What I got out of my intercalation year

In recent months on the FBMH Student Blog, we’ve been hearing from various intercalating medics about their year away from studying medicine. In the latest addition to this series, we caught up with Gillian Manchip who talks us through her year studying an MRes in Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine. Despite the course being interrupted by COVID, Gillian only has positive things to say about her time on the programme…

Why I did it

The decision to study an MRes in Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine (TERM) stemmed from my experiences throughout my first few years of undergraduate medicine. In particular, in the summer of 2018 when I was awarded a Vacation Scholarship to spend two months working in a laboratory at the University of St Andrews assisting with research into a novel cancer drug.

Through this, I got a taste of the importance that research has in relation to clinical medicine. I was eager to delve deeper and expand my skills in an independent manner and I felt passionate about contributing to research that has the potential to change the future of medical practice. I was delighted to learn that there was an opportunity to intercalate the following year.

It was a big decision and I questioned whether it was the best time to add another year onto a (seemingly) never-ending education, but after much thought, deliberation and advice seeking, it was clear that it was the perfect step for myself and my future career. With a passion for surgery I was in awe of the idea that research strategies can allow us to repair, replace and even regenerate various tissue organs allowing us to solve major clinical problems.

With regards to the course layout, I was drawn in by the taught aspect as I felt that I would gain a well-rounded education. I hoped that this course would expose me to evidence-based thinking which would help me throughout the remainder of medical school and that it would enhance my preparation for research posts later in life.

What I learned

Through the taught aspect during the first semester, we were exposed to a comprehensive array of fascinating and topical issues within the realm of tissue engineering, to which, I will admit, I was not previously aware of. Furthermore, assignments throughout the year and a literature review prepared me well for writing my dissertation.

We were able to choose from an array of topics for our research project in which we would conduct a literature review that would subsequently be the focus of our laboratory work and dissertations. The topic that I chose was based on the cellular mechanism of adhesion formation following the use of mesh materials for hernia repair. I feel very fortunate that I was able to conduct my dissertation in this area as I had previously spent some time assisting with hernia repairs in rural Guatemala. This allowed me to further consolidate this area of surgery by exploring it more extensively at a scientific level. 

How I was supported

Upon my arrival in the Blond McIndoe laboratory, I felt instantly welcomed and supported. With the broad array of like-minded people from various backgrounds we all had a lot to learn from each other and I am so grateful for everyone’s mentorship, patience and support.

Unfortunately, six weeks after starting in the lab, news started to break that the University was due to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, the faculty made efforts to salvage any research that had been done and were flexible with the change of dissertations in a way that was fair to all.

I got everything I was hoping for out of MRes TERM, and more! I learned so much from the course and, although initially very daunting, I was able to practice and receive feedback on presentations to the whole lab throughout lockdown. I even threw myself into unexpected extracurriculars, for example, I was appointed student representative which allowed me to work closely with students and staff and I helped run a stand at Bio-diversity day (pre-COVID of course), teaching school pupils all about adhesions and what it’s like to work in a lab.

What the future holds

I’m excited for what the future brings, and I am confident that this experience has helped shaped me for the better. I wish to continue working alongside many of the amazing people I’ve met on this journey and to develop my research skills by exposing myself to a variety of opportunities that would allow me to do so. To any prospective students, my advice would be to have confidence in yourself, love what you do and not to be afraid of failure. You will be surprised how far you can push yourself and what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

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