Plasmids and Posters - my two years with the UTC Protein Challenge
I have been involved with the Protein Challenge project for sixth-form students at the University Technical College (UTC) in Cambridge for two years – it’s coordinated by a postdoctoral research scientist in the next lab bay to me so the theme and techniques involved relate well to my PhD. I love going into UTC to help with the lab work, it is such a nice environment for the students and staff.
The Protein Challenge project combines molecular biology techniques, practical lab-based sessions to assay protein activity and a visit to the Institute’s labs and science facilities.
My involvement with the Challenge this year started with delivering a new session on scientific posters. This was an interactive workshop on how a scientific poster should be designed to be as effective a communication tool as possible and why posters have been invaluable at different stages of my scientific career. Our session involved giving the students feedback on posters they had already produced and then asking them to critique posters from me and other Institute researchers! Following this we told the students that we would provide professionally printed versions of their posters at the end of their project, which was met with great excitement.
I also went back to the UTC labs to help with the practical parts of the project – I am always amazed at what can be done there due to their excellent scientific facilities. The project goes from getting a plasmid of interest into bacterial cells all the way to protein purification, and ends with an enzyme assay with the purified protein.
There are always some mysteries in science, and some of the students’ results were not as we expected but this is all part of the realistic learning experience provided by our challenge project. The lab sessions at the UTC also gave me a chance to chat to the students about my career choices and my current research as well as their future plans, which I always find to be an enjoyable part of the visit.
We have also been working with the UTC teachers to develop resources to accompany the protein challenge project and will be publishing the final versions on the Babraham Institute website as soon as they are finalised – watch this space.
The opportunity to engage with young people helps to maintain my enthusiasm for science and has greatly enhanced my confidence in communicating ideas to various audiences, for me these opportunities are an invaluable part of my development as a scientist.