A summer spent in research

The summer for most university students is often a long one. Some may use the time to travel, others may use the time to relax and unwind after a hectic year while others may take the opportunity to gain some work experience. There is no right or wrong way to spend your summer, just make sure whatever you do is best for you. Third year Pharmacy student, Megan Cotcher, opted to spend last summer working in the research labs here at the University of Manchester. Find out below what she got out of staying at university while everyone else went home…

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I have been very fortunate to have spent the summer preceding my third year researching in the labs at The University of Manchester. I used the university website to find ongoing projects of interest to me; at the time this happened to be proteins. I reached out to the academic in charge of the project to express my interest and was lucky enough to be accepted.

The project was centred around therapeutic proteins but evolved in ways I could not have imagined. I was helped by PhD students and academics to develop an improved method of analysis. Though the project was relatively short, I felt that it gave me a sense of postgraduate research and made me more confident that a PhD is something I would like to do. I enjoyed the responsibility of carrying out my own project, but I knew that help was always available from my supervisor, Dr Harmesh Aojula who was on hand at all times if I needed anything.

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It was very rewarding to see the project come together, but it was not without its challenges. With each difficulty/setback, there was an opportunity for investigation, and resolution could be anything from running more tests, varying parameters or physical modification of the kit. I enjoyed both the theoretical side of the project, understanding how things work and why the research is important, and the hands-on measurement taking and, at times, engineering.

Through my participation in this project, I was able to get involved with the International Pharmacy Summer School for a day. Along with postgraduate students and academics, I helped to deliver a nanoparticle workshop to a small group of international students. The students were guided to prepare nanoparticles with encapsulated dye before analysing them for size uniformity and efficiency of encapsulation. The students seemed to enjoy this unique workshop which was encouraging. Thanks to the workshop, I learned a lot about nanoparticles as a means of drug delivery and hope to delve deeper into this growing area in the future.

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The project culminated with the design of a research poster which I presented at the North West Centre for Advanced Drug Delivery (NoWCADD) conference: “Advanced Drug Delivery: crossing the interdisciplinary divide”. This was a fantastic end to a summer of hard work with speakers from Astra Zeneca, The University of Uppsala, Sweden and The University of Manchester.

My favourite talk was entitled “Developing the next generation of pharmaceutical scientists” by Dr Victoria Silkstone. Dr Silkstone talked about the evolution of the MPharm degree to give greater opportunity for those students interested in the pharmaceutical industry to engage with it early on. This was just one of the talks which touched upon moving away from the marginalised view of pharmacy as having just three main sectors. It was encouraging to hear of the rising prospects and to know that the MPharm degree has so many applications both existing and upcoming.

I would encourage anyone interested in pursuing industry, or indeed anything, to go out and make opportunities for yourself. A degree will help you of course but having industry experience could set you apart from the rest of the field.


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