Joseph L.

Summer Intern
Happy to mentor
Happy to be contacted

About me

Joseph L.
Chemistry
Chemistry
Undergraduate
Alcuin
United Kingdom

My employment

Summer Intern
United Kingdom
Science and research
Large business (250+ employees)

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A day in the life of a Summer Intern in the United Kingdom

Summer Internship in Scientific Research

What I do

Presently I am fulfilling my Chemistry degree here at York University but have also recently completed a summer internship at Keele University in association with the Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine (ISTM. This involved the construction of 3D neuronal circuits using a microfluidic device with the ultimate objective of creating an in vitro model for neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson's disease.

Skills I use and how I developed them

In terms of practical skills, the internship required entirely different techniques to those I have been taught through my chemistry degree. Passaging of cells and conducting experiments under biological sterility bears surprisingly little resemblance to chemical techniques and chemical purity. As these were fundamental to my research, the repetition of these tasks meant they soon became second nature.
What was also different between the undergraduate and research environments was the communication. Often in undergraduate labs you are told what to do and when however research is entirely different as you decide what and how to perform tasks, allowing the development of a host of self-management skills and independence. Additionally it is necessary for you to communicate your results back to those concerned who may be anyone from your supervisor to the company supplying your products.
Particularly in this placement I found I gained a wider sense of cultural and global awareness both from the people and companies I worked with. My colleagues had a range of backgrounds and experience and I came to appreciate how the Institute in Keele had global links. In my case one of our products was obtained from Finland resulting in a great deal of overseas communication.

What I like most

Performing research that has never really been undertaken was quite satisfying, especially when you obtain good results. In our case the supplier of one of our products was interested in the new application we had derived for it and was eager for feedback. Additionally, knowing that when you achieve success you are also contributing to the fight against illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease is incredibly rewarding.

What I like least

Cells proved to be quite frustrating. Given that my research relied heavily upon their growth there were some times of inactivity while awaiting cell propagation. However one benefit of the research environment seemed to be some flexibility regarding the working day. While this meant some shorter days, it also lead to some longer days where cells were ready to work with and more time was required to utilise them.

What surprised me most

Research relies heavily upon drawing on your colleagues’ knowledge and seeing if that can be applied to your work and so it’s necessary to communicate extensively. At Keele I found a variety of backgrounds and experience from all around the world and whilst we often talked about our respective projects, we also let our hair down. In the short time I was there the research group went to play laser quest, paintball and badminton, all of which lead to a relaxed and light-hearted interactions between everyone. I had anticipated a more frantic, entirely work focused, 9-5 day and so to find a more fun and flexible environment was quite unexpected.

How I looked for work

Parkinson's Disease is of particular interest to me after witnessing the devastating impact it has had on my close family. Consequently I have a strong desire to combat the illness and as such I made this the target of my internship. Looking through the research funded by Parkinson’s UK on their website I came across a Prof Rosemary Fricker and her team at Keele University where I would later fulfil my internship.

How I found out about the job

Speculative application

The recruitment process

After contacting Rose regarding my interest I found that they were more than happy to accept an intern over summer and all that was necessary was to secure some funding. I applied to the Wellcome Trust, York Student Internship Bureau, Royal Society of Chemistry and looked through the organisations associated with the Royal Society of Biology (https://www.rsb.org.uk/get-involved/grants/undergraduate-studentships). There were a variety of deadlines to all of the various scholarships and grants but my advice would be to get started as early as possible after the summer holidays. Most applications require your supervisor’s input so allow time for this and for editing. However once I’d submitted all my applications and waited for the result I found I had secured some funding and so all that remained to do was start my research!

Where I hope to be in 5 years

Following this internship I have discovered a different pathway to obtaining a PhD through Keele, Nottingham and Loughborough Universities that will give me the opportunity to continue this research. Consequently in 5 years time I hope to have completed my PhD via this route.

My advice to students considering work

Do something you’re interested in! Think less about your CV because if you’re committed to your research and what it aims to achieve you have far more drive to make those aims a reality. From this you’re probably going to end up with a CV that looks far better than if you did something you thought looked good but didn’t apply yourself to.

Other advice

If you’re doing an internship, especially in research, don’t be put off by setbacks or bad results. Probably 75% of my results were unexpected or not quite what we wanted but this is inevitable when you’re the first to look into the area. In hindsight I have realised that we steadily built on our setbacks, overcame them and ended up with really worthwhile and useful results.

Contacting me

Contact me for any questions on applying for or fulfilling an internship in a research environment or in relation to my studies of Chemistry and general university life.

Next steps...

If you like the look of Joseph’s profile, the next steps are down to you! You can send Joseph a message to find out more about their career journey.

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