Why do a departmental internship?
Why the Laidlaw Scholarship?
As a chemist, you will need many skills that stretch further from theoretical knowledge and expertise. You will always interact and collaborate with other people, so project management, team working and leadership skills will be essential for your success. This is what the Laidlaw Scholarship really focuses on, and why I chose to apply. First, they allow you to develop as a professional, and then as a leader in your field.
This is not the only way to secure an internship, though! The Department of Chemistry offers plenty of funded programmes of varying lengths and topics to carry out research that truly interests you and allows you to experience real cutting-edge chemistry. The possibilities are endless!
Applying for a Laidlaw Scholarship
After speaking to alumni and members of staff, I was directed to Dr Chris Spicer, who became my research supervisor. We set up a meeting, and he explained what research his group did and how it could fit with my interests. We then designed a project and wrote a proposal, including why this research was important and relevant, and how I would carry it out.
I also had to write a personal statement outlining my motivation for applying, and why I was suited for the Scholarship.
An overview of my project
My project aimed to make advances in a new technology for growing tissues in vitro. This could significantly improve and ease the healthcare of patients in need of an organ transplant.
Researchers in the Spicer Lab are developing the use of a hydrogel (like a water jelly) to act as a 3D scaffold, where stem cells from the patient can develop into specialised tissue cells (heart or skin cells, etc).
In order to ‘feed’ nutrients into the hydrogel for the cells to use, we aim to use some small organic molecules called photocages, which act as a lid that can be ‘opened’ and ‘closed’ depending on the colour of light that they are exposed to. This allows undifferentiated cells to grow into tissues ready for transplantation.
My work in the lab can be summarised in three steps
- Designed a synthetic route for the photocages, and used a combination of literature and new procedures to make them.
- Characterised all of my products to ensure that I was making what I wanted, and I was therefore on the right track.
- Did a proof of concept to make sure that the molecule actually does what we want it to do – in this case, to respond to certain colours of light.
Although the Scholarship financially supports students for a maximum of six weeks, after talking to Dr Spicer, he agreed to extend the length of my stay to 11 weeks so I could get a better and more in-depth experience. Although this seemed like a lot, it went by so quickly. Time flies when you are having fun!
Not just work!
During this time, I had plenty of time to go out and socialise with the rest of the lab group. Many times, this was as simple as hanging out after work or going for lunch on weekends. But there were also full-day activities like going to watch live football matches, bowling, or to escape rooms. These events not only strengthened the team, but also provided a sense of belonging and friendship beyond being co-workers.
Even now, I still join their socials, where I always feel appreciated and welcome!
Expanding your network
I was invited to tag along to the Royal Society of Chemistry ‘Chemical Biology meets Drug Discovery’ conference at the Crick Institute in London. Here I had the chance to attend talks by extraordinary scientists, discuss research with the authors themselves, and share my experience, representing the Department and the Foundation. This allowed me to build a solid network of passionate professionals while gaining confidence in my communication skills.
I was also able to attend a conference held for Laidlaw Scholars from all over the World. Here I took part in workshops and listened to world-class leaders talk about what inspired them, and how they became impactful members of Society. I also had the chance to present a poster with my research, which was super exciting!
I am currently planning my second summer with Laidlaw, designing a project to support a disadvantaged community by exercising the ethical and sustainable leadership skills I have learned.
This scholarship has given my career a significant head start by improving my practical, management and communication skills. As a Laidlaw Scholar, I have built a robust network of brilliant academics and students from all over the world with diverse and inspiring backgrounds. They all come together with a passion for our growth and development as impactful researchers and world leaders.