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Experimenting for Success: Our Work Based Learning Module

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

One of the main reasons that students attend university is to improve their employability and job prospects. It's fair to say that a degree can go a long way to helping you succeed in your future career, however it's often the additional experiences you gain that can really make you stand out from other candidates at job interviews.

To ensure our students get the vital industry experience that employers are looking for, the Work Based Learning (WoBL) module has been built into all of our courses at University Centre Shrewsbury. WoBL not only looks great on a CV, it gives students key opportunities to develop practical, work-related skills, test out future career options, and put what they've learnt in the classroom into practice.  

In this blog from Eleanor Vesty, our Institute of Medicine Laboratory Technician, she explains what our science students got up to during the programme this summer and what beneficial skills they picked up along the way.

“Just like a real-life scientific laboratory, the six week Work Based Learning programme carried out by our second year bioscience undergraduates was fast-paced and full on. Running from Tuesday 2nd of May to Friday 9th of June, the WoBL projects developed some of the skills that are essential for working in the scientific world. In addition to the technical laboratory skills, our students had to learn to be independent, carry out critical analysis and optimise their time and resources.

The programme was split into five different projects that all had different goals and practical requirements but continued the underlying themes of working independently, having confidence in your capabilities and learning about yourself as a part of the scientific community. The sixth week was careers week with external speakers and experienced staff taking the students through the many options for when they graduate.

During Week One, students were working with Amy Morgan from Thornton Science Park, part of the University of Chester. Using the sophisticated COPASI computer modelling software they were able to investigate the complex system of cholesterol metabolism – a growing concern in society. All science labs make use of programs like these and increasingly the ability to manipulate data in such a way is as an essential skill as using a pipette.

Week Two was run by Dr Elizabeth O’Brien and was designed to give students an appreciation of the factors that need to be considered when designing and optimising an ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay). This was done by altering the parameters of the experiment in such a way that students arrived at the optimum working concentrations for each antibody. Students had to work hard to ensure that the experiments were well planned out. When you’re working with 96 different experiments on one plate it can get a bit confusing!

Week Three’s project was run by Dr Chris Sharp. Students first had to optimise two assays for detecting proteins – one of the most essential laboratory procedures. They then had to purposely make it all go wrong! One of the key analytical tools that life science students must possess is the ability to work out why something has gone wrong and, more importantly, how to fix it. This was successfully achieved by our students, enabling them to enter the scientific world of work with another essential skill.

The focus of Week Four’s project was the scientific world on a micro and nano scale. Run by Dr Mark Pickard, students developed their molecular biology skills by designing and carrying out cloning procedures. Working with E. coli – the most common laboratory model species, students built upon their previous practical experience by evaluating different bacterial transformation protocols and then using them to solve a ‘whodunit’ paternity test – turns out it was the milkman!

Enzymes were the focus of the fifth week where Dr John Williams asked students to think about the conditions that affect enzyme activity and why they might be important when we are designing experiments in real-life scientific situations. The correct temperature, pH and buffer was identified by carrying out multiple experiments. This then allowed students to carry out the ‘perfect storm’ experiment where everything was designed accurately and precisely in order to provide the most reliable data. The students displayed real confidence in their decision making and behaved like true professionals mastering their art.

The aim of Week Six was to broaden horizons and present some career paths the students may not have been aware of, as well as some of the more familiar routes that scientists follow. Most life science students aren’t aware of the vast array of job opportunities that are available to them. Our speakers included James Hill from Scientific Laboratory Sales who talked about his fast-paced career in scientific sales, Rebecca Bright from Complete Medical Communications who explained what a career in medical writing is like and how students can get into it. Sarah Turner from the the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt orthopaedic hospital then provided insight into careers in clinical research – a common route for life science graduates. Peter Myint from the local veterinary tissue bank presented the pros and cons of setting up a biotech business - inspiration for any budding entrepreneur.

The change in our students during just six weeks was obvious to the consistent observer (myself). Their personal and professional growth was very evident and a huge sense of achievement radiated from students at the end of the projects. This hard work and achievement was rewarded during our prize-giving ceremony. Students were assessed on their overall attitude and willingness to learn and develop as opposed to just their final mark. First prize went to Jurij Kmito who received a £50 Amazon voucher kindly donated by Bioline Reagents. Smaller (more edible) prizes were awarded to Max Ellington and Eleanor Gregory. However all students tucked into pizza, cream teas and ice-cream as reward for being fantastic workers.

The skills and capabilities refined and extended over those six weeks will go a long way to preparing our students for life in the scientific world, whether that’s pharmaceutical research, clinical science, further study or anything else. Whichever they choose, the WoBL programme will ensure they are a credit to University Centre Shrewsbury and all the staff here.”

For more information about our Institute of Medicine courses (including Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Genetics and Evolution, Medical Genetics and Medical Science) please refer to our dedicated course pages. If you’d like to visit us on a campus tour or our next Open Day on Saturday 21st October, please feel free to book your place.