Looking ahead to a Cancer Research UK funded PhD

Last November, a group of five medical students from The University of Manchester visited The University of Cambridge’s MB-PhD symposium in preparation for the equivalent programme that UoM and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) are looking to deliver. One of the students in the cohort, Andrew Chai, discusses the symposium below and explains how it’s made him more eager than ever to get stuck into the MB-PhD at Manchester…

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The opportunity to visit the MB-PhD symposium at Cambridge truly was a fantastic one.  This was an event where students in the second and third years of the three-year intercalated PhD presented their research and project progress to prospective applicants. The symposium is usually only open to students studying at Cambridge, but through the efforts and communication between various CRUK and university staff from both institutes, a small cohort of students from Manchester were allowed to be present for the event. While accompanied by the lovely Dr. Georgina Binnie from CRUK at the Oglesby Research Building in south Manchester, myself and four other students made the trip down to Cambridge.

Upon arrival, we made our way to the clinical school, where the event was being held. Shortly after collecting our badges and settling into the environment, the presentations from doctoral students began. We listened to numerous projects, with topics ranging from machine learning and bioinformatics to cell receptors and signalling. After a handful of thirty-minute presentations, there was a break for refreshments and the chance to attend some poster presentations from other MB-PhD students in the reception area.

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During the break, I managed to have a more direct line of communication with the students and had a chance to ask them about some of the queries and concerns I had as a prospective applicant for the programme at Manchester. Everyone I spoke to was incredibly patient, understanding and empathetic about transitioning from a pre-clinical medical student to being a full-time bioscience doctoral student, and explained clearly to me the difficulties of the programme and what the potential solutions to said difficulties were. After the break, we returned to the lecture hall to listen to some more presentations of amazing calibre and quality. The evening was concluded with a guest presentation from Professor Farooqi, a clinical academic that studied metabolism and medicine, and then a very articulate closing statement from Professor Marciniak, the director of Cambridge’s MB-PhD.

As students filtered out of the lecture theatre, I made sure to stay and talk to any of the presenters that I hadn’t yet met. They shared their experiences and invaluable advice that not only countered the worries I had about applying but also redoubled my interest in academic research. In having these chats with the Cambridge students, I came to understand that most, if not all of my concerns would be anticipated and accounted for by the programme and their fantastic supervisors.

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It was also very helpful to see and hear firsthand how the PhD was indeed doable for us medical students with limited lab-related skills, as long as we were determined and disciplined. I received a great takeaway message that I now refer to not only in relation to the MB-PhD, but also in general academia; with your best effort and attitude towards learning, you’ll be able to thrive within any programme.

I personally found our visit to be a very informative trip, one that clarified a lot of the mystery about what postgraduate study would be like for a medical student. While there are many fantastic clinical academics at Manchester who have been nothing but helpful regarding questions about academic research as a physician, we hadn’t yet had any chances to speak to students that were doing an intercalated PhD until our visit. In hearing how they were finding/found their PhD studies, I came back from Cambridge even more motivated to prepare and apply for the newly created MB-PhD projects. If you’re at all interested in applying for when you’re eligible, I would absolutely recommend the visit should it be available in future years.


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