Susmi Suresh

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I have a keen interest in medical research and I wanted to gain first hand lab-experience before starting university. I was planning to contact some research groups, but it was around this time that I read about the National Science and Engineering Competition (NSEC) finals held at the Big Bang Fair in 2012. I was quite inspired seeing that most entrants (some of the nation’s best young scientists) had done their research project through the Nuffield programme.  Although a bit apprehensive, I couldn’t ignore an opportunity as big as this.  I decided to apply and a year later, I was presenting my own research project at the Big Bang Fair!

Was the work what you expected?

I was lucky enough to get a placement at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) London Research Institute’s Electron Microscopy Unit, and to work with some of the most dedicated scientists in the country.  Working there showed me how Science can be simultaneously fun and rewarding. It didn’t feel like work at all because of how much I was enjoying it. One of the proudest moments of my life was when I could actually see the cancer cells I was working with for a couple of weeks, using electron microscopes. The feeling itself was very gratifying.

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

My project involved using Electron microscopes to investigate the physical interaction points between metastatic skin cancer (melanoma) cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts. The effects of inhibitors (namely the ROCK inhibitor Y27632 and Src inhibitor Dasatinib) on these heterotypic connections were studied in detail. This could help us understand how cancer cells migrate. Sample preparation was the most enjoyable part of this, despite being a long process consisting of many different steps (which also involves using some eyelashes!).

As an A-level student, my knowledge on this topic area was limited but this wasn’t the case once the placement started. The stress was on independent learning and this’ll be a very valuable skill in my future studies.

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

My supervisors were extremely supportive. They gave me the independence to bring in original ideas into the research, which helped me improve my Science skills.  It was a privilege to work with the EM team. The four weeks I spent there, I was truly living the life of a research scientist.

Did you learn any new skills? Has this helped you with your university applications?

The placement helped me gain valuable research skills and a first-hand experience in practical science. My teamwork skills also improved as I was able to attend many lab meetings as a colleague and collate research results with other lab members. The practice I gained with the report-writing came in use months later, when I had to prepare a report for my A2 Biology.  On the last day of my placement, I had a 20 minute presentation of my project with the whole EM team. This remains to be one of the most memorable days of my life.

Did the work you did over the summer help you to decide what you want to do next? What are your future plans?

It definitely did! I went on to achieve a Gold CREST Award for my project. I also applied for the National Science + Engineering Competition and was chosen as a national finalist. I am hoping to study medicine at university. Talking to some of the people I met during the placement, and if all goes to plan, I am planning to pursue a clinical research route.

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

I would say it’s an amazing opportunity and don’t let it go past you! The whole experience is very rewarding.  Once you've finished the placement, carry on developing your project further and look out for platforms like the Big Bang Fair to present your project to the public.

What was it like exhibiting at the Big Bang?

An absolutely incredible experience! Presenting my project to an audience of all ages was very humbling and it allowed me to develop my presentation skills.   Anybody with an interest in Science (no matter what age you are) should attend the Big Bang fair. It was an amazing culmination for a very memorable year.