Shannon Brown

"I think this experience will help me a lot in the future. It’s going to give me so much to talk about in my university interviews and prove my passion for science. It will also put me ahead of others as I have acquired skills and experiences that they may not have, such as writing a formal scientific report, giving a presentation and working in a research lab for several weeks."

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

As I really like studying the subject at school, I wanted to see if a career in science was right for me. I thought it would be a good experience and be something productive to do over the summer. Thinking ahead, I thought it would be a great way to prove my motivation and passion for the subject to university admissions tutors.

Was the work what you expected it to be?

I didn’t realise that the work I was doing during my placement was new research for the John Innes Centre, so not only was it worthwhile for me but also for them. This made my achievements feel like a real accomplishment. I was surprised at the amount of high-tech equipment I was using in the lab but also the depth of DNA analysis I did on the computer. I really enjoyed all aspects of the work I did.

How did your supervisors help you with your project?

My supervisors were there to support me and were always open to questions I had throughout the placement. They wanted to ensure I understood what I was doing and why I was doing it. This really helped me later on when it came to doing my presentation and report, as it was easier for me to express the research concept and experimental findings it in my own words.

What was your project about and did you know much about this area before you started the placement?

My project title was ‘Variation in flowering time in oilseed rape’. I was carrying on from previous research into what gene causes this variation between different sub-species of oilseed rape. I analysed a gene called ‘time for coffee’ and I was looking to see if its alleles regulate another gene, ‘flowering locus T’, which affects flowering time. This involved bioinformatics work, which means using computer software to solve biological problems, and the use of practical laboratory skills. Before starting my project I only had a basic knowledge of DNA and RNA structure and I knew nothing about how to analyse DNA or the science behind technical terms like PCR (polymerase chain reactions). However, I was able to get to grips with these ideas quickly, thanks to the support of my supervisors.

What advice would you give to students applying for a Nuffield Research Placement?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your supervisors during the placement; they’re there to help you! Try and get as much as possible out of your placement as this is what can separate you from the rest of the crowd. I would definitely recommend doing the CREST Gold Award, as this is another great achievement that doesn’t require much extra work. All in all, it’s a great way to spend the summer holiday and is more enjoyable than you’d think.