To mark this year’s Postgraduate Graduation Day, students from the Department of Medicine shared their experiences of postgraduate life at Imperial.
Last week, over 150 postgraduate students from the Department of Medicine accepted their degrees at a ceremony held in the Royal Albert Hall. This was followed by an evening reception on the Queen’s Lawn at Imperial’s South Kensington Campus, which gave graduating students a well-deserved opportunity to celebrate their achievements.
Watch the 2018 ceremony in full:
Among this year’s graduating cohort was James Lind (MRes Experimental Neuroscience), Karim Boustani (MSc Immunology) and Dr Karina Haji Mohd Daud (MSc Paediatrics and Child Health). To celebrate the completion of their postgraduate studies, we asked them to reflect upon their time at Imperial, and to share their future aspirations.
James Lind – MRes Experimental Neuroscience
I've always known that I wanted to do neuroscience research. When I started looking into neuroscience Master’s degrees, I was initially interested in the fact the Imperial course was an MRes and not an MSc. The fact that the course was entirely research-based meant that I could explore a lot more of what cutting-edge neuroscience research involves and has to offer. I would also come out of the MRes a much more experienced researcher than an MSc graduate. Therefore, the MRes provided a valuable opportunity to explore research in neuroscience at a level above any other course in the UK. I also applied because I wanted to know if I would enjoy a PhD – and this course was explicitly designed to answer that question.
The course was challenging and immensely fulfilling, both personally and professionally. You feel more like an actual researcher than a student – in fact, you are essentially a researcher and a student. It’s been the perfect introduction to what doing a PhD is like.
Learning how to adapt to new labs and new teams was quite challenging, as they all had different expectations and ways of working. This meant that I didn't just learn one way to write a project report, as each lab had a different approach. Time management was also a challenge, as you have to juggle research, writing and a mini-dissertation.
I couldn't name just one moment as a highlight of my time at Imperial. Coming from a molecular background, learning about fMRI and human behavioural studies was a great experience. Along with all the new molecular techniques I learned in my other projects, being able to look at an fMRI scan and know my way around it is something I'd never expected to be able to do. Another big highlight was becoming an actual part of a world-leading research team and undertaking some potentially very important research.
The most important thing I have gained from the course is self-confidence. With the MRes, I learned a variety of new techniques, and the confidence to know that I can learn techniques even when they’re outside of my comfort zone. I'm also now a lot more comfortable with the workload of an actual researcher.
I’m now aiming to get a temporary job or graduate scheme in industrial research in order to compare industrial and academic research. After that, I would love to undertake a PhD in molecular psychiatry.
Karim Boustani – MSc Immunology
In the final two years of my undergraduate degree at King’s College London, I studied a few immunology modules. I remember being fascinated by how the human body has the ability to fight off a multitude of pathogens. After my first taste of lab work in the summer of my penultimate year, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research. I also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of some of the mechanisms behind specific diseases, as well as the practical skills to go with this. I liked the idea of undertaking the taught and research components that the MSc Immunology course had to offer. I also knew that Imperial’s renowned reputation and stimulating environment would allow me to thrive as an aspiring scientist.
As a student on the course, I found that there was a perfect balance of basic and disease-specific immunology. The structure of the taught component meant that you covered the fundamentals before exploring more complex diseases. The mini-research project gave me a solid grounding in key immunological techniques and assays and prepared me for the research project. All of the course staff were extremely supportive and there was always someone I could speak to if I had any problems.
The taught component was probably the most challenging as many of the exams were in the January-March period, meaning that you had to work almost constantly to stay on top of revision. However, I found this to be rewarding as it meant that for the first time I didn’t have exams in the summer!
The biggest highlight for me was working at the Francis Crick Institute for my 6-month research project. I was trying to understand the role of a specific transcription factor in memory B cell development in mice. I was trained extensively in techniques such as flow cytometry and I got to attend many interesting talks from globally renowned scientists. I also made some great friends along the way.
Alongside the practical experience, the most important thing I’ve gained from this is the ability to think critically when analysing data and reading the literature - it’s actually one of the components you’re examined on in both taught and research components. These skills are also transferable to many other career paths.
In terms of future plans, I’m now on a 1+3 PhD programme at the MRC-Asthma UK Centre for Allergic Mechanisms in Asthma at Imperial. I’m currently on my second rotation for my MRes year, and I’m studying the role of tissue-resident plasma cells in asthma and allergy. I’m almost certain that I want to stay within the field of immunology, and I like the idea of carrying out research abroad (preferably somewhere sunny). You’ll have to ask me at the end of my PhD!
My advice to anyone considering applying to this course is: do it! If you have an interest in Immunology and are thinking about a career in research then this course will equip you with everything you need.
As a paediatric registrar working in the NHS, I felt motivated to apply to the MSc in Paediatrics and Child Health because it presented an opportunity to do focussed research in an area that was of particular interest to me. I also chose this course because the teaching weeks were easy to fit into my schedule, even whilst working full time on a busy paediatric intensive care rota. I liked that many different areas were covered in first year, from epigenetics to public health, and immunology to quality improvement. The optional modules in second year were more clinical and varied; this gave me the chance to select modules which suited my intensive care/high dependency care interest.
During my time a student, the biggest challenge I faced was completing the final year project alongside working and looking after a toddler. However, my supervisor was incredibly supportive and I managed to achieve a distinction mark.
A massive highlight for me was the diversity of my course mates in first year during the compulsory modules: from fellow paediatricians to GPs to nurses to a podiatrist! I felt there was a real sense of camaraderie, which was lovely.
I also found the taught sessions featuring lectures by clinicians, who were also respected academics, really inspiring. A particular standout was Professor Mike Levin talking about his work on the diagnosis of tuberculosis in Africa in first year.
I would thoroughly recommend this course - it’s really added depth and experience to my understanding of what robust and meaningful research actually entails. It’s also given me the time to look up many of the answers to the questions we ask in our clinical day-to-day lives. You can tailor your experience by choosing optional modules in areas that interest you, and the course really does fit around work/life with a bit of forward planning. I have been inspired by so many of the lecturers and feel such a sense of achievement having completed my Master’s project.
In terms of my future plans, I would like to carry on where my research project left off when I return to work in my NHS Trust in a years’ time.
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