Monthly Archives: April 2016

Dan’s Final Year Blog

Hello everybody and welcome back. Oh how I have missed you all, I hope everyone had a good Easter and that I find you all well today!

Let’s get right to the point – it is a momentous day on which you join me, for it is the day that I have submitted my Final Year Project report. *Rapturous applause* Please though, hold your congratulations… No but really, that is quite a big thing right there. Me, myself, I, the one who rarely even knows where I am, let alone what day of the week it is, has managed to fire off a 19 page report a whole 2 days before the deadline! Who’d have thought that would happen!? Now I have a whole 2 days to send irritating snapchats to people who haven’t finished yet, reminding them of the misery in which they still reside… Haha!

I think the last time I was on here talking your ears off was the day before my exhibit at the museum, on which my entire project was based… You’ll all be relieved to know that the exhibit went really well, loads of budding young future scientists coming in to learn from me about their vision and their eyes. It’s a lot of work though, hosting a science fair stand, believe me! It might look like we’re just standing about confusing little kids, but that volume of talking and gesticulating is pretty draining, even for yours truly. The public loved the Body Experience event so much in fact, that the organisers told me that people had been asking for it to be held for a second day! Even the little post it notes on my feedback board were good. Kids as young as 5 or 6 saying they “loved it” or that it “opened my eyes” – great vision pun whoever wrote that one! One person even wrote “Dan is fantastic”, and before you say anything, no it wasn’t my mother, who did, of course, insist on showing up to the exhibit. Luckily all my friends were too busy to swing by and see me in my “I am a Drosopholist” T-shirt.

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So anyway yeah, project is done, leaving my only 40 credits worth of exams to go, that’s only one ninth of a three year degree left to do, that’s what I call progress. Obviously that now puts me in the no-man’s-land of wanting exams to be over, but not wanting Uni to be over.. At least the timetabling gods have had the good grace not to put an exam on my birthday this year, as they have done every year of Uni so far.. There’s one on the day after instead… thanks. They have also had the great idea of timetabling the only three compulsory Neuroscience exams for this term all on consecutive days at the start of June, not sure how I feel about that, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Blah work work work work work, what else has been going on? Well you’ve all been on Easter holidays haven’t you, I hope they were more productive than mine. I had the best intentions, I really did, but as I’m sure you can guess, not a lot got done. I did have a lovely trip to the south of France though. A friend of mine from the trip I took to China last summer is on her placement year in Montpellier so I had Easter weekend down there, on the beach. It was pretty nice, not going to lie. It’s very picturesque, Montpellier, really pretty. Good food, good wine, good sun so all in all, can’t complain. Other than that, a pretty uneventful Easter, with the exception of a night out in Camden dressed as the cast of Archer… I was Archer, obviously.

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We final years, or Golden Oldies are we are also affectionately known, haven’t had lectures in life sciences since the Easter hols, so not much else to report academically I’m afraid. All our lectures for modules in second semester take place in the first half of the semester, so that we have the whole of the second half to devote our time to our Final Year Projects. I have had to do presentations about our projects for tutorial, but they’re never really an issue – I love getting up to talk and our tutor, is always a great audience.

What else is coming up? Well final year project hand in deadline will come and go, and then it will be senior ambassador’s end of year BBQ at Professor Sheffield’s house! Weather permitting obviously, but whatever happens, we all know that it will be a good night – if there’s anyone in the faculty who knows how to have a good time, it’s the staff!

The other big thing to look forward to of course is graduation in the summer. Still trying to decide on what type of dance to do while I’m up there to be honest… open to suggestions from the audience at this point. However before having to head out into the real world to be a real adult, I’ve got lots to look forward to in Manchester before I leave – including festivals Pangaea and Parklife!  Then I think the most grown up option at the moment is looking like a graduate scheme at the Wellcome trust, which seems pretty tasty, good benefits and only half an hour from home (it’s in London Euston).

All that though, is still a world away so wish me luck getting there, and I’ll speak to you all again soon!

