Tag Archives: Pharmacology

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.



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.

Scroll over photos to view captions:

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!


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Why Manchester? (The University)

We understand that choosing which university to study at can be a little difficult! So we thought this might help you to make your decision…

We asked a number of students why they chose to study a Life Sciences course at The University of Manchester. This was what they said:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘There are so many reasons that I wanted to study here, I never really considered going elsewhere! I wanted to go to a big city where there’s always something going on. This is true for Manchester – so many opportunities. It really appealed to me that Manchester has such a big student population, as I wanted to go to university and meet loads of new people and I’ve definitely done that. The other big reason was definitely because of our Faculty of Life Sciences. I feel so proud to be part of a faculty that produces such important research, and ranks so highly across the world. The faculty’s success has allowed me to have some really exciting opportunities that I wouldn’t have elsewhere. Another thing that I don’t think people realise is that our faculty is so friendly; despite having such an incredible reputation, I don’t feel intimidated by the academics, research staff or huge student body. There really is a family feel and I feel really lucky to be able to feel as comfortable around the academics as I do. We really do get the most out of working with such fantastic staff.’ – Katie Holmes, BSc Biochemistry with I/E

Sean.jpg‘I really loved the flexibility of the course here, both from the wide range of modules on offer to the ability to move between programmes if you wanted to. The flexibility of the course has meant I’ve been able to tailor my degree to my interests, being able to specialise in some areas but also maintain a breath of knowledge from throughout biology.’ – Sean Dougherty, BSc Biology with Spanish

‘I loved the idea of so much diversity concentrated into one area. There is a huge international community here, so I knew I’d feel at home’ – Inez Dawoodjee, BSc Biology with Science and Society with I/E


‘I was really sold by the placement opportunities. Manchester has some really good links with prestigious companies and institutions. I was able to work for AstraZeneca for my placement year. It was great to gain invaluable experience in the lab in a professional industry setting, and I will also be getting co-authorship on a published paper’ – Alicia Galdon, BSc Biomedical Sciences with I/E

‘The university’s prestige and Research Assessment Exercise scores were very important to me, as I wanted to study somewhere with a strong academic reputation. I prefer big cities so I knew I wanted to study somewhere like Manchester that has as much going on as London but with northern prices!’ – Annie Morsi, BSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology

‘Manchester provides a great student life with plenty of opportunities to start new hobbies. And, the recently revamped the Optometry building providing new students with brand new facilities. It seemed like a no brainer to me!’ – Aashni Amin, BSc Optometry

‘I chose Manchester due to the prestige associated with the university, as well as the amount of time spent in labs. Manchester is a highly valued University in terms of its research abilities and academic qualities. It is also recognised as this by employers, of which many will agree that it is a world-class University, making UoM graduates of keen interest to employers.’ – Ben Walker, BSc Pharmacology with I/E

image3‘It’s a highly regarded University with great services and utilities. Beyond this the opportunities available to students during their time here, and the high employability, were both strong factors. But when it comes down to the basic stuff, I really just liked the look of the place. It felt like somewhere I would be happy living and studying.’ – Jack Cameron-Drayton, BSc Physiology with I/E

‘I loved the course flexibility that the Faculty of Life Sciences offered, as I was not that sure what I wanted to do when I applied to university. What I love about the Plant Science course here is that you have the ability to choose units which range from organismal biology and ecology through to genetics and cell biology, all relevant to plant science, and all vastly interesting.’ – Helen Feord, MSci Plant Science


Featured Photo – Michael Smith and Stopford Building, taken by Arthur Yu (Msc Neuroscience student)
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Ayesha’s second year (International) Blog

Hi all!

Let me introduce myself first! My name is Ayesha and this year I’m going to be writing for the international section of the FLS student blog.  I’m currently a second year student studying Biomedical Sciences here. A little backstory, I was born and raised in India (represent!) and moved to the UK only about a year ago for my studies.

