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Priya Samuel was a research student in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes. She completed her PhD in December 2016.
I had been a part-time research student with the “Chromatin and non-coding RNA research” group for 4 years; each year brought its challenges but the last year was the most interesting and fulfilling. Whereas the first three years had been a whirligig of plans, experiments, data and analysis, the last year saw the culmination of the research when our group published articles in journals.
In my first three years, I learnt new skills in the lab, planned and executed experiments and honed my critical thinking skills. In the last year, however, it was more about consolidating the research, drawing meaningful conclusions from the various experiments and coordinating the data into robust studies. This resulted in our group’s research being published in two articles in journals as well as contributing a review article. At the same time, I applied to transfer from the MPhil stage to the PhD stage of my research. Writing the transfer report brought its own challenges – all the previous reports had looked forward to the plans for research while, this report looked back on what had been achieved as well as looked forward to the final lap. It helped me to draw together all the research I had done over the last 3 years and collate it, slotting in the pieces of the “jigsaw” and identifying the pieces that were “missing” to make a sensible picture.
Spring brought the Science Bazaar where everybody is invited into Brookes and various aspects of ongoing science research in the University is made accessible to all, particularly children. I especially enjoyed talking children through our computer game (developed by a colleague) trying to match building blocks of proteins with gene codes! It was fascinating to watch them get drawn into the game and begin exploring science; one boy declared, “Though this game is not as good as Minecraft – it is very interesting!”
I also attended the RNAi conference and presented a poster drawing attention to my research in ovarian cancer and drug resistance; this was also a chance to meet with other leading researchers in the field as well as to catch up on the latest ideas and research. I had the opportunity along with my supervisor, Dr David Carter, and another colleague, to write the meeting notes summarising the main highlights of the conference.
Undergraduate and master’s students arrived in the summer to do their lab based projects with our group; mentoring them through the process, teaching them lab skills, guiding them through practical procedures as well as sharing in their jubilation when an experiment worked, and in their sadness when it did not, made for an interesting summer.
Once the semester began, I helped with the practical sessions for undergraduate students in human structure and function, consolidating my knowledge of physiology but also working through the challenges of being a ‘teacher’ – trying to instil the principles of the complexity of the human body, learning about assessment of practical books and the nuances of group work assessment.
Around this time, there was an exciting prospect of a job at Brookes as a researcher/ demonstrator with the opportunity to continue the research I had been doing as a PhD student. As I was in the last stages of my PhD, I applied for the job and was shortlisted for the interview. During the application process and the interview, all my training as a Brookes PhD student in research as well as in teaching stood me in good stead and I was able to present a competitive CV with incredible support from my supervisors, Professor Susan Brooks and Dr David Carter; I was thrilled to be offered the job.
As I reflect back on my final year, it really was a kaleidoscope of different experiences. As a researcher; I saw my project move from experimental data to meaningful research published in journals. I had been part of an exciting research group exploring new ideas and theories in my area; I had occasions to meet with other researchers in my area. I had the opportunity to share some of my enthusiasm for science with different people – from children at the Science Bazaar to new PhD students joining the group. I have now taken my first steps into a career in academia and research and having enjoying the experience thus far, am looking forward to the coming year.