After graduating from her undergraduate degree in Virology from The University of Glasgow, Anya Morrison wanted to further explore the interactions between humans and viruses by undertaking a PhD.
However, due to limited lab experience and competition for funding, this is currently the next step in a longer-term objective. Meanwhile, in an effort to upskill and broaden her horizons, Anya has been studying the MRes in Infection Biology. Here she explains how an MRes differs from typical postgraduate courses and how it’s helped prepare her for a career in research-led science…
After completing my undergraduate degree, I knew I needed more lab experience and to expand my interests beyond just viruses. So, I decided to pursue a master’s and when looking for the right programme, I knew I wanted to do an MRes specifically, as it would allow me to really explore my desired research question in greater depth.
The MRes contrasts to an MSc mainly in how it prioritises research; while the latter is predominantly lecture-based with a much shorter amount of time in the lab, an MRes promises extensive lab time which, ultimately, is allowing me to gain the practical experience my CV was lacking.
Unlike other postgraduate courses, MRes Infection Biology in particular is really tailored towards students looking to go into research careers, whether that be industry or for a PhD. Alongside the specialism of my degree, my undergraduate project was heavily bioinformatics based (predominantly working on the computer), so along with the widening my knowledge of other areas of infection, the prospect of extensive lab experience meant it was the course for me.
During the first semester, I was introduced to all areas of infection: bacteriology, virology, parasitology, fungi and immunology via lectures provided by experts in the field. This meant that no matter what background you had prior to the course, everyone was brought up to scratch. This helped me find my interests and develop the ability to try something new outside of viruses for my research project.
Because Manchester is a Russell Group university which contributes high impact research in a wide range of disciplines, the weekly internal and external seminars expose you to the cutting-edge research not only by those within the University but by current, renowned scientists presenting their work in the field.
I felt spoiled for choice when selecting a project and was confident that I would receive the supervision I needed to produce high-quality research, no matter the area that I wanted to investigate. For me, I took the chance to research something totally beyond my realm: using helminth infections as a tool to investigate the immune system.
The modules on the course really make your CV stand out and provide you with the skills required by every research scientist: grant writing to ensure you have the ability to secure competitive funding, technology workshops to introduce students to the most cutting-edge technology, and Journal Club teaches students how to properly critique papers. This is something that I find particularly useful while creating data figures for my own work as well as developing presentation skills.
The literature review and project proposal – which students undertake during the first semester – helped me prepare me for the second-semester research project. It meant I had a sound knowledge of what I was going to be researching and ensured I could get stuck into the nitty-gritty of lab work from the word go.
The small cohort was a really important factor for me choosing this course too. By having smaller numbers, you become very close as a group and are able to share your struggles and experiences, university-related or not.
This also allows for closer interaction with the staff and any queries are dealt with quickly and personally. I found this particularly important whiling apply for further postgraduate opportunities: I was able to get one-to-one advice before PhD interviews, for example.
A major advantage to the course is feeling like the staff really want the students to succeed and to have the best experience during the degree. Student feedback is acted upon during the same academic year, which is very unique compared to other courses where feedback only benefits next year’s students.
The staff regularly communicate with the students; we were able to express our thoughts on upcoming deadlines and extra time was provided to allow us to submit work which we knew was to the best of our capabilities.
Whereas in an undergraduate degree you are given ample opportunities to find an area of study which interests you during the 3-4 years, traditionally during a master’s, exploring various research areas in-depth isn’t possible. This is mainly due to the shorter time frame, however, during this master’s I’ve felt that I’ve been allowed to explore different infectious agents and confidently decide on a research project.
Overall, I believe the programme has helped prepare me for a career as a research scientist, as well as obtain transferrable skills for jobs outside of science. Obviously, it is a step-up from undergraduate, however, the outcome of completing the course as a competitive scientist with a range of research and interdisciplinary skills will make the journey worthwhile. Infection Biology is a degree I’ll be proud to have on my CV!