Laura Riggall is a Medical Sciences student who is currently undertaking an industrial placement year. Here Laura explains how she secured her summer studentship and how it has helped her get where she is today!
My name is Laura. I am a second year BSc Medical Sciences student and have just completed a laboratory-based neuroscience research summer studentship, under the supervision of Professor Jim Deuchars. Any summer studentship or internship across the university is a fantastic opportunity to participate in, and I hope by reading this post you will have a greater understanding of studentships, the application process, and what there is to gain from undertaking a studentship.
My studentship project
I researched the project ‘Identifying and Promoting Neurogenesis in the Spinal Cord’, the aim being to identify new cells within the spinal cord, what cell types these new cells become, and consider how we could potentially manipulate this process. This project was based on novel research in neuroscience; by understanding neurogenesis we could ultimately manipulate cell regeneration to treat disorders such as multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, therefore establishing this area of research of great importance.
1. Where to find projects
Either your faculty will email out any positions available, or you can find them online. The roles of the studentships will vary, for instance, within the Faculty of Biological Sciences many are based in a research laboratory, whilst others require work within hospitals and/or to perform literature-based research. Of course, each faculty will be different in terms of the types of studentships on offer, but there will be a similar application procedure for all. It is also worth emailing lecturers or personal tutors, as they may make a studentship for you.
2. Submit an excellent CV and cover letter
Firstly, I ensured that my CV compiled the skills and experience to make me a desirable candidate. In particular I highlighted previous lab experience, such as a four-month neuroscience research placement I completed during second semester; this placement was also undertaken in the same lab as the studentship, and so already demonstrated that I was interested and had knowledge of the practices within the lab. Secondly, the cover letter allows you to express why you want the studentship; I spoke about my passion for neuroscience and the project, what I would gain from the studentship, and my desire to pursue a PhD.
3. Prepare well for interview
Not all supervisors will conduct interviews. However, if a studentship that you are applying for is in a desirable research area then it is likely you will be invited to interview. For my studentship interview I prepared well; beforehand I looked through published research journals and papers in relation to the project title, compiled notes, and practiced answering competency questions. For instance, it is likely you will present at the end of your project, so presentation skills are key.
4. Skills and qualifications gained
Throughout my project, aside from taking on the role of a scientific researcher, I have gained and developed a range of skills. I have learnt and improved my scientific laboratory techniques, independence and team working abilities, and I am building on the foundations of my degree knowledge. I have read papers in relation to my project, presented to the lab researchers summarising my results, and am compiling a research paper. As a result I have ultimately developed my confidence, professionalism and an understanding of academic research.
4. Studentships lead on to further opportunities
My studentship supported my industrial placement applications; at interviews I was able to discuss the studentship, and was able to demonstrate my dedication to obtaining research experience, as well as those skills employers highly desire. This studentship will also greatly support any job and PhD applications. Even if you aren’t considering a placement, a studentship only adds to your CV, develops your skills, and will really aid in the preparation of your dissertation.
Overall a summer studentship or internship is a fantastic opportunity to participate in over the holidays. Not only will you learn new skills, obtain new qualifications and develop personally, you will also be able to meet and network with new people. Even if you don’t obtain a studentship there are still many opportunities to participate in academic research, for example by offering to volunteer in a lab or office, or shadow a supervisor, even if it is for only a week during summer or for a couple of hours per week in term time.