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Summer students, and the surprising role they play in cancer research


Every year, a few undergraduate students gain a very special experience over their summer months – becoming a cancer researcher.

Posted on 21 August, 2015 by Helen Craig

Every summer, Britain’s undergraduates fill their time between university years at home or travelling, often working in menial jobs or spending their time reconnecting with family and friends.

Each year though, a few undergraduate students gain a very special and unusual experience over their summer months, by getting to find out first hand what it’s like to be a cancer researcher.

Summer students here at The Institute of Cancer Research don’t just make the tea – in fact a few of them even go and make their own medical devices.

For years, the ICR has welcomed exceptional undergraduates from around the country for study placements of 6–10 weeks. These placements give them the chance to work with professionals, and to experience life in one of the world’s best cancer research institutes.

This year, the ICR has hosted 22 summer students. I got in touch with some of them, and asked them to tell me a little bit about their experiences, and how their time at the ICR had helped them.

I first spoke with Stuart Court, who came to the ICR because of his interest in medical physics, and is now considering whether that would be a good option for his future career.

“My favourite experiences have been about getting to work with a lot of professionals in the area and I have learned a lot about cancer research because of it,” he says.

Jennifer Snape came to the ICR on a medical statistics placement, after spotting the opportunity in an email from her university. She was thrilled to spend the summer working in London, and has very happy memories of the departmental away day in Greenwich – where staff got to know one another over a treasure hunt!

Jennifer was really impressed by the students and staff at the ICR, and the experience of working with the Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit has firmed up her desire to work in statistics and data analytics.

“Everyone is friendly and it was easy to make friends and find people to socialise with while on my placement.”

Finally, I spoke with Sophie Bashforth, who spent 10 weeks at the ICR doing an EPSRC summer studentship in the Division of Radiotherapy and Imaging. She worked on a project to see how a Kinect for Windows system could be used in radiotherapy.

As a future physics graduate, Sophie wanted to gain a greater insight into the potential career paths in medicine and medical research, as well as get practical experience. Working with the calibration and experimental set-up of the Kinect devices was one of her favourite parts of the summer – as was the chance to act as a volunteer ‘patient’ in a test run of the clinical trial.

Sophie says, “Based on my experiences I now know that I definitely want to focus on a career in medical physics. I have had a brilliant time, met some amazing people and have gained great insight into some potential career paths that really interest me.”

Applications for next year’s summer student programme will open in January 2016, when students will be able to contact Team Leaders who are interested