The 2018 Undergraduate Summer School

At the end of last week 15 undergraduates from all over the world gathered at the North Norfolk coast to enthusiastically share their experiences of spending 8 weeks on the Undergraduate Summer School Programme.

Now in its 8th year, the Summer School provides invaluable insight and experience of research to undergraduates about to enter their final year of studies. Each student spends 8 weeks in a lab at either the Sainsbury Laboratory, the Earlham Institute or the John Innes Centre, all located on the Norwich Research Park working on a project that they have selected.

From getting to grips with Golden Gate cloning through to measuring wheat in polytunnels mid-heatwave, the programme gives the opportunity to learn techniques outside their undergraduate teaching so far to answer important biological questions.

For the last two days of the programme, the group head to stay in a hotel overlooking the sea to present to each other what they have each been investigating in the lab.

It is clear from the exceptionally high standard of not only presentations but questions that all the students have a passion for science and have immersed themselves fully in the world-leading scientific community that is found on the Norwich Research Park.

As Ángel Vergara Cruces says “One of the things I have enjoyed most is the discussions. You have all different perspectives, people with an evolutionary perspective, people from genetics and all of that comes together to give an integrated picture of the mechanism you are studying”

It is also evident that is not just the science side of the summer school that the students have enjoyed but the social side too. Everyone joins in laughter reminiscing about humorous moments such as the Friday evenings spent pizza making.

“It’s great there’s lots of like minded people that are in your position, in the same year at uni and you can really relate to them and talk to them a lot” remarks Freya Hartshorn.

Although most of the 8 weeks is spent in the lab, there is time set aside for other activities too such as workshops on science communication, biotechnology and meeting previous year cohorts, which helps the group bond. As many point out several times, living together in two flats in UEA helps too.

As Freya says, “You may be surprised by what you learn but all of it is good stuff!”

During the coastal stay, the students heard from two scientists Professor Dame Caroline Dean and Dr Scott Boden over dinner about their paths into science and how they became fascinated by the areas they study. Though different careers, both candid reflections emphasised that passion for science, determination, and not necessarily having a plan had got them where they are – qualities clearly present among the students.

“I would encourage anyone to apply to the summer school because the experience is wonderful, you learn so much. You really develop as a scientist and as a person” recommends Ángel.

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