Understanding how life works
Katy was always fascinated by how the human body works. Her degree from Imperial helped her get the job of her dreams as a Trainee NHS Scientist.
"A degree in a STEM subject leaves you free to go on to so many different careers, not just those in science and research. My personal experience has shown that employers really value the analytical and problem-solving skills you’ll have as a STEM graduate."
I can’t really think of a time when I wasn’t interested in science. I can vividly remember, whilst I was at primary school, reading a book with my Dad about how the human body works.
I was completely fascinated by it – and I still am now!
I thought I wanted to study medicine, so I did a bit of work experience in a hospital while I was at sixth form. However, I decided that wasn’t really the route I wanted to take. I just wanted to learn about the science!
That gave me the idea of studying biochemistry. It’s all about how life works, right down to the molecular level.
Applying to university
I love the hustle and bustle of city life, and there’s always something to do in London if you need a break from studying."
I decided to go to Imperial for my undergraduate degree because it has a great reputation. I was impressed when I saw there was the opportunity to do a placement year in a research as part of the degree. It’s a great opportunity to try it out for a year before applying for PhD studentships. It also looks great on your CV if you’re interested in going on to do academic research.
I also really liked the atmosphere when I went to visit. I love the hustle and bustle of city life, and there’s always something to do in London if you need a break from studying.
At the end of my second year at Imperial I worked for eight weeks as a summer placement student at the Institute of Cancer Research. This was my first real experience of working in a laboratory and gave me a good taste not just of the fun side of working in the lab - planning your own experiments and the satisfaction you get when something works - but also how frustrating it can be when an experiment refuses to work after weeks of trying!
After this placement I worked for a year as a sandwich year student at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research. This gave me the chance to work on an extended project and really take ownership over where I wanted it to go. I really enjoyed seeing my project develop and troubleshooting the various technical problems that are inevitable in lab work.
Applying for a PhD
The placement also gave me the chance to integrate with PhD students, so I had a good idea of what I was letting myself in for before I applied. It gave me plenty to talk about at PhD interviews, where they often ask you to present a project that you’ve worked on.
Potential supervisors also see this extended laboratory experience as a big plus on your application form. Not only that, but the laboratory experience and skills I gained from my placement made my final year project so much easier - I could quickly work independently and make real progress on the project.
Having a year out on placement really helped me to focus on where I wanted my career to go. It’s so easy when you’re in the midst of university assignments, revision and exams to forget what the end goal is. When I came back after my placement year, I felt refreshed and ready to take on the challenge of finals.
After graduating I did a PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. I think my placement played a pivotal role in me getting an MRC funded studentship. I was competing with so many other candidates who had experience working in a lab, either academic or industrial. Having the experience on your CV also proves that you understand the challenges that come with a PhD.
I’m now training to be a Clinical Biochemist on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), working in a hospital biochemistry laboratory. My role as a clinical scientist includes interpreting patient results and advising clinicians, working with Biomedical Scientists in the laboratory to ensure the results produced are high quality and developing new tests to improve patient care.
Like with any job, working in science it can be a bit frustrating sometimes. However, overall I really enjoy the fact that everyday we are dealing with patient results. I play a part in improving patient care, whilst still doing basic science and laboratory work. I also feel like my job is putting all the biochemistry theory I learnt during my degree into practice, which means all those hours of studying were worth it!
The laboratory skills I learnt during my placement and my PhD are invaluable when it comes to the practical laboratory side of my job. The practice and confidence I gained in scientific communication during my placement, both in the form of talks and in writing up reports, definitely help too.
A degree in a STEM subject leaves you free to go on to so many different careers, not just those in science and research. My personal experience has shown that employers really value the analytical and problem-solving skills you’ll have as a STEM graduate. If you’ve enjoyed science and are thinking of applying to study a STEM subject at university, I say go for it!
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