I’ve spent two months of my summer holiday doing an internship at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, which is affiliated with Cancer Research UK.
So far, it’s been a fantastic experience – I have been in the lab every day, doing real experiments and experiencing life in a research laboratory. This is very different to my university weekly practical labs – with more advanced and varied equipment as well as having to work more independently on exciting new research.
Some of the techniques I have learnt to use include RT-qPCR (a method of quantifying gene expression), Western Blots (a method of analysing protein concentrations), immunohistochemistry (aka IHC, a method of using antibodies to specifically stain proteins of interest on slides containing tissue samples), and general cell culture techniques (basically, how to keep alive some interesting cells, how to prepare them for freezing, how to prepare them for DNA analysis, how to carry out drug tests on them). These are all techniques very new to me – and so it has been a great learning experience.
I have also had the chance to learn more about other work being carried out at the Beatson Institute by attending frequent seminars, and hear about recent research in the weekly journal club.
Another part of the whole experience I’ve really enjoyed is being given gradually more responsibility and independence. Recently, my supervisor was away for three weeks and I was able to carry out several experiments and look after her cell lines, as well as take on small tasks from other scientists working in the research group. I have also been able to analyse the results of each experiment – for example identifying changes in gene expression using qPCR and analysing if these results are significant between different cell lines, genetic mutations, or drug exposure levels.
Of course, the people are another key part of the experience – and I have been very privileged to work with such a fantastic, international and diverse research group. They have carried out world-leading research published in top academic journals, while still being some of the friendliest and helpful people. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the team as well as hear about their experiences and routes into cancer research.
Although a few things haven’t worked as well as I had hoped (I still haven’t managed a perfect IHC staining!), it has been a really fantastic experience and really opened my eyes to the possibility of doing an PhD and working in academic research.