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IMU Student Mobility Programme Experience Fuelled UK University Student’s Burning Passion Towards Research

20 Feb 2019

“I do not think I am qualified to perform research in a lab”. This was my initial thought as I am currently studying to be a food scientist or nutritionist who mainly relies on experiments performed by scientists to provide the information to the public. However, due to my exposure to biology in my first year of my studies at the University of Surrey, UK, I was confident enough to apply for the student mobility programme at IMU in Malaysia. Fortunately, whilst I was there, I learnt a tremendous amount of knowledge under the wing of Dr Lim Chooi Ling who is involved in cancer biology research at the University. I found out about the student mobility programme in IMU when my friend, who had shadowed a lecturer, recommended me to contact lecturers in the University asking for such an opportunity. Since my summer holidays in the UK lasts for 3 months I contacted Dr Lim who was willing to accept a first year Food Science and Nutrition student into the programme and give a glimpse of what research in Malaysia is like.

Six-week Internship 
During the first two weeks of my 6-week internship in July and August 2018, I was assigned to apprentice with an MSc student, Yee Zong Yang. He mentored me in the research laboratory and shared with me his daily life as a researcher. One of the important skills I have obtained from this opportunity was that the fundamentals of performing any scientific research project which is very important in getting approvals and receiving funding from the university or government. I was also invited to listen to presentations by final year students on their research project which I have assisted in. This experience has showed me how communication skills are essential in the field of research to convey pertinent information and findings in a succinct manner. Among the practical skills I have obtained is of tissue culture, maintaining several cancer cell lines in the cell culture lab. This involved changing the culture medium to optimise growth, subculturing cells to prevent over-confluence. Moreover, one of the key skills I have gained is collaborating and analysing the data obtained by biomedical science degree students for their final-year research projects. I also strived to offer opinions on how the experimental design could be improved. The practical tasks that I was exposed to during this programme has provided me with a great advantage over the other applicants for a research placement here in the UK due to the value-added knowledge I obtained. Some examples of experimental techniques I learnt included the Western Blot, Bradford assay, gel electrophoresis and many more. Besides gaining invaluable practical skills from the research projects, I was assigned by Dr Lim to perform a critical review on miRNA expression in p53 gain-of-function mutation. This proved to be very challenging for me as I was unfamiliar with proper reading and research of scientific articles on this topic. I also had only basic knowledge of molecular biology, so it took me several weeks to fully appreciate and understand these articles.

Despite the challenges I endured during my internship, I am thankful to be provided with this opportunity as it enabled me to develop my own method of understanding peer-reviewed scientific literature. Due to this exposure, I have found it easier in my second and final year when I am required to read countless scientific articles and analyse them in order to advise patients as a nutritionist or write a critical review about epigenetics and nutrition in animals.

I am very grateful to Dr Lim who has sacrificed her time to teach me about the intricates and complexities of research. She has truly changed me for the better and further fuelled my burning passion towards research in biology. In conclusion, I would highly recommend to anyone who harbours thoughts of diving into the research field to wholeheartedly do so.

Written by First Year University of Surrey student, Mark Cheong Yuen Jian

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