Ellie develops her skills with a placement in Australia

Ellie Hyde, a student based at the UEA, undertook her PIPS at the John Curtin School (JCSMR) of Medical Research at the Australian National University in Canberra. Ellie wanted to learn about research culture outside of the UK as well as learning about applying science communication for promotional purposes. Ellie used contacts from her primary PhD supervisor to facilitate setting the placement up.

Ellie undertook the placement in the spring of her 2nd year and she found this timing to work well. She felt the placement was well timed to take a break for her main research and found she returned feeling refreshed and ready to get back to it after a 3 month break.

Ellie’s PIPS was a mix of lab-based experience in cancer research and science communication. In the Sci Comms team Ellie was supporting development of the JCSMR website, including developing articles promoting the research impact and posting these through Instagram and Twitter. She learnt how to use Twitter in a professional capacity and learnt photoshop to make the Instagram posts. Ellie had done some previous promotional work for the UEA Pharmacological society and is now considering how to use her additional social media skills to potentially disseminate her PhD research and that of her research group. Ellie was using Instagram to promote the JC Honours programme and she also developed a case study ‘day in the life’ pilot about her research work which received around 500 views (You can view this here)

Ellie liked that she was given the flexibility in the Sci Comms team to pursue what she found interesting. Ellie felt that her written communication skills improved and that she understood more about the balance of content and using layman’s terms to describe complex scientific information. She was able to pick a research group to interview about their research and then co-wrote an article on this. Ellie also co-authored a fundraising news story for the school.

She also gained an understanding of the different layers of comms at ANU by observing how some stories were further promoted to the local Canberra News. Ellie was able to pitch an item to the ANU comms team and took photos to support her story.

In the research lab Ellie was focusing on reviewing the ICSO (Inhibitory Concentrations) data to determine the effects of different drugs/combinations of drugs on specific cancer cell lines. She now feels more confident in how to use data analysis software and graph pad for visual representation. On a technical level Ellie learnt more molecular biology such as PCR and use of specific equipment such as live cell microscopy. Ellie was also able to learn about different ethics & regulations systems when using mouse models. As a result, she now feels more confident to try new technical approaches & protocols.

Ellie felt that the PIPS came at a good time to have a break from her PhD to explore a new area of research and it helped her appreciate the ‘bigger picture’, being able to see the end stages of the drug discovery process. She disliked the slightly repetitive nature of some of the lab-based tasks and found it challenging to be so far away from home.

Ellie’s self-confidence increased a great deal during the placement as entering a new environment pushed her out of her comfort zone. She feels much more capable in her communication abilities and ability to carry out new tasks successfully and has learnt to not be afraid to make mistakes.

Ellie advises future PIPS students to try and find something that you’ll both enjoy but will be pushing you outside of your comfort zone.