As far as my first year goes, if I had to sum it up in a word, it was amazing. It was such a good learning experience for me from never even having flown before in my life, to coming all the way here to a completely different continent altogether all by myself. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but for me it was huge! I’m so glad I chose to live at Hulme Hall for my first year- the people were so friendly and welcoming, and not to mention diverse (if you haven’t already heard that a million times before). I also went on my first rollercoaster ride ever! This was at Alton Towers- please go, it is so great! As weird as it sounds, it was one of my highlights from last year.

On a ride in Alton Towers. I'm the girl in the middle!

On a ride in Alton Towers. I’m the girl in the middle!

University life was pretty good too! In first year, no matter what Life Science course you were studying, we all had to do a set of compulsory modules so that we had a good overview of key life sciences topics. At first I wished that we could have had a little more flexibility in terms of picking our modules – but this soon changed because if it had been up to me, I would never have chosen the pharmacology module ‘Drugs- from molecules to man’ and this surprisingly became my favorite module of the year and even made me consider switching my course to Pharmacology. But I don’t regret this as now my degree gives me the flexibility to choose any module I want including the Pharmacology ones.

Cut to present time, I moved out of my halls and am currently renting a house with some of my hall-mates from last year. Since I got back here a week earlier than Welcome Week, I figured I would go over to London (only 2 hours away!) for a bit and do all the touristy things I didn’t get the chance to last year. It was a great trip and I highly recommend it to those who haven’t been before.

Alright, back to Manchester! Welcome Week was really busy as you would expect. With the new and returning students swarming through the streets, I felt so nostalgic! I miss being a first year student. I went to the Welcome Fair again this year – it was immensely packed, but I survived. I managed to join the Taekwondo, Kickboxing and Trampolining societies. Don’t be fooled, I’m almost as physically active as a slug but I decided it was time I let go of my sluggish ways and make a new start. So far, it’s been great! I’ve met so many new people and upped my fitness game a bit. Also, trampolining is so much fun, I highly recommend it.

As far as uni goes, obviously in the 2nd year your workload increases as you would expect BUT, I really enjoy it this year. I was able to choose all of my modules, which I’m so pleased with. It’s great because I actually love what I study now. What I’ve noticed is that everyone around me is also a lot more focused on their studies now compared to last year which I actually find quite inspiring. It motivates me to spend more time studying and that helps me stay on top of my workload.

Something that is new this year is that we need to write a dissertation (a 9 page write up). I got to choose 8 topics from a list of over 380 so I was spoilt for choice! I wanted to combine my new found interest in Pharmacology with my passion for Biomedical Sciences so 6 of my choices are Pharmacology themed, specifically looking at how various drugs affect our system. Topic allocation is due by the end of this week, so I don’t know which one out of these 8 topics I have been allocated yet. However, to be really honest, I don’t mind which one I get allocated because they all interest me.

The careers service is on top of their game right now, promoting work opportunities and providing help to improve our employability skills. I actually had an appointment with the careers service this afternoon, and it was so helpful. They gave me good advice and directed me to all the right people to help me get started with gaining useful work experience.

Speaking of work experience… alongside my studies, I am an International Student Ambassador (paid) and Student Representative for the second year students on my course. It’s quite nice being in the student body as it helps you build a stronger network with other students as well as the staff. Also, it gives valuable transferable skills like leadership, communication and teamwork.

Finally, I have been exploring Manchester a lot more this year. As my halls were catered last year, I didn’t get to dine out a lot. Northern Quarter has a lot of nice little restaurants and cafes which I only discovered this year. The Curry Mile has become my go to place to go grab food. Food there is so cheap and delicious, and also reminds me of home.

It has been a great year so far. I just want to take advantage of all the fun things I can do here while I can before the dreaded exam stress dawns upon me!

‘Til next time,


PS. This is my first time writing a blog post, so please bear with me until I get the hang of it!

PPS. I’m really sorry for not including many pictures! I would love to but I just switched my phones and have lost all of my photos. I will make sure to put them in next time!

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