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Summer work experience with the McKendry group

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Over the summer, the i-sense McKendry group hosted two London based secondary school students in our lab at the London Centre for Nanotechnology. The students spent time shadowing experiments, learning about lateral flow tests and coding techniques, and developing their science communication and engagement skills.

The work experience was led by i-sense Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr Ben Miller, who created an exciting agenda for the students to find out about the interdisciplinary nature of i-sense and the McKendry group. Each member of the team took time to introduce the students to their projects, guide them through engaging activities, and answer any questions.

Ben shared with us what he learnt through this process, what he might do differently, and tips for those preparing to host in their own groups. The two students, Andrea and Sonya, also share their experience over the two weeks, including what they learnt and enjoyed.

Tips on hosting students within a research group

What did you learn from hosting students?

Ben: It was great to see their enthusiasm to learn about the work and how quickly they picked up the concepts presented to them. They were motivated and asked interesting questions. The ability to quickly and accurately explain our research is a very important skill that is improved by listening to the questions of work experience students.

What worked well and what would you do differently?

Ben: We tried to give them a broad overview of everything that goes on in the lab, dividing the time into 2.5 hour slots and having them shadow different lab users for each slot. This stops them from getting bored while they are shadowing and relieves the pressure on the individual hosts. As they are not yet at a stage where they have a clear idea of what they want to do, I hope that this broad approach can help them understand various different options for lab work in the area of biomedical engineering/nanotechnology. As we work in a category two lab, they could only shadow rather than undertake any of their own work. Ideally, I would have liked to set them a small research project of their own.

What key tip would you give someone preparing to host students in their research group?

Ben: My advice would be to give them as much variety as possible. I also think that hosting in groups of two or more means they have someone to work with, discuss concepts with and builds their confidence to ask questions.

i-sense work exprience from a student perspective 

Andrea: I had an amazing time learning and observing different experiments. I am studying A level Physics, Chemistry, and Biology and I am planning to study Medicine/Biomedical sciences at university. Being in the i-sense lab, allowed me to observe experiments like ELISA, lateral flow tests and many different types of equipment that my school doesn't offer. In addition to that, I learnt machine learning and coding, which was exciting and something new for me. This placement gave me a chance to broaden my knowledge of scientific research. I learnt so much in the two weeks of my placement which I am sure I'll be able to apply to any of my further studies.

What excited you about the idea of work experience with i-sense?

​Sonya: With an interest in many branches of science and engineering, I found the interdisciplinary nature of the projects really exciting. This presented me with the opportunity to observe how my A-Level taught content forms the basis of novel research. 

What was the most exciting part of being in the i-sense labs?

Sonya: I loved the first-hand experience of watching the experimental process of testing, learning and developing methodologies whereby the ultimate product benefits those in need. Naturally, I enjoyed being around the machinery and finding out how it is used to develop an understanding of nano-scale interactions that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. A memorable example is that of atomic force microscopy, which produces a visual map of bacteria surfaces. 

What was the key thing you learnt over the last week?

Sonya: ​I discovered that research in diagnostics is extremely broad, from designing lateral flow tests in the lab to coding the apps that are used alongside them. I enjoyed learning the fundamental concepts behind the diagnostic tests at i-sense, as well as being introduced to the planning phases when solving challenging problems experienced in the field. 

To finish their work exprienece, the students were given time to present a summary of their two weeks through their eyes, demonstrating an understanding for the different science, engineering and technology skills they were exposed to. The students also spent the week filming and producing a short video of their expeience, which they shared in the presentation.