Lots of love,

Dan xX

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Lucy’s Third Year Blog

Well hello again,

You find me at one of the busiest and most hectic times of any undergraduate degree: the final stretch of third year. Most third years are currently finishing off their final year project before exams start. As an MSci student though, as ever, things are quite a bit different. The usual 40 credits you get for your literature review and final year project are replaced by three different modules on the MSci course, all of which equip you for your final year as a research student, and beyond.

The first was a 10 credit bioinformatics module which we completed in first semester, which turned out to be much less daunting than I’d expected – I actually did really well in it. The second is a 10 credit project proposal module which is stretched out across the whole year. For this, you have to complete quite a bit of work during the first week back after summer, then compose two different research project proposals (one per semester), one of which will become your final year MSci project. This unit has probably been mt favourite MSci unit, as you have total freedom to work with any of the researchers in the faculty and pursue a project in pretty much anything you can imagine. However, this freedom also comes with a lot of responsibility; you must organise the projects and find two supervisors to work with yourself, and carry out most of the work independently (with a little help from your supervisors, of course).

Finally, we also have a 20 credit experimental skills module. This is a really intense unit, condensed into just 4 weeks. You have to design an individual project, which is part of a wider group research project. My group are carrying out a baseline ecological survey of the green spaces on the university campus, and comparing the biodiversity of that to a local, poorly-maintained park in a residential area behind the university. This project is part of the university’s commitment to social responsibility and working with local communities. The data we produce will be submitted to Manchester City Council and used to inform the planning of the regeneration of the local park, and of the redevelopment and pedestrianisation of Brunswick Street on the university campus, to expand our green spaces. It’s quite exciting knowing that the data we collect will be put to good use. However, there’s a lot of work to be done in a relatively short space of time. This week has been spent doing site visits, and planning the project. We had to write and submit a 2 page experimental design, then we will begin collecting data.

Survey site

Survey site on campus

I have about 9 days to collect around 50 soil samples from the two field sites, and analyse them in the lab. I’ll be looking at the different properties of the soil, such as: pH, moisture content, the presence of calcium carbonate. Then, I’ll be sieving and centrifuging the soil to separate the microscopic nematodes from within it, to measure the nematode abundance. I chose to look at nematodes because – if you’ve read my other blogs – you’ll know I have a thing for parasites, especially wormy ones! Even though these are free-living nematodes, I couldn’t help but make the tenuous link to parasitism. Anyway, once that’s all done I have to statistically analyse my data and write a 5 page lab report. Then, our group will get together to compile all of our data and collectively produce a professional (looking) A1 poster representing our results. This will then be at the centre of a 15 minute group presentation, in which we will all have to answer questions on the project. Sound like a lot? Yep. Oh, and that’s not even considering exams, which start about a week after all this finishes. Ahhh the life of a third year. It’s a good job I love what I do!

So I guess you’d think that – with all that work – I’ve become a solitary creature, found only in the darkest depths of the library. For the most part, you’d be right. However, I like to make sure I reward myself with a bit of fun. This week brought another Tuesday night at Bongo’s bingo at Albert hall (see my last blog if you’re wondering why on earth a 21 year old student would go to bingo), a night at the Albert’s Schloss bar with a live band, and a summertime themed house party for a friends birthday. I also took my sister to the Manchester Opera House to watch Chicago. It was such a good show and I even got the tickets on a cheap student deal. So I’ve had plenty of chance to blow off some steam.

I’ve also been working hard at fundraising for charity for the past few weeks. My housemate and I both have both volunteered abroad with two sister international development charities; which aim to improve access to clean drinking water, promote gender equality and increase environmental sustainability. We both had such incredible experiences, so we decided to fundraise to help fund future projects. I don’t know how I ended up agreeing to this, but we are doing a sponsored sky dive this week; I am beyond petrified. Amazingly, we’ve already raised nearly £700, so at least my untimely death will be for a worthwhile cause. Anyway, I can’t think about jumping out of a plane right now, so I’m changing the subject to something less traumatic.

