University of Dundee

Virtual Summer School is a success in Life Sciences

02 Sep 2020

During the SLS summer school students usually expect to gain wet lab experience and benefit from working alongside PhD students and postdoctoral researchers on the bench. The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on this year’s programme as access to the labs was restricted and placements cancelled. Instead, twenty Dundee undergraduates from second and third year undertook virtual projects over a period of five weeks.

Dr Paul Davies, Summer School lead said, “Our School was determined to offer our students an alternative to laboratory work when the Covid-19 pandemic restricted our normal range of projects. We were able to provide a range of exciting virtual projects so every student that was originally offered a lab placement got the opportunity to engage. This year’s students were of extremely high caliber, and all of them took everything they could from the experience. Awesome!”

The projects covered a range of research themes from drug design to plant sciences and Parkinson’s disease to RNA sequencing. The largest proportion of students undertook a mass spectrometry experimental design and data analysis project. Feedback from the students who took part was glowing as quotes below will attest and allowed them all to build on or learn new skills.

For Dr Esther Sammler, having Neringa Pratuseviciute, a neuroscience student as part of her lab in the MRC-PPU, was perfect timing, “Neringa contributed to an important project by performing a complex independent and blinded re-analysis of data derived from human biosamples. I was impressed how quickly Neringa was able to work independently and how surprisingly easy it was to work closely together via remote videoconferencing.”

Undertaking the project with Esther has inspired Neringa to continue working with Esther’s group during the summer but to also do her honours project with her. Neringa commented that “During these unprecedented times I was delighted to be granted the opportunity to undergo a remote summer placement with Esther and work on a translational Parkinson’s disease project where I was introduced to large data sets and shown the incredible work that goes into researching this disease. I am now excited to continue my work in a research lab alongside Esther and her team, gain hands-on experience and broaden my scientific knowledge even further.”

Summer School Feedback

‘Thank you for the opportunity you gave me to be a part of the Life Sciences Virtual Summer Project. The project itself was exciting, and definitely out of my comfort zone. However, I learned a lot and mass spectrometry seems like a wonderful technique, full of exciting discoveries waiting to be found.’

‘Thank you for having me on the summer school, I really enjoyed it! It was really great getting to work with and learn from you all.’

‘To be given an opportunity to work with researchers is amazing in itself, let alone during our current unpredictable climate. I was thrilled and also nervous to begin a research project based entirely at home. I was both mentored and trusted to direct and manage my own time during the project which I was grateful for. I took responsibility for my work and made decisions about which questions I asked and directions I followed, whilst being supported. This culminated in an immense pride in what I had accomplished not only academically but also personally. As I approach my final years I will build upon the curiosity, tenacity and initiative that I have started to gain through this project. I would like to thank the whole SLS team. ‘

‘Thank you for this! Really enjoyed myself during the virtual summer school, although the content covered was quite a leap because I do not have much background in bioinformatics. Definitely learnt a lot under all of your guidance. Looking forward to seeing new things being discovered, and also to meeting up next year! ‘

“I was extremely glad to be a part of the Summer School this year. It was a great opportunity to learn how to work remotely and get an inside look into the «dry side» of a research lab. While doing my project I got to improve my research analysis skills, learned how to work with a Chimera and Pymol softwares, and found out about a lot of useful databases available online. I had to do an extensive literature analysis, which involved reading a lot of papers and allowed me to learn how to do that more efficiently, which was a great preparation for my Bachelors project. Being an international student and working remotely I had a chance to spend time with my family, learn new skills and gain valuable experience without having to sacrifice one for the other. All in all, the Summer School was an interesting new experience that I was happy to be a part of.”