Sam helps to improve access to molecular biology with a placement with Beneficial Bio

Sam Witham, a DTP student based at the Earlham Institute used a contact from his supervisor to set up an internship based at the Kumasi Hive Hub, where the University of Cambridge’s Open Bioeconomy Lab recently funded a community biolab.

Sam spent one month of the placement in the UK and two months in Ghana. The objectives in Ghana were to conduct market research for Beneficial Bio and to run teaching courses. One of the courses was a week-long workshop teaching postgraduate researchers, including senior lecturers, molecular biology techniques to produce enzymes at a low-cost. The enzyme they produced was a DNA polymerase for use in PCR (polymerase chain reaction). Feedback from participants was very positive, all indicating that they were much more familiar with both theoretical and lab based techniques following the course. A high number of participants also indicated that they would like to teach the course, which will be run in more countries soon. The plan is to release the content online for free alongside a low-cost DIY lab wiki explaining how to minimise lab costs and overcome problems.

Sam also ran a 4-week bioinformatics training course that aimed to teach students how to handle sequence data in command line Linux and Python – a course so high in demand that it was oversubscribed. Running teaching courses for Beneficial Bio was a great experience for Sam. “It made me realise how much my skills have developed during my PhD, and allowed me to impart that knowledge to those without access to the high-quality teaching resources available at Earlham Institute, making a real difference”.

For the other aspect of the placement, Sam travelled with his colleague to Ho, where he conducted market research and interviewed several researchers at the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) and the teaching hospital. Sam also conducted a market research survey, from which he gained some very useful information and hopefully will be the start of a future collaboration with Beneficial Bio.

Sam also gained in experience in managing the Beneficial Bio social media platforms, another important aspect of marketing and brand awareness in the digital era. “I was also able to advise on which products Beneficial Bio should sell based on researcher needs, and provided a financial projection recommending the prices of the products after factoring in cost of production, overheads and studying the competition”.

Sam reflects that his placement has made him appreciate the good education he has had up until now, and value the skills he has learnt. “Being able to pass on the things I’ve acquired was very rewarding, especially with the enthusiasm and good feedback received from the participants”, says Sam. Sam also feels he has learnt to be more independent and adaptable, thriving in a country very different to the UK where things are much more spontaneous. He has also gained experience in conducting market research in a market very different to the UK, where consumers often have very different factors influencing their decisions.

Overall Sam found his placement to be a very positive experience and encourages future PIPS students to choose something out of their comfort zone that’s different to anything they’ve done before.