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Issue 133 Autumn 2019

Endocrinologist > Autumn 2019 > Society News


Summer Studentships: nurturing the next generation

| Society News



Society for Endocrinology Summer Studentships enable students to gain valuable, hands-on experience in an active research environment. Supervisors can apply for £185 per week (for up to 10 weeks), plus up to £1,000 for consumables, in order to host an undergraduate student in their lab over the summer. We asked some of our previous hosts and students to tell us how it benefited their work and careers.

SUPERVISORS’ EXPERIENCES

Lina Schiffer

Lina hosted a Summer Student at the University of Birmingham in 2018.

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A summer project gives me the opportunity to follow a new, ‘crazy’ idea outside my core research projects, to generate some preliminary data and to decide at the end of the summer if it is worth going further down that route. Working on such early experiments is also a great chance for the student to bring in their ideas and be creative. I try to include as many techniques as possible, to give the student maximum exposure. By asking them to prepare everything from scratch for their own experiments, I encourage their independence and ownership of the project.

I enjoy seeing the student develop their lab skills, gain confidence and start working independently. Given the limited amount of practical lab work within the curriculum of most degrees, a summer project makes a significant contribution to a student’s training and qualification. Working with a summer student helps me to improve my supervision and leadership skills, as well as with communicating my research ideas to a non-expert. To me personally, the supervision of a summer student is also an opportunity to give back to the community and support its next generation, which I find identity-establishing.

So a studentship is a great opportunity to explore a new project idea, to go out of the box, and to get an extra pair of funded hands in the lab (even bringing their own money for consumables). You also make an invaluable contribution to a student’s training.

Jessica Ivy

Jessica is based at the University of Edinburgh, and hosted Eleanor Brain in 2018.

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Eleanor and I talked through the options, based on her interests, and the ongoing themes and projects within the lab, before we came up with her project. It meant that she could add her mark to an ongoing theme within the lab, with the aim of presenting the research at the Society for Endocrinology BES Conference in Glasgow.

In a purely practical sense, it was tremendously useful to have a summer student. Eleanor was fantastic and picked up new skills and techniques very quickly, which meant she was able to really progress the project. Eleanor also engaged with the research and questioned the techniques and approaches, which is always really valuable, particularly when troubleshooting.

Having a summer student provides a great opportunity to build your skills as a supervisor and as a team player. It’s also a great chance to share how stimulating, challenging and thrilling a career in research can be with the next generation.

You really cannot tell what research is like until you’ve tried it. Summer studentships are a fantastic, risk-free and (often) fun way of ‘trying out’ research in a lab. They’re also a good opportunity to meet and interact with a range of scientists who are performing cutting-edge research, and to gain insights into the current biomedical challenges, the kinds of questions being asked and how they are being answered. The only risk is that you may catch the ‘research bug’ and never want to leave!

Daniel Kelly

Daniel hosted a Summer Student at Sheffield Hallam University in 2018.

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This particular project started out as a conversation with a colleague in my department. We were talking about new projects that we could collaborate on together, and decided that we needed to test some of our ideas out in small experiments. It seemed as though this would fi t a small project like a summer studentship well. By running alongside our other experimental work, it would also allow a large element of training for the student.

The most enjoyable aspect for me, and the real success, was watching Jess flourish and completely develop into a researcher. From her initial lack of confidence and limited lab skills, it was incredible to be part of her progression to a developed student, posing ideas and questions about techniques and research within and beyond the project. Generating some preliminary data was an added bonus.

Training summer students is always a rewarding endeavour. No two students are the same, so it always helps me with my supervisory skills and allows me to develop meaningful ways of teaching. Some of the data generated have been used in research proposals to extend the project into a larger body of experimental work. And, through this, the studentship has helped consolidate a small collaborative network within my department to allow me to expand my research area.

At the very least, it forces a researcher to take time to reflect on ideas or current research, in order to be able to devise a meaningful project, and necessitates time in the lab (which is always fun, refreshing and enlightening), which may otherwise be lost to administrative duties. If you have the time to train, work alongside and develop a student over about 8 weeks, then the outcomes and rewards can be great.

STUDENTS’ EXPERIENCES

Eleanor Brain

Eleanor undertook a Summer Studentship at the University of Edinburgh in 2018.

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I enjoyed the opportunity to do my own research project on a topic that I’m interested in, and gained a deeper understanding of a subject area beyond the scope of my undergraduate degree course.

The studentship helped me understand what a career in research entails and what it is like to work on a research project in a laboratory. I also improved my laboratory skills and gained experience in techniques that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to use during my undergraduate degree.

Having completed my physiology degree, I am now going on to study medicine. I would definitely like to undertake a PhD in the future, as I have really enjoyed being involved in research and I am keen to continue in the field of endocrinology, as it is such an interesting and varied field.

Studentships are a fantastic opportunity to experience what it is like to work in a research laboratory. It is definitely helpful in making decisions about future career choices and provides valuable laboratory experience and skills.

Hassan Khan

Hassan is based at Imperial College London, and held a Summer Studentship in 2017.

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My project investigated the effects of a high or low protein diet on endocrine control of obesity. I undertook it at the end of my second year as a medical student.

It was interesting to see the theory behind the science being applied from start to finish, i.e. from primary cell culture all the way through to radioimmunoassays measuring hormone levels. The studentship helped me to develop skills working independently and to gain an understanding of the challenges of working in research. I was lucky to be able to sit in on PhD presentations and to see the results of their commitment.

Endocrinology remains one of my areas of interest, as it has a very broad application in terms of body systems. I think, even if I don’t continue in endocrinology, this experience has certainly ignited my interest in the research process.

The studentship provides an opportunity to develop in an area of endocrinology with a hands-on, student-centred approach. The fact that a stipend is provided also means you don’t have to worry about expenses over the summer. I would say to prospective students, ‘If you have an interest in endocrinology and research, don’t miss out! It’s a fantastic way to get your first exposure to a research environment and have your own project.’

Mariana Norton

Mariana from Imperial College London held a Summer Studentship in 2014.

Thanks to the Summer Studentship, I found my passion for research and went on to undertake a PhD.

Having recently completed my PhD, I am now a post-doc in Professor Kevin Murphy’s team at Imperial, where I completed my Studentship. If you are considering a PhD, the Summer Studentship is a great opportunity to experience what it is like to work in a laboratory and begin to build a network. Who knows, you may end up enjoying it so much that you stay on in the lab, like I did!

Visit www.endocrinology.org/grants-and-awards/grants/summer-studentships to find out more and to plan your application for next summer.




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