What I did in my Summer Holiday: my Integrated Science Internship
During term two of 2020/21, the university went entirely online due to Covid restrictions. While the Integrated Science team did a fab job of lecturing online and running virtual lab activities, we did miss out on a lot of practical lab experience (my bedroom at home isn’t quite a biological research lab, no matter how hard I try). To make up for this, we were offered the chance to join one of the labs associated with the course for up to ten weeks over the summer as a paid intern. We could come up with our own project (with help) and work on it, without having to write up a report or anything. It sounded like too good an opportunity to miss, so of course I did it — here’s how it went…
I joined Cross lab in the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology at WMS. Here, the research focus is kinesin, a molecular motor that walks along microtubules in cells. After spending a week meeting people, finding my way round and learning how a lab works, we decided on my project.
In motility assays — where you stick kinesins down on a coverslip and microtubules ‘crowd surf’ across them — microtubules sometimes start travelling in circles instead of straight lines. The chemotherapy drug taxol is used to stabilise microtubules, but it isn’t known whether taxol also influences the circular movement of microtubules. My project was to investigate this. (see the picture of me and my microtubules!)
If this sounds a bit confusing to you, don’t worry — I’d have had no clue what I was on about a year ago. But I picked it up fairly quickly, and excitingly, it was real, uninvestigated science!
I did a seven week internship, and the first few were mostly spent learning how to do a motility assay and troubleshooting a load of problems. After that, I began varying the concentrations of different assay components to investigate the effects. I didn’t come up with a conclusive answer by the end of my placement. I did make some progress, however: as well as establishing a good protocol for assays, I collected data on microtubule behaviour in different taxol concentrations, and with some kinesins deactivated.
I also learned:
- How to get things out of a liquid nitrogen freezer (easily my favourite thing)
- How coverslips are cleaned
- How to make microtubules
- What different roles there are in a lab (research assistants, PhD students, postdocs, technicians, health and safety, admin staff, research fellows…) and what they involve
- How to use the eduWOSM (ok, I sort of already knew this — now I really know!)
- How to keep useful lab notes
- How to troubleshoot using what you know
- How to make a motility assay work
- How to make buffer solutions
And quite a lot more!
How I found it
Overall, I really enjoyed my internship. I felt completely included in the lab as an equal — I was invited to the weekly lab meetings, for example — and everyone was very friendly and happy to help me. It was also great to have my own proper project, but to not be under any pressure to produce anything. It was useful to learn about what a lab environment is like and the different roles. I think I would be more inclined to do a PhD, having seen how friendly and supportive it can be in a lab. In this respect, it was even more useful than lab time during term.
I felt privileged to be able to do proper science despite having zero qualifications, and investigate a really interesting subject.
I did spend a lot of time not really feeling like I knew what I was doing. However, everyone was keen to help out and problems were quickly sorted. And, of course, being confused most of the time is an important part of science!
I also found being at uni during a holiday a bit odd. There wasn’t a lot happening on campus, and my house was empty most of the time, so it was easy to get a bit lonely. However, my fellow interns were aways there for a chat.
I’ve probably forgotten to mention half the stuff I did, but basically, if you get the chance to do an internship like this, go for it — it’s been a great use of my summer and will definitely help me make decisions about my future.