Kirsty Nugent, BSc Biological Sciences

Kirsty Nugent

I went through clearing and it was the best decision

I was actually a clearing applicant. Having originally applied for Chemical Engineering at other universities when it came to results day I had a change of heart and realised my passion was Biological Sciences. I knew that Leeds has a fantastic reputation and I admired its Russell Group University. I also knew of some people from my hometown that seemed to be having a great life in Leeds. Having done some more research I then discovered that the FBS department at Leeds was one of the best in the country and they offered modules that I felt I would be interested in. Also, having grown up in rural Cumbria I was so ready for the change for city life but I did not want to go somewhere as large and as daunting as London. Therefore, the northern city of Leeds seemed like the perfect fit and when visiting the campus, particularly the union, I felt at home.

​​​​​​My Course:

My favourite modules…

This term I would say cancer biology. The research that my lecturers present to us is cutting edge up and up to date. I learn the newest advances into cancer research and how to treat it which is beyond interesting – especially because pretty much everyone is affected by cancer in some way. One interesting aspect is about metastasis, this is basically learning how cancer is able to spread in the body and colonise new sites to form a secondary tumour.

Best practical elements…

Three of the best practical elements of my course has been:

Genetic engineering labs: here we genetically modified the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) so that it would emit approximately 10x greater light. This 10-week long project involved many techniques and components including my first use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Agarose gel electrophoresis: this was a completely new technique for me when I came to university. I found it so interesting that we could separate proteins due to their molecular weight, I knew that in theory this made a lot of sense but getting to extract the proteins for myself for the first time and see the bands and cut the protein out was a great new experience.

Microbiology labs: I enjoyed inoculating my own agar plates and growing different bacteria to the analyse under the microscope – I even found a species that my lab supervisor claimed to be very rare.

My Industrial Work Placement:

I did a lab-based industrial work placement year at Broughton Laboratories, Skipton. The company specialises in pharmaceutical quality control testing and nicotine services.

My job title was ‘analytical chemist’. I was on the nicotine services team where I worked with E-cigarettes. I was involved in the development of new nicotine test methods and I also did a lot of routine quality control (QC) testing which involved gas chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and being able to use the computer software Chromeleon 7.2 to analyse the data afterwards. I gained skills in teamwork, attention to detail, time-management and leadership and I have experienced the rewards and struggles that come with moving into and setting up a new lab from scratch.

My main projects at work…

Finding a more efficient way to collect E-cigarette aerosol for testing

  • This was my own independent project
  • We currently had no universal method for gas collection from the end of an E-cigarette mouthpiece (sometimes we used tubing, sometimes we didn’t, we also had different ways of recording the weight of the e-liquid remaining after collection)
  • I used 3 different commercially used brands that were different generations and styles
  • I tried out different collection methods and recorded the efficiency of collection
  • I learned the challenges and rewards of planning and conducting your own lab experiments
  • I also learned how to work some lab machinery such as the CETI-8 smoke-rig machinery in great detail and became a sort of ‘expert’.

Helping in the analysis of a large batch of e-liquid from a very large and well-known supplier of e-cigarettes under intense time constraints

  • We all had to work very hard in the lab for a few weeks to successfully complete the analysis needs of a large order from a respected client
  • Completing this tricky project and doing it well would mean more work for the company or a regular basis, meaning a lot more income for the business
  • From this work, I learnt how to work well under pressure in the lab
  • I also learnt how to work hard in a team when necessary

Moving to a completely new lab

  • Towards the end of my placement the nicotine team had outgrown the old lab due to the amount of work and the increasing amount of staff
  • My role in this project was to aid in the move and I was involved in:
    • Making an inventory of all the things we were moving
    • Adding things a list that wasn’t in the inventory but we were going to need
    • I helped in the set-up of the new lab
    • I completely set up one of the new offices by myself
  • I learnt that even though a lot of this work wasn’t strictly lab-work, sometimes you have to do widen your skills and range of tasks at work to suit the needs of the company

I also learnt a lot about what it takes to set up a new lab – it is a long, painstaking process

My placement improved my transferable skills that I can use in any workplace…

It massively improved my communication, analytical and data analysis skills. My communication was improved as I was working in an industrial setting where meetings were necessary to make sure that the team was working efficiently and towards the same goal. I also had to do a presentation during my time on placement about the project work I had worked on independently. I had no/little experience in analytical chemistry before I took this placement, however, now having done assays and other lab work every day I now consider myself an expert in the analytical nicotine testing field. All of the work I undertook required good manufacturing practice (GMP) procedures. Therefore there was a lot of calculations and all work, printouts etc. was documented in a lab book

This therefore improved my data handling skills massively and also made me a lot more accountable for my data handling than ever before as it could have potentially caused patient harm if I messed up

The best part of my placement…

The real highlight for me was independence and learning what it was really like to have an adult, industrial job. It has prepared me so much more for my third year as I feel I was more driven than ever to work, get up earlier, have a routine and now I have in my sights what I want to do in the future – which I did not before.

What I learnt from my placement…

The data handling and analytical aspect prepared me for my placement. All of the skills I had gained in the lab in fact were relevant. I also feel the skills modules and employment module in year 2 also prepared me for what it was like to apply for jobs and work in an industrial setting.

I was aware of all of these roles before placement pretty much. I guess I just wasn’t as aware of all the bands and managers needed in a functional lab – there were as many as 6 tiers of workers.

How my placement has helped my future carer…

Basically, it made me realise lab-based work was not for me. I know now I am not suited to the lab and I know that my skills lie in communicating and leading. I think this placement year will push me to achieve more as I was not satisfied with the work and pay of an analytical chemist.

I have just secured a graduate rotational management scheme at the Post Office headquarters in Moorgate, London.

The careers module in my second year really prepared me for applying for jobs, interviews and CV skills. It made me more aware of how to find jobs and also made me reflect on what I wanted to do in the future. Being the president of the Biology society and student ambassador has really built up my leadership and communication skills which were essential for the role that I was going for after uni. By doing my placement year this made me realise that going into research after Uni was a great option, just not what I wanted to do. Lastly, the feedback from my assessment centre for the job I secured was that my presenting and PowerPoint skills were exceptional; I feel I owe some of this to the skills module in final year as we had to present individually three times throughout the year.

There is also careers help there for you…

I am an employability intern this year so I know a lot about what the faculty offers in terms of employability. Personally, I have had meetings with Tim Goodall. I have attended every careers fair – this is actually where I found my employer for my placement year. I have used the faculty careers website to look for jobs in the past and regularly read the faculty employability newsletter and Facebook page. Lastly, I have used the career centre to do practice interviews and get my CV reviewed.

Leeds is the perfect student city

I love the city centre, it is the perfect size and there is so much to do there including mini-golf, shopping, eating out; the list is endless. I love that there is loads of student housing for second and third years within short walking distance of the university. All of my friends live in Hyde Park and I love that I can get to pretty much every one of my friends’ houses in less than 5 mins. A bar below where I have participated in the open mic on a Wednesday for 3 years now. A range of amazing, student-friendly restaurants like Zaap Thai, May’s cafe, Grove café and Byron burgers