Fundraiser by day, hula girl by night.

Fundraiser by day, hula girl by night.

In fact, I’m going to talk about something quite the opposite of traumatic…PUPPIES! Well, singular – just the one puppy. My best friend from back home graduated from university last summer and is now living and working in Manchester, not too far away from me. She rang me last month and told me she was getting a puppy! I’m probably the most excitable dog lover you’ll ever meet. I’m the weirdo who will go round to someone’s house and sit on the floor spooning their dog, rather than actually spend any time with them. So naturally, I was straight around to her house to meet the little pup! Last week we took her for her very first walk around the reservoir in Manchester and she absolutely loved it! Walks and puppy cuddles are the best form of stress relief from uni work I could ask for; oh, and it’s nice to see my best friend too!

"Arghh I have so many deadlin...aww look at the puppy! Let's go for a walk"

“Arghh I have so many deadlin…aww look at the puppy! Let’s go for a walk.”

The next six or seven weeks will be a whirlwind of excitement and stress which will see me through to the end of third year (well that’s a terrifying thought). It will bring with it: 4 coursework deadlines, 5 exams, 2 music gigs, 1 BBQ (hopefully – it is Manchester), 1 end of year ball and 1 trip to Barcelona! If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll remember that I booked holiday to Barcelona during Easter with some of my course friends to visit our friend who’s out there working in a zoology lab for his modern language year. Well things didn’t really go to plan; we went to the airport, got through security and were called to board the plane, but alas, our flight was suddenly cancelled due to the French air traffic control strikes. The next available flight was the day after we were supposed to return home. So we lost our entire holiday. They even made us show our boarding cards to go downstairs to arrivals, and then made us go through immigration because we’d “technically left the country”. Suffice to say, it was a pretty depressing train ride back to Fallowfield. We were absolutely gutted; a few days in the Spanish sun was just what we needed. However, we’ve just been refunded for the flights and now we’ve rebooked to go straight after final exams instead! I’m sure we’ll need the break even more by then, and it will be twice as hot. Silver linings and all that eh? Anyway, that’s enough blabbering from me; as usual, I should be doing my work.

Ciao for now,

Lucy

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Astynnia’s Second Year (International) Blog

Hello everyone!

In my last post, I talked about how busy my academic schedule was with my Research Skills Module (RSM) and Dissertation. Since I am done with them now, I can assure you guys that RSM online assessments are actually not as daunting as many would perceive. Basically, us Biomedical Sciences students were introduced to 4 different clinical sciences specialism in 4 weeks – Clinical Microbiology, Clinical Biochemistry, Clinical Pathology and Clinical Haematology. By the end of the week, we were required to complete an online assessment either in the form of short answer questions, a summary of a scientific article or methods and results writing. As long as you have a good understanding of the experiments and follow the assessment guidelines, you’re likely to do well! The assessments are worth 50% of the module, so it is important to ask the practical supervisor if you are having any problems understanding the topic. There’s no need to feel shy about this though because they are always more than willing to help you!

As for my dissertation, titled “Gut Microbiome and the Health of Colon” my supervisor gave me two articles as starter references. It took me a little while to get my head around these as nothing is easy when you are doing it for the first time. However, the more you read, the easier it is to understand what you need to include in the 9-page literature review. An easy trick is to always refer to the reference list in the starter references provided as they will provide you with other related scientific articles. And voila! Your reading list is sorted :). It is important for you to properly understand the content within your dissertation because you have to present your dissertation topic to your academic tutor and tutorial group members!

Before parting away for Easter holiday, my best buddy and I had a delicious Korean meal at Seoul Kimchi on Upper Brook Street. It seems like we found another one of Manchester hidden gems! If you are craving or would like to try authentic Korean food, this place is the right place to go to!

Kimchi stew with rice and beef bibimbap. Side dishes anchovies, kimchi (fermented cabbage) and pickles.

