptitude towards science. However, doing my Masters project, where I truly had to think and solve problems was challenging but so rewarding. I never thought I'd be able to actually add something to scientific literature and it proved to me that this was the career for me. I am also proud to say I achieved a first-class mark overall in my MBiol Medical Biochemistry course.
I enjoyed working in an actual research lab as part of a research team, with my work actually contributing to (hopefully) an academic paper.
Becoming competent in skills such as cell culturing, assay design and recombinant protein production. Those feelings of satisfaction when an experiment produced meaningful data, it was something that was definitely a highlight.
My year in industry at Vertex Pharmaceuticals was another highlight (despite it occurring during Covid-19). The skills I gained from this placement were a real turning point during my university experience as I gained a new level of confidence, determination and aptitude. To experience how an industry lab functions, as well as leading various science outreach projects during my time there was an invaluable experience.
The skills I gained from this placement were a real turning point during my university experience as I gained a new level of confidence, determination and aptitude.
The friendships I made throughout my course were another great highlight with various campus locations such as Miall social space and Old Bar being great hangout spots.
Truly eye-opening industry experience
As previously mentioned, my year in Industry was with Vertex Pharmaceuticals where my role was Oxford Learning Lab intern.
During my placement, my primary task was designing and running the Oxford Learning lab summer project (remote - 2021 and in-person - 2022). I successfully led 3 weeks of laboratory practicals, including Bacterial transformation and CRISPR gene editing, contributing to the success of the inaugural in-person Global Biotech STEAM summer internship.
The Oxford Learning Lab summer programme was aimed at improving access to science for under-resourced children. My role in the project was designing and organising the sessions and structure of the programme, which involved prepping numerous reagents and equipment ready for the practical sessions – some of which improved my skills in communicating scientific concepts to a variety of audiences when I was running some of the sessions, all of which very useful for my future in postgraduate research.
My rotation in the High-Throughput Screening department provided valuable industrial lab experience. Moreover while establishing the aforementioned Oxford Learning Lab, I helped manage curriculum materials and oversaw the remote and in-person STEM summer internships. Through targeted selection and a database tracking socio-economic metrics, I achieved Vertex's goal of reaching under-resourced children in STEM.
My strong soft skills in a corporate setting were recognized through the Vertex award and hosting site-wide town hall presentations. I efficiently handled additional volunteers and contributed to the applicant evaluation process in interview panels.
Three skills my placement definitely helped me improve:
- Time management
- Soft skills
- Communication skills
Challenges and insights
Furthermore, I think, like black and other minorities, I suffered from imposter syndrome, which meant I often struggled with persistent feelings of being a fraud at university and doubting my abilities, often requiring a lot of encouragement to go for the various opportunities presented to me. However I am happy to say despite all this, I was able to achieve a great deal with my education so far.
As for other challenges, some of the topics were quite hard! Though as you advance through the years, you get more choice in what you choose to study, which meant that towards the end, I was studying topics that I was really interested in.
I feel that life in an academic research lab really bridged the gap between undergraduate and postgraduate perfectly and allowed me to truly evaluate whether this was the direction I wanted to take my career.
However, my MBiol project was the perfect insight into life as a PhD student. I feel that life in an academic research lab really bridged the gap between undergraduate and postgraduate perfectly and allowed me to truly evaluate whether this was the direction I wanted to take my career. I feel the skills I learnt such as in experimental design, execution and troubleshooting are ones that are invaluable to a PhD, and I feel I've got a reasonable head-start in that. The research project has increased my employability and confidence in STEM and I've forged great connections within my research team for my masters.
A bright future
I have accepted a PhD offer for Structural and Cellular Biology at the University of Leeds with the Tomlinson Group, project title "Probing aurora-a binding sites to understand the molecular mechanisms that determine biological function". This PhD is funded by White Rose Research Diverse Talent Studentship, a scholarship that caters to minority applicants to improve diversity in research labs, something that I'm proud to be a part of.
I have accepted a PhD offer for Structural and Cellular Biology at the University of Leeds with the Tomlinson Group.
My role as a PhD student will be discovering Affirmers that can target various binding sites on Aurora-A, with the aim to determine the biological function and see if this function can be potentially inhibited. Doing so opens the door to possible future anti-cancer pharmaceuticals.
My placement year (as mentioned above) has given me the relevant skills to succeed in a career in STEM. In addition, my network in STEM would not be what it was without a placement year, with lots of opportunities open to me thanks to my placement (i.e. the chance to go back and work for Vertex in the future).
Last words of advice
To all current and prospective students, I would say stay curious and engaged in your degree but remember to have fun and enjoy the university experience. Go beyond your comfort zones, join societies, go out on socials, and create the memories that you'll remember your university experience for. Utilize university resources and support, get involved in research however you can, and build professional networks.
To all current and prospective students, I would say stay curious and engaged in your degree but remember to have fun and enjoy the university experience.
I personally would do a year out, whether it is a year abroad or a placement year, the experience you gain is invaluable. Learn from your mistakes and don't be discouraged by them. Be open to interdisciplinary learning and stay updated with the latest research. Plan your career path early but remember it's okay to change your mind throughout the process. Take care of your well-being and make sure you build that network of friends and support.
Remember a scientist isn't just an old white man in a lab coat, it can look like me and it can look like you.