Saira Khan completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2011 at the University of Greenwich. She is currently doing a Masters degree in Pharmacy at King’s College London.
What was your project about?
My project focused on Lysozyme, also known as N-acetylmuramide glycanhydrolase, which is a naturally occurring enzyme present in many secretions such as tears, mucus, and eggs white. It has the ability to attack gram positive bacteria cell walls and initiate cell death, and is thus acknowledged as an effective antibacterial agent. During my six weeks, with the help of the staff at the University of Greenwich, I researched into how Lysozyme could be most efficiently extracted from albumin using micelles.
What is your current role?
The Nuffield Science placement inspired me to not be afraid to push myself, or to juggle things. It made me realise that a lot can be done in a short space of time if you’re determined enough. As a result, after finishing my Nuffield Research Placement, I also went on to do an open university short course while simultaneously studying for my final year of A-levels. I did several other placements at a variety of science and healthcare-related settings, including volunteering at a nursing home, and from these experiences, decided to choose a degree in Pharmacy.
I moved to London, and have been studying there for the past four years, while also working Saturdays as a Pharmacy Dispenser in Kent. During my degree, I was shortlisted for the International Undergraduate Awards 2015, and have also done some writing for Times Higher Education Student.
In short, taking part in the Nuffield Research Placement helped me to not be afraid of a challenge.
Did your Nuffield Research Placement have an effect on the choices that you made after finishing school/college/university?
I think the placement definitely helped with the choices I made. It consolidated that I wanted to go into science and healthcare. In fact, what I learnt through the placement actually helped me with several things throughout my degree. What I learnt during the placement, helped me with a whole module on physical chemistry in the first year of my Pharmacy degree. It also helped me with report writing. For example, what I learnt from writing the report for the placement was a good foundation to build on for the reports I needed to write during my degree, including my recently completed Masters project.
If you could give one piece of advice to Nuffield students about to start a placement what would it be?
My piece of advice would be to just enjoy the placement. It’s a great learning opportunity and you’ll get from it whatever you put in. I would say don’t feel pressured that everything you learn needs to be academic-related, because there are a range of other skills you will develop, even without you realising, including team and social skills.
What would your advice be to young people thinking about a career in STEM?
I think sometimes people are put off because they feel STEM subjects are too difficult, but it’s really what you put your mind to. Though STEM subjects can be challenging, they are also very rewarding if you persevere.
I think it’s also important to make sure you get some experience in different areas of STEM, as it’s very broad. Even just several short placements can be enough to help you get a feel for what areas of STEM you would really enjoy.