Profiles of previous research bursary winners

Find out what previous successful candidates from the research bursary thought of their experiences.

Laboratory Assistant at the Institute of Biomedicine (Seville)

Elizabeth Rawlins

Name: Elizabeth Rawlins  

Course: Bachelor of Medical Science 

Year: 1st year

Meet Elizabeth...

Elizabeth spent three weeks in Spain over the summer, acting as a Laboratory Assistant at the Institute of Biomedicine in Seville. Elizabeth was part of a small team undertaking research into Parkinson’s disease, and how it affects the brain. Elizabeth says that ‘it was really interesting [to learn] about this from people who were working first-hand in this field of research’ and she found being surrounded by leaders in the field ‘very inspiring’.

Elizabeth’s activities in the lab were varied, and she was involved in increasingly complex tasks during the course of her three weeks in Spain. She feels that her technical skills improved as a result of her time at the Institute of Biomedicine, and later in the summer Elizabeth arranged some work experience with an independent bioprocessing company in the UK, where, as a result of her experience in Seville, Elizabeth was able to carry out techniques ‘with more confidence and accuracy’.

Elizabeth developed a range of skills during her time in Spain, not least her language and communication skills. Elizabeth lived with a Spanish family for three weeks and by the end of the research placement, Elizabeth’s level of Spanish had greatly improved. Elizabeth spent her time at weekends exploring local towns and she became close to the Spanish family during her stay – so much so that their daughter, Carmen, came back to England with Elizabeth for a week after the end of the research placement, and Elizabeth helped Carmen improve her English-language skills.

All in all, Elizabeth’s time in Spain was a great experience, and one that will really benefit her in the future. Elizabeth says that the experience ‘will help me when applying for other work experience as I have shown maturity in the laboratory and the ability to learn new things quickly’. Elizabeth says that ‘I hope this work experience will inspire others as research is such an important field that is changing and developing every day’.

Research Project in Ghana 

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Name: Annalisa Cleland-Awity  

Course: History

Year: 2nd year

Meet Annalisa...

Annalisa spent her summer tracing in Ghana her family history. She interviewed elder family members in order to construct an oral narrative of her family history, and was able to put together her family’s genealogy. During the course of her research, Annalisa met a wide variety of people, including the current chief of James Town, one of the oldest districts in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, whom she had the opportunity to interview.

Annalisa enjoyed conducting research abroad – ‘it was definitely more difficult working out of my comfort zone and there were times I doubted myself’, she says, ‘but the experience was truly a massive learning curb and I am very pleased with its success’. Annalisa further-developed a number of skills during her time in Ghana, particularly her time management and organisational skills. Annalisa says that ‘there was no guarantee that I would be able to return to Ghana and conduct further research so it became paramount to utilise my time as best I could.’ Annalisa’s confidence has increased as a result of the project – ‘key to increasing my confidence was to go out of my comfort zone and try new things’, she says, and ‘I would say as a result of this my confidence has soared’.

The summer project has helped Annalisa in other ways too. She believes that it will be beneficial to her future career, and she will use the experience to demonstrate her ability to work independently and show initiative. The project has also helped Annalisa to explore future career options. While before the summer Annalisa was not all that keen on postgraduate study, she says that the time spent in Ghana has ‘re-ignited [the] passion within me to continue into postgraduate education’. Most of all, however, the project will allow Annalisa to demonstrate her determination and ability to complete a task – ‘I was determined and focused in my aims’, says Annalisa, ‘and this was demonstrated in the success of my research’.  

Research Assistant at the Institute of Biomedical Research (University of Birmingham)

Joanna Thomas

Name: Joanna Thomas  

Course: Bachelor of Medical Science 

Year: 2nd year

Meet Joanna...

Joanna spent her summer vacation acting as a Research Assistant at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Biomedical Research. Joanna was involved in two projects, the first working on prostate cancer cells, and the second investigating a particular side effect of the adrenal cancer drug ‘Mitotane’. In addition, Joanna had the opportunity to get involved with other things too, such as assisting other members of the team with their experiments, and presenting her data at the weekly lab meeting.

Joanna found her summer project to be a fascinating experience – ‘I very much enjoyed being in a fast-paced stimulating environment’, she says, and while ‘not all research is ground-breaking [it]is always something new’. Joanna further-developed a range of technical skills during her summer project, and says that she has ‘become much faster and more confident at learning new techniques’. The project has also helped develop Joanna’s presentation skills through the presentation she made to other members of the lab group.

But the summer project has helped Joanna in other ways too, and has given her some extremely valuable laboratory-based research experience. During her time in the Institute of Biomedical Research, Joanna took the opportunity to speak to current PhD students and gained a ‘real insight’ into the reality of a career as an academic researcher. Joanna found the experience exciting, enjoyable and stimulating, and it has helped her to explore options for the future – ‘due to my fantastic experience with my summer placement’, says Joanna, ‘I am now very seriously considering doing a PhD’.

All in all, the time at the Institute of Biomedical Research was a really positive experience for Joanna. She enjoyed being involved in planning experiments, and was fully involved in the planning process. Now the summer project is over, Joanna’s supervisor has asked her to complete a summary report on her time at the Institute of Biomedical Research, which will have the structure of a mini scientific paper. ‘This is a fantastic exercise’, says Joanna, and will allow ‘me to reflect on what I have done, and gives me vital practice in scientific writing’.