Summer studentship: Kamal Shah
In 2019, the BALR offered their first summer studentships. These offered undergraduate students the opportunity to carry out 8 week of research in a host lab, with student stipend, consumables, and funds for the student to present a poster at the BALR Summer meeting - these proved very popular!
Kamal Shah was awarded his studentship to work with Dr Jonathan Baker at Imperial College London titled 'Senolytic therapy as new treatment for Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?'.
The opportunity to get involved in research this summer happened after a coincidental email to a Professor at university. This email was sent after relentlessly trying to scroll through the Imperial pages in search for a project for the summer. The professor very kindly directed me towards my project supervisor and an opportunity for a BALR studentship.
I decided to give the application a go, despite the terrifying image of labs springing to mind (a common phenomenon amongst medics). A few weeks later, I received an email in the midst of a treacherous revision session bearing the good news that the application had been approved and that I’d be doing a research placement after exams were over! I realised this was a great opportunity to do some lab work considering my BSc in Biomedical Engineering was unlikely to have much wet lab work.
I was astonished at the speed and accuracy of my supervisor and had doubts on whether my trembling hands would be up to the task of finishing the project in a few weeks. However, the hours of cell scraping, pipetting and following protocols were worth it when we started to see results. The idea of collecting data on experiments that had never been done before was particularly exciting, as was the number crunching, finally seeing if our hypotheses were correct or not. I learnt to perform procedures I had seen idolised in my GCSE biology book, but more importantly learnt to develop my critical thinking skills by thinking about the scientific method, the relevance of each stage of the research and critically analysing the rationale behind each stage. Comparing our results to scientific literature and putting pieces together to see how it all fit together was fascinating.
There were times when things went horrendously wrong, but working backwards and thinking logically meant that that things could be salvaged (most of the time!). I can say that by working alone at points during the studentship, I am more resilient as a result.
The studentship also involved the chance to present at the BALR summer meeting in Cambridge. Having never been to Cambridge before, this seemed like an ideal time to be able to explore the city in the small amount of downtime that we did have. This was one of the first poster presentations I had done, and definitely the first to experts in their field. However, everybody was incredibly friendly and welcoming - with the scheduled networking time ideal to meet new people. Despite the complexity of the material presented, introductory clinical slides were pitched at all levels and the presenters were more than happy to have a chat afterwards. The third and last day soon arrived, meant it was time for my presentation! The warm atmosphere of the conference had meant that my nerves could be kept firmly under control. As poster presentations are a common medium to present work, being able to distil my findings and explain it in a concise way enabled me to improve this crucial skill. Talking to other researchers about the the project made me think about aspects of the methodology that I had not previously considered and really enjoyed discussing similar projects that they are completing within their own groups.
I would like to say thanks to BALR once again for this fantastic opportunity and would encourage any medical student at any stage to get involved with research. My supervisor also deserves a massive thank you for all the support throughout the project despite being extremely busy throughout. The placement definitely had me thinking about research seriously and who knows maybe I’ll be back in the lab soon… You’ll learn things that simply cannot be taught in your lectures or on the wards.