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For the past two years, we have posted a series of blogs over the summer months written by students who give up their free time to undertake work experience placements at the WIMM. In the first of this year’s posts, Casper Woods, a lower sixth student at St Paul’s School in London, tells us about the time he spent in Richard Gibbon’s lab in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in July. Casper is one of eight grandchildren of Anya Sturdy, in whose memory the Anya Sturdy Fellowship was established to support the training of clinical fellows in the WIMM.

A year ago, if you had asked me what I wanted to do in the future, what interested me in the field of medicine, I would not have been able to give you an honest answer. I still cannot definitively tell you what I want to become, but after a week following Professor Richard Gibbons and his team at WIMM, I would be able to tell you the road I want to follow. Their pursuit of knowledge, trying to uncover the truth behind the protein ATRX, completely captivated me. Before this point I had no knowledge of clinical research, but I now fully appreciate why it is such an important and noble pursuit. To tell you the truth I still have a very limited understanding of the techniques and experiments going on in that lab. However, I was able to associate with their desire to learn more.

In many attempts at uncovering a career path, I have completed many weeks of work experience. Before heading off to WIMM, I was apprehensive, Oxford seemed pretty remote compared to my familiar London surroundings. However, having got there and figured out the bus service, I realize that it was the most useful experience I have ever had. The team were all thoroughly accommodating and genuinely interested. Moreover the labs were the most advanced I have ever seen. The Flow Cytometry Facility was simply incredible, every machine calibrated to a degree of accuracy I didn’t think possible. These surroundings, coupled with the team itself cultured my own interest in the field.

Over the course of the week, we were privileged to engage in several experiments which I am sure are fairly rudimentary in the profession, but were totally new and intricate to me. I learned about the fundamental uses of Southern and Western blotting as well as attempting a PCR test. This allowed me, not only to attempt the most basic techniques in molecular biology, but also to understand their applications. 

On top of all of this, each of the lab team were happy to tell me about routes into biology and medicine and about what they experienced during their training.

So overall, it was a completely inspirational week. I was able to learn so much about the field despite my limited prior knowledge. This was an experience which will, hopefully, be invaluable for the years to come.