I partook in the Winter Research Program, working with Dr Joanne Blanchfield. We were separating compounds from smilax ornata, a common medicinal herb, and were aiming to test them on Caco-2 cells. These serve as a model of permeability in the human small intestine. One of the aspects of the program I enjoyed most was the new skills I acquired. I was aware of high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance and aseptic cell culturing but had never had hands on experience with any. So it was fantastic to see these instruments in action, which also increase my knowledge of how they work and what they are used for.
The program also defers from normal labs in that they are nowhere near as structured or robust as typical experiments. Just like real life, constant problem solving is required to maintain steady progress.
Coming into the program I really didn’t know what to expect, however retrospectively I feel more relaxed about the expectations placed on me. It was my first research experience, and it is meant to serve purely as a taste of the research world.
Most students are hesitant about emailing potentially supervisors, but all the lecturers I’ve dealt with have been extremely welcoming and friendly. There is definitely no reason to be hesitant as the benefits of such an experience are too good to refuse.
Once you get your foot in the door, one experience can easily turn into three.
It is really important to network, so you are aware of as many opportunities as possible. Many academic staff have close ties with industry partners, who sometimes look for interns. Naturally knowing the lecturers will help your chances.
Whilst many see a university degree as just a piece of paper, at UQ it’s so much more. Combining extensive theory classes, well designed practical sessions and the possibility of independent laboratory experience results in a world-class education allowing UQ science graduates to stand out from the crowd. My UQ advantage has been my opportunity to gain hands-on experience in research labs and advanced equipment far earlier than I would have been able to at other universities. The summer/winter research programs are such a valuable way for students like myself to increase their employment prospects.