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UNIQ Summer School - practical tutoring through the eyes of a DPhil student

Blog posted by: Linda van Bijsterveldt, DPhil Student

We are slowly trickling back into labs and offices as we are approaching the end of the summer, and what better way to welcome the start of term than by looking back on one of our summer outreach efforts?

Building on the successes from previous years, the Department organised a week-long Summer School in Oncology as part of UNIQ – one of the University’s major outreach programmes. The main aim of UNIQ is to expand access and connect people from non-traditional backgrounds with the University and each other based on their shared interest in a topic of their choosing.

A number of selected students got an introduction into the hallmarks of cancer, tumour biology, biomarkers, imaging, radiotherapy, and cell biology through lectures, tutorials, and even a hands-on session in one of our research labs. Together with a team of UNIQ practical tutors (consisting of DPhil students and post-docs based in our Department), we spent the second day of the Summer School talking to students about a variety of research techniques, including PCR and Sanger Sequencing. The students then used this knowledge to extract DNA from HeLa cells, amplify the coding region of p53 using PCR and look for point mutations that could affect the functioning of this extensively studied tumour suppressor gene. The day started off with the students using a pipette for the first time, all four groups managed to isolate DNA, to run an agarose gel with different fragments (perfect bands), and identify different types of genetic variations from sequencing data. They were incredibly engaged and asked questions that made all of us think very hard – including the award winning question of the day: “Do histones also get separated during DNA extraction?”

It was a really rewarding experience, and a unique (UNIQ!) opportunity to give students an introduction into the magical world of research.  Many of the selected students were aspiring to become medics, but a few days spent in the Department made them realise that scientists can also make a difference: medics treat cancer, but we might be able to find new cures and treatments that have not been considered before. It was an excellent way to sustain and share my own curiosity and excitement about what it is we are doing on a daily basis and I am very confident we are going to have an incredibly competent, talented batch of students arriving over the next few years!

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