Kimchi stew with rice and beef bibimbap. Side dishes anchovies, kimchi (fermented cabbage) and pickles.

However our 3-weeks of Easter break is now at an end. I am currently still doing the modifications works for my RSM lab report. In the coming two weeks, there will be spot tests for Immunology and Parasitology and they are worth 10% each for the modules. I’m a little nervous for these as have found it hard to fit in revision this Easter holidays. That’s because I spent 12 days of the holiday in Norway and Iceland! I’m really making the most of being able to travel around and see as much of Europe as I can while I am over here for my studies away from Malaysia.

The best way to experience Norway is from above. Naturally, that involves a lot of hiking and battling with steep cliffs. However, you will get postcard views of stunning fjords (pulpit rocks) and that is the time when nature makes you feel like a tiny ant in a gigantic world. Iceland was equally as enjoyable with magical cinematic landscapes to leave you in awe. I was able to witness aurora borealis (also known as the northern lights) dancing above my head in Reyjkavik, which was absolutely wonderful. I also visited Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

 

I would say that it has been a productive semester for me with the right balance between work and play. As much as I wanted the holiday to last, I am looking forward to finishing my 2nd year as well, which means I am only 2 months away to be back home. 🙂

First day back at university after 3-weeks of Easter holidays celebrated with a McDonalds catch up lunch break!

First day back at university after 3-weeks of Easter holidays celebrated with a McDonalds catch up lunch break!

 

Astynnia x

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Rachel’s First Year Blog

Hello there!

Oh my goodness, how time flies!! It’s already the Easter holidays, and knowing that in just over two months I will have virtually finished first year is actually a terrifying fact.  I don’t want to grow up yet! Although thoughts of second year are really exciting (I’VE GOT A HOUSE!!), but there is still much to do this semester including finishing off my set of labs and sitting the next lot of exams. I intended to get a lot of revision done this Easter, given how busy my academic and social life was last term… but I ended up going on a very spontaneous trip to Amsterdam with my friend Jaina, who I’d met through the Mountaineering society!! That and catching up with friends from home has made for some very efficient procrastination…

Casually in Amsterdam

Casually in Amsterdam

One of the highlights of last term was another trip with the rock climbers; this time to Wales for a spot of climbing and an Annual Dinner. We spent the weekend in a hostel, and had rather late nights and very chilled mornings where we got into groups and organised activities for ourselves. On the Saturday we hiked up a mountain; Sunday consisted of climbing slate in a quarry, and the middle evening was spent getting dressed up, before going to a fancy hotel for a three-course meal. The food was incredible, and although it was hard to eat so much in tight dresses and have a dance afterwards, we all managed! It was such a fun weekend and a fab opportunity to make new friends; even if my feet got shredded from the dancing (discarding my heels wasn’t a good option!) and I came back with a huge cold, despite the weather not reaching the hair-freezing level like my last trip away. My amazing flatmate soon helped me cure it when I got back though, as we went to a cute café in the Northern Quarter for some rainbow cake… yes, it exists!!

The whole MUMC for the Annual Dinner

The whole MUMC for the Annual Dinner

The next week, the group of girls I’d met in Wales arranged to meet at the SU to go rock climbing… but instead, we ended up going to a temple in town to an event run by the Indian Society, to celebrate the Holi festival! It was a very spontaneous idea but was huge fun; we ran around outside in the rain and threw multi-coloured powdered paint all over each other. I got some very strange looks walking back into my accommodation, and it’s safe to say the inside of my coat has never been the same since. We also decided to go a crazy event one night called ‘Bongo’s Bingo’ at the Albert Hall. It was bingo but with a twist – the twist being glow sticks, rave rounds, dance-offs, and prizes ranging from £500 to a Frozen paddling pool! (No-one understands how much I genuinely wanted the pool). We didn’t win anything but it was a good laugh, and just highlighted what weird and wonderful things there are to do in Manchester!

