Pharmacy students at the International Medical University, Malaysia engage in an intensive research project for the whole of Semester 7 to learn about the essentials of research. Three of these students, Annie Lee, Cheu Ling Ling and Ong Ai Lin had an opportunity to conduct their research at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. They recall fondly of their experience at QUB. “It was truly overwhelming at first as this was our first time travelling so far. Being newly exposed to research, there were so many things to learn and absorb. However, our supervisors, Dr Ravi Sheshala, Dr Raghu Raj Singh (Dr Raj) and Dr Thiagarajan Madheswaran gave us confidence, valuable advice and suggestions and were very helpful whenever we had problems related to research during our stay in Belfast. We feel thankful and blessed as our research projects went smoothly from start to finish. Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2012 for world-class achievement in cancer research. It was awarded the UK BEST Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) in year 2013. QUB’s research was judged as internationally excellent and the university was ranked as one of the superior academic institutions for pharmacy research in the UK, according to UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2008. We were therefore honored and grateful for the acceptance of our application to carry out our research project in QUB. Our research topic involved the development of new photocrosslinked implants that deliver drugs to the eye to replace frequent ocular injections. We would like to express our utmost gratitude to our main research supervisor, Dr Ravi Sheshala and co-supervisor, Dr Thiagarajan for their guidance and support during the course of this research work. We were also truly fortunate to work under the supervision and guidance of Dr Raj at QUB who is an expert in ocular drug delivery research. The inspiration, assistance and advice provided by his Postdoc Fellow, Dr Chirag and PhD student, Katie McAvoy were invaluable in helping us to complete the work.
We were thrilled to conduct our research in a sophisticated and well-equipped laboratories using advanced testing facilities including a scanning electron microscope to examine the morphology of our samples and a texture analyser to measure implant flexibility. We got to know the gigantic difference in style of working between UK and Malaysia. People like to pal around and unwind in the coffee room after a hectic day in the research lab. It was also our pleasure to meet one of QUB’s pharmacy students, Joyce Lee Yen Hui, who was generous in sharing her experience in Belfast and recommending ‘must-go’ places and famous local delicacies.
Belfast is the capital as well as the largest city in Northern Ireland and the birthplace of the legendary RMS Titanic. We were worried about the cost of living expenses during our stay in the UK due to the increase in exchange rate until we stepped foot on this land. The cost of living in Belfast is so much lower compared to Kuala Lumpur, with affordable and quality groceries being available in Tesco which was just a stone’s throw away from QUB. We cooked most of the time as dining out was a tad costly and so we took the opportunity to sharpen our culinary skills in the well-equipped kitchen and develop our financial management skills at the same time. Although life in Belfast is simple and laid-back, it never stopped fascinating us with its extraordinary historical and contemporary architecture, scenic beauty and of course the courteous locals. During weekends we visited famous places like the thrilling Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, dramatic Giant’s Causeway, surreal Portstewart Beach, ancient Carrickfergus Castle and state-of-the-art Titanic Quarter. Katie drove us to Belfast Castle, which is prominently located at 400 feet above sea level, on the last day of research to cap off our learning journey in Belfast. Last but not least, it was truly a precious learning experience exposing ourselves to the outside world and meeting people from other countries. Although it was just a three month stay, our international experience at QUB gave us a new outlook on life. We have not only advanced academically but also acquired greater self-confidence, team working and communication skills and a new appreciation of the world around us. This was one of the best times we ever had and we are greatly thankful to IMU and our supervisors, Dr Ravi Sheshala, Dr Thiagarajan and Dr Raghu Raj Singh from QUB who made it all happen.”