The University of Laguna provides Alejandro with many new skills during PIPS project

Alejandro Carrion-Sanabria, a student at the JIC, wanted to gain bioinformatic and coding expertise as well develop his teamwork, networking and science communications skills. Alejandro found his placement through a former colleague and set up a PIPS at the University of Laguna in Tenerife to work with a new PI on a bioinformatics-based project.

During the placement, Alejandro’s main duty was to develop a script with a bioinformatics language to create a platform to analyse genetic sequences of patients with infectious diseases. His supervisor had developed a preliminary script based on previous publications and Alejandro’s task was to use ‘R’ to develop the script to analyse their sequence data. Alejandro had no prior experience of using ‘R’ and applying bioinformatic tools/software. He spent 8 hours a day working on the computer but felt a great sense of achievement when he was able to solve problems with the script and make progress.

In addition to this, Alejandro also participated in a podcast, scientific fair and developed his personal profile in a virtual repository for informatics material. Alejandro had not previously undertaken any outreach during his PhD and was interested in developing his confidence in science communication. He had the opportunity to support a microbiology-based event at a science fair in Gran Canaria where there was a mix of researchers and science communication specialists present with which to network and socialise. Alejandro also had the opportunity to work on a collaborative podcast with European University of Madrid where he was interviewed about the scientific ‘brain drain’ of talent from Spain to other countries. Alejandro had no prior knowledge of the interview questions so had to think on his feet and also provide a link question to the next interviewee in the podcast series. This experience has led to Alejandro considering how he can develop his own podcasts in the future and made him want to engage with more science communication activities.

Alejandro developed many skills throughout the placement. During the development of the bioinformatics platform Alejandro learned new technical skills relating to new informatics code, software handling and constant troubleshooting skills. The project also helped him improve his research management and organisation skills. Working on the podcast and science fair helped develop Alejandro’s communication skills and creativity as well as progressing his networking skills. “The participation in the podcast and the science fair took me out of my comfort zone and developed my self-confidence and personal effectiveness. I forced myself to participate in those activities in which I had little or no experience, and I feel now how I am more confident in these type of situations”, he reflects. Furthermore, the placement improved Alejandro’s team working skills substantially as he was constantly interacting with his supervisor.

Alejandro feels the experience of his PIPS has broadened his perspective of future careers; “Nowadays, I am more prone to change the choice of my future career to science communication, bioinformatics or data analysis”, he reflects. Overall, Alejandro rates his PIPS experience as very positive and feels the PIPS is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and try to get new experiences. Professor Guido Santos, Alejandro’s supervisor during the internship adds “Alejandro performed all the activities successfully and he has learned new skills from them. Even considering the short time he was here. I consider that his internship was positive for his career”.