Inspiring the next generation of scientists

Our departments in Science receive numerous requests each year from school pupils wishing to undertake some form of work experience, either as part of the compulsory period in Y10 or on an individual basis i.e. A-level students that are looking to bolster their C.V./UCAS application. Pupil experience, ability and motivation usually varies greatly but, in general, the one thing that all the applicants have in common is their interest in the exploration of science for further study and their potential future careers. A brilliant example of a departmental programme that captures this enthusiasm and has developed a departmental programme to cater for the numerous requests comes from Biomedical Sciences.

Here Andrew Metcalfe, who coordinates the programme, talks about this year’s activities.

Here in Biomedical Sciences we know that the decisions that young people make around this early stage of life become not only critical to them but also to us when we think about undergraduate recruitment. To help capture the excitement and enthusiasm of the pupils who show an interest in our subjects, we have developed the BMS work experience programme.

BMS work experience programme

BMS work experience programme – a selection of pictures.

Now in its second year, the programme involves a week of structured and varied activities to give potential students ‘a taste of life in Biomedical Sciences’. To meet the demand the week of activities is repeated three times, allowing us to see a total of 72 pupils from 10 local schools pass through our Biomedical Research Skills Training Laboratory in Dainton, E13. The programme is made possible through funding from our Outreach and Widening Participation funds and the majority of pupils on the programme meet one or more of our WP criteria.

With a theme of ‘Central Dogma’, pupils worked through a case study of Haemophilia B to investigate genetic disease, patient stories, diagnosis, therapy and new research into gene therapy and stem cell based regenerative medicine. They became experts in basic lab skills including buffer making, C1xV1s and antibody dilutions, as well as getting to grips with SDS-PAGE and western blotting.

Other ‘taster’ sessions included lab tours of our Drosopila and Zebrafish facilities, learning about model organisms and the research we do, chromosomes and karyotyping (a collaboration with MBB), analytical science and mass spec from our facility in the Dainton building, histology and neuroscience with the help of rat brain sectioning/slide making.

Pupils also learnt about the valuable skills needed that are required by any employer, such as time keeping, organisational skills, problem solving, team work, self-motivation and the ability to work safely.

Each week concluded in a mini conference session with the pupils working in teams to present a summary of their week’s experience in a variety of media, from posters to videos to PowerPoints. It was great to see their competency and confidence grow throughout the week and the feedback we collected very much highlighted this, with consistently high ratings for the assessed components. The aim of the programme is to inspire young scientist – so it seems fitting that the last word should come from one of our participants: 

“I just wanted to say a proper thank you for this week, I’ve really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. I really wanna come back next week now.”

For more information and particularly if you’d like to get involved for next year, please contact andrew.metcalfe@sheffield.ac.uk. Each person’s involvement, no matter how big or small, has contributed greatly to all those involved.