Hira Iqbal

"This is a great chance and...an amazing opportunity, don't let it go past you. This is a chance to explore areas which you've never heard of before and learn new scientific skills. You will gain a lot of experience that can improve your individual confidence."

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

For me, the purpose of applying for a Nuffield Research Placement was to gain knowledge which would provide me with relevant skills of scientific techniques. I was passionate to do this project because I enjoy science and chemistry and wanted to develop my scientific techniques using my own research understanding. Also, I felt the placement could help me decide my future choices for my degree

Was the work what you expected?

I think it was actually more interesting than I expected! I was lucky to get a placement, especially working with a postgraduate PhD researcher and university lecturers, and working in laboratory independently during my research. I felt very appreciated.

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

My supervisors were extremely supportive.  I discussed my ideas with them, and was able to share my project with other people who had already done some research on it.

What was your project about?  Did you know much about the area before you started?

It links to the human brain and behaviour. My research was on rat brain gestational stress, using ICT, images, microscopes, electrical techniques, scientific ideas, different investigations, the internet and other various sources.

Did you learn any new skills?

I learnt various techniques and experiments, using new methods and high quality scientific equipment, as well as the importance of good laboratory practices. We ensured that all procedures were followed correctly and in our lab book, we recorded each single step and clearly showed calculations. At the end, we then prepared a results table for our data. 

Did you have an opportunity to communicate your project to other students?

Yes, we had an opportunity to communicate our project with other students, and we also discussed it with other group members. We got really good feedback, which was very impressive for us and helped us to think more about our project. To communicate the project, we selected a poster and a presentation which I think makes it easy for other people to understand and we can show our abilities.

What are your future plans?

I will be spending my summer working with Nuffield project placements as a supervisor, as well as going on to achieve another Gold CREST Award for a new project. I have an offer to study Neuroscience at the University of Leeds. I am then planning to pursue a career in Neurosurgery in the future.

What was the aim of your project?

My project aim was to determine the effects of prenatal stress on postnatal changes in brain morphology of mother rats. Female rats were subjected to chronic, restraint stress during pregnancy and compared to control rats. We examined the protein content of selected brain regions to compare the effects of stress vs non stress.

What did the results of your project show?

Our results showed stress brains weighed slightly more than control brains, perhaps due to the expanded ventricles these animals tend to possess, and greater fluid accumulation in the ventricles. The second graph shows the amount of protein content in various brain tissues. The results were quite variable. For example the protein content for brain stems shows slight differences between control and stress brain conditions, while the median eminence shows a large difference in protein content. The reason for these differences remains to be elucidated.

What have you learnt from doing this project?

Personally, I’ve gained experience, knowledge and new techniques. I think it was challenge for us to discover new techniques and get precise results. I hope every single scientific technique we used will help me in future higher education and career.

What advice would give to students applying for a Nuffield research placement?

I would say this is a great chance and definitely recommend applying for an amazing opportunity and don't let it go past you. Choose a project which you know you will enjoy being involved in. I think this is a chance to explore areas which you've never heard of before and learn new scientific skills. You will gain a lot of experience that can improve your individual confidence.

What were you doing in your second project?

Luckily supervising! I gained a placement at the same university laboratory which was an amazing opportunity for me. This year no one was supervising me, and actually I was supervising other students, which makes me proud. This year I worked alone with other students and tried my best to supervise them with their projects and teach them new scientific techniques/skills.

Fortunately, I got another chance to repeat the same project from last year and try some new techniques and additionally improve mistakes which I made. I am very grateful to Dr James Smythe who gave me an opportunity to supervise Nuffield Foundation students and trusted me a lot to work independently in the laboratory. Also my school teachers and Nuffield coordinator encouraged me to take this opportunity and develop my career. I feel I am very lucky and see a good future after taking this supervisory opportunity.