By Kirtana Vallabhaneni
Originally, I carried out a Nuffield Bursary placement at the Liverpool NIHR Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit. I was lucky enough to be awarded this placement after specifying that I had developed an interest in oncology after learning a little about genetics as part of the A level syllabus. Cancer is such a widespread disease that affects most people to some degree, whether they suffer from it themselves or know of someone who does. Having the unique opportunity of being immersed in the working atmosphere of a laboratory and being able to participate in experiments rather than just observing was an invaluable experience, in terms of developing my interest in science and confirming in my mind that my future choice of a career in medicine was right for me.
This experience led me to being nominated for the Young Scientist of the Year award as part of the National Science + Engineering Competition at the Big Bang Fair 2012. The three days of the competition passed by in a blur, and I had the opportunity to develop my communication skills by presenting my project to a varied audience. One of the skills I improved upon was being able to gauge the audience’s level of knowledge, and adapting my presentation to engage their interest in my project. I had the opportunity to meet people who displayed a similar enthusiasm for science, as well as to meet the prestigious judging panel on the second day – both an intimidating and exciting experience! Having the chance to speak to the celebrity judging panel was a unique opportunity which would not have been afforded to me under any other circumstances than through this competition, for which I am grateful.
After winning Young Scientist of the Year, the following weeks also passed in a blur! One of the opportunities made available to me was a trip to the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma, provided by RCUK. Visiting the observatory and being shown around the telescopes was a brilliant experience. As an aspiring medic, it opened my eyes to a side of science I had not really explored before. Interacting with the scientists in both the control rooms and the domes allowed me to gain an in-depth insight that an ordinary tour would not have provided.
The most enjoyable experience was watching the ING telescope at work one evening. Observing the astronomer at work in the control room, manoeuvring the telescope to collect the data was a unique experience that literally brought the science alive. Being able to discuss the findings and telescopes with astronomers who were highly passionate about their work was an inspiring experience. I would like to thank RCUK for giving me the opportunity to go on this fantastic trip!
Having had a brilliant time completing a CREST award and presenting at the Big Bang Fair, and I would definitely recommend any budding scientists to apply to the National Science + Engineering Competition. Winning Young Scientist of the Year opened up so many opportunities for me, such as RCUK’s visit to La Palma, as well as my prize trip to the Amazon (an experience of a lifetime!). I’m also starting university this year, reading medicine at University College London, so the experience also provided inspiration for my future as well. I’d already decided to apply for medicine, but working in the lab opened up my eyes to the clinical research side of medicine, something I’d definitely be interested in pursuing later on. The Competition encompassed such a broad range of projects that covered a diverse range of interests of the applicants, so my advice would be to pursue an area you’re genuinely interested in – we all work harder when we’re doing something we enjoy!