On a more academic note, my lab sessions were actually pretty cool last term. One was a Neuroanatomy Lab, where we got to look at models of the brain and the spinal cord, and discover how they function. There was also a lab were we were allowed to put drugs in our eyes to see if our pupils constricted or dilated; to some very weird effects! I’ve heard that Manchester is one of the few universities – if the only – that allows such human experimentation, which is just awesome.

Neuroanatomy lab

Neuroanatomy lab

Another really useful thing that The University of Manchester does for us is provide a brilliant careers service. They frequently inform us of opportunities for work experience, careers advice, and generally loads of stuff that you can do to improve your CV. So, one Sunday my friend Sophia and I did some work experience at a local National Trust site called Styal Estate; learning how to survey and classify a habitat to produce a Phase 1 habitat map. It was really interesting, especially as the rangers would actually use the maps to help with the conservation of the estate!

Aside from that, there’s been several birthdays (with some pretty cocktails!), Black Milk Cereal dates (where else?!), cute trips to the amazing Manchester Museum (on Campus!), climbing sessions, essays and a night out to Sankeys to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It’s safe to say I was really looking forward to Easter to have a rest! Now all that remains is to get through next term…

Until next time!!

Rachel

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South Africa Field Course

Hey guys!

My name is Jennifer, and I am a first year student here at The University of Manchester – studying ‘Life Sciences with Mandarin’. The great thing about choosing ‘Life Sciences’ in my first year is the amount of flexibility – it is so nice to have a course that understands that you are indecisive when deciding a specialism, and so lets you pick any of the optional modules that you want. This is a great way to help us decide what we actually want to switch to in our second year – an inevitable but sad time: all of us Life Scientists are so close and don’t want to leave each other! But is it exciting when another one of us finally decides on their new degree programme. As for me, I will be changing to ‘Zoology with Mandarin’! I have chosen this course due to the interesting modules in the upcoming years – especially ‘Conservation Biology’ and ‘Animal behaviour’ – the opportunity for exciting research in both the lab and the field. However, what really cemented the decision of Zoology in my mind was the field course I have just returned from – studying Animal Behaviour in Thabazimbi, South Africa!

The South Africa team 2016

The South Africa team 2016!

It was genuinely the best two weeks of my life. From waking up to a gorgeous sunrise every morning, to the daily treks in the bush with a tower of giraffes for company (yes, I googled the collective noun!) to gazing up at the stars in the evening, I had never been happier! Having exceedingly limited wifi and no city lights made me appreciate the natural world even more than I already did – I had never seen so many stars before in my life! We were staying on a private game farm called Thani-Zimbi, so as well as seeing loads of ostrich, baboons and zebras, we also learnt how to identify the many species of antelope and birds found here too. Other highlights included visiting Marakele Predator Centre (BABY TIGER CUBS!), admiring the Botswana border from the tops of the local mountains, and of course, Pilanesberg National Park. I was prepared to be blown away, but little prepared me for seeing a pride of lions suddenly appearing out of the trees – the male coming down to the watering hole to drink, or having the road blocked by two bull elephants walking right past us. It was definitely something special! Being 1m away from a herd of elephants with their tiny gorgeous babies, spotting rhinos in the distance, and seeing so many impala, wildebeest, zebra, giraffes – the list could go on! It definitely inspired me to pursue a career in conservation.

However, this field course was not just about the elephant selfies. There was a lot of work to do both before and when we were here. In the weeks prior to the field course, we had 6 lectures on the concepts of experimental design, and the workings of various statistical programmes, such as Prism, SPSS and R. Understanding how to collect the right sort of data, and knowing how to write the correct code for R so the data can be analysed properly, are valuable skills which are essential for the field. This is one of the reasons why I loved this field course, as although the animals were an added bonus, the whole point was to develop the skills you need to be a scientist – and it may surprise many of you that a solid grasp of maths, statistics and programmes are highly desirable for future years, and even masters programmes. To think that at The University of Manchester we are learning these skills as first year students is really exciting!

Once in Africa we were also kept busy. Manchester field courses are unique in that they let you plan and carry out your very own research project from start to finish. It was a huge learning curve, but it was a great way to build your teamwork and organisation skills! I was intrigued by the jackal and primate tracks on an initial drive through the game park, and so I got a group together, and we were off!

The Trackers project group!

The Trackers project group!

Our project looked into the changes of diversity of animal tracks with regards to location and time of day. This involved getting ourselves up and to walk through the bush every day (at 6am and 6pm), to 3 sites around the reserve that we had prepared via raking over the ground the previous time we visited – sites in the dense vegetation, open grasslands, and by the watering hole. We would record the number of species by identifying the new tracks present; rake the ground, and start again the next day! It was great fun, as we collected a lot of data and saw many animals on our wanderings. It was also exciting when, by the end of the week, we could gaze at the ground and could tell the difference between warthog and impala, waterbuck and blesbok tracks!

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The independence we had when carrying out the project (it was up to us to get up at 5am!), and the confidence I gained from presenting our results to the entire group, were also excellent skills to develop! We also had lectures and a field exam when we were there, but they were actually really fun, especially when your distractions were lurking giraffes and warthogs around the watering hole!

I have now been back in England a few days, and already missing the sun, people and animals! It was a fantastic experience, and I would urge you all to do it if you get the chance!

 

Jennifer

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Declan’s Placement Year Blog

Hi guys, my name is Declan and I am a Pharmacology student at The University of Manchester. I’m writing this post to give everybody back home, prospective placement students in particular, a bit of a description of my placement with The MRC Unit in The Gambia. Here, I’m undertaking an immunology-based project examining the potential for Gambians to exhibit protective immunity to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB). I’ve been working here for around eight months now, and haven’t seen rain in about six! Anyways, I’ll try to give you all a rundown of what’s involved in a placement year with The MRC, what it’s like working in an international lab / in the field of immunology and what life is like in The Gambia.

We all received our offer letters sometime during revision for 2nd semester exams, so to say it all came as a bit overwhelming would be an understatement. After meeting my future housemates, Rowan and Claire, the university helped us with organizing all of our vaccinations and other medical preparations for travelling abroad to The Gambia in July 2015. When we left it was difficult for anybody to predict exactly how we would find the experience. We had very little idea what The MRC, or the country, would be like, but students from previous years spoke very highly of it and were happy to lessen our apprehensions. On arrival, everything was laid out for us, and we soon settled into a lovely house on-site for the three of us. Within a few weeks, training sessions were completed and we were ready to begin work for our projects!

Myself, Claire and Rowan

Myself, Claire and Rowan

The prospect of travelling to work on a disease as well-characterised as TB at a renowned research station was overwhelming – How could I catch up with centuries of research and somehow contribute to it?! However, I’ve found that once you get working on a project where you’re focusing all your attention on one subject (as I’m certainly doing here), it really helps you to digest the information and make real progress. My work is almost entirely concerned with my own project. It’s very rare that I’m required to devote time to any other work than my own, and I’m given a great degree of autonomy in the way I choose to work, which I adore – I couldn’t really ask for more. Work hours are about 8 hours per day, with a half day on Fridays, and a fair few public holidays. Anyways, I can try to describe what I do in my time in the lab here for anyone who’s interested:

Samples are taken from Gambians living with individuals with active pulmonary TB. This is conducted by the TB Immunology department’s sample collection team, who we’re always welcome to join on trips to various regions of The Gambia. These samples are used for a bunch of different projects in our department, but mine are concerned with comparing those who contract, with those who don’t contract, latent TB disease. The idea with this is to see what differences there are in the individuals’ innate immune systems that protect them from initial TB infection, before an adaptive immune response is even primed. The project is divided into three main lab phases. Firstly, I carry out assays for interferon γ, a routine protocol in our lab. This diagnoses whether a patient has latent TB infection. After this, I carried out a similar type of assay (multiplex cytokine assays, for anybody interested) looking at levels of a load of other cytokines, all implicated in TB in some way. Finally, we run flow cytometry experiments using isolated white blood cellsrozen in liquid nitrogen – super cool). This means we get to compare cytokine levels, then cell populations, then the cytokine production from those cells. It all sounds a bit complicated… It kind of is. Flow cytometry is a super complicated technique and hugely valuable if you want to work in immunology, or just want to show in your CV that you’re competent at difficult lab techniques.

The amount of data that we’ve generated has already been immense – it’s no wonder so many students end up publishing quality research papers at the end of their time here. An important thing I’d say about working in the field of immunology is that it all comes down to the analysis. You can spend weeks/months running samples without even seeing a hint of a trend, then it all comes together when you compare all of your data. I have amassed so much data that I could decide to analyse it in one of a thousand different ways. It sounds incredibly geeky, and maybe it is, but there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing months of data collection go into stats analysis and seeing something significant come out of the other side.

There’s so much more to draw from the experience of living and working here that I think I’ll struggle to write it all down. I think that working internationally really helps you to gain a sense of independence which is hugely beneficial to your confidence, vastly impacting your ability to work well as an individual. Also, it’s worth considering the importance of being able to work in a team of people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. At The MRC, everybody speaks English to varying degrees, but you’ll regularly hear people speaking French, Dutch, German, Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, Krio, Ibo, and a range of other languages depending on who’s in town at the time! It’s a really exciting educational experience for anybody who likes to learn about new languages and cultures. I’ve definitely been able to develop my communication skills during my time here, as I have taken the opportunity to learn some Wolof, a very useful local language in this part of The Gambia, and in a lot of West Africa in general. I couldn’t recommend this enough as it opens up so many more opportunities to explore. With MRC sites all over the country and plenty of other friends travelling around on weekends and holidays, there’s no shortage of hidden gems to visit where it’s possible to get a true “Gambian Experience” (cringe) in less touristy parts of the country.

Kuntakinteh

Kuntakinteh

Sandy beaches stretching on for miles are about a 5 minute walk away from The MRC. We’re spoilt for wildlife, really – it’s possible to pose for photos with crocodiles in the sacred pools at Bakau, go bird-watching on the river from Tendaba or Lamin and watch the hippos from Basse town. You can take a 20-minute bike ride to the see the Senegambia monkey park, though I haven’t done this, since you can oftentimes wait in The MRC for the local monkey families to come and steal the oranges growing in the garden (cute!). If you’re feeling adventurous, a short journey north into Senegal takes you to safari parks featuring lions, giraffes, rhinos and a host of other wildlife. On that note, Senegal offers numerous great short trips outside of work. We visited Dindefelo Falls (awesome), plan to attend the St. Louis jazz festival, and know plenty of other people who have travelled into other areas of Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

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Another fantastic thing about working in The Gambia is the tiny size of the country. This gives you so many opportunities to meet people who you would never get to meet working in other countries. During our time here, we’ve hung out with numerous US Marine and Peace Corps, spent a lot of time with students from all over Europe, working not just in The MRC, but at clinics, hospitals and other organisations all around the country. If you’re lucky, you may get the opportunity to meet the ambassadors for the US and the UK – they’re actually pretty sound to have a cup of tea with. Basically, I’d say to any prospective applicants for projects based here, don’t be worried about being away from your friends in Manchester. There’s a pretty cool bunch of people here, people who I’m sure I’m going to miss just as much when I return to England as I’ve been missing all my university friends for the last eight months.

To summarise, working in The Gambia is pretty sweet. If I could pick anywhere to start getting an idea of what full-time research work is like, I’d certainly choose it to be somewhere sunny, with ample opportunities to relax away from work. This place certainly seems to provide that. In short, I almost don’t want to come back!

Thanks for reading, and if anybody wants to contact me to ask about placement years, The MRC, immunological research or The Gambia, feel free to drop me a message at declan.manning@student.manchester.ac.uk. I’ll always try to respond as quickly as possible!

Declan.

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