My year in the lab as an undergraduate practising student; Introducing Ruth Franklin

Ruth Franklin is in the middle of a year as a practicing student in the Professor Cathie Martin lab.

We asked Ruth about her project and what it’s been like experiencing life in the lab.

“My placement year at the John Innes Centre is based in Professor Cathie Martin’s lab in the molecular biology department.

My role is to assist PhD student Matthew Downie, in work aiming to discover the genes responsible for the different stages of trichome formation and development.

The lab uses various biological techniques to reveal information about the genetic evolution of tomatoes (among other plant species).

This information can then be used to manipulate gene function to improve various agricultural focuses, such as their immunity to pests and pathogens immunity, as well as their flavour and nutritional content.

Everything I have done in the lab so far has been a new experience for me; recently I’ve been using PCR and Yeast-2-Hybrids to try and uncover various gene interactions.

Before my placement, I was studying Biology at Sheffield Hallam University and had completed my second year.

I discovered the John Innes Centre through one of my first-year lecturers, who told me about the institution because of his own stint working here as a postdoc.

Unfortunately, the institute didn’t run official placements, but Cathie kindly gave me a chance to join as a practicing student for the academic year and offered me a position working under Matthew.

I’m delighted she did because I don’t think I could have found a better thing to be doing during the pandemic.

When I first arrived in August, I was very lucky in that Norwich had avoided the brunt of the virus, enabling me to have all the one-to-one training I needed (with social distancing, PPE etc).

Although restrictions became tighter towards the end of the year, I was able to move onto more independent work and so was still able to remain safe and in the lab working on my project almost every day, something I would not have been able to do remotely.

My placement at the John Innes Centre has taught me more than any of my previous educational experiences combined, so for me, doing a placement during a pandemic was the best thing I could have done.

The year I spend in the lab, acts as one year of my course.

Alongside my lab work I’m completing a university module which keeps track of what I am learning, my progress and the feedback I receive, as well as relating the work I do on placement to my final academic year at university and beyond.

I’m not 100% sure where I’m headed next, but I’d like my career to contribute to the efforts against climate change somehow.

I’m very interested in sustainable food production, something my placement was very much relevant to, so I hope to follow on with this after my final year at uni.

My experience at the John Innes Centre also opened my eyes to research as a career path; this wasn’t something I was seriously considering before my placement, but now I definitely hope to try and get into a similar line of work to that which I’ve been doing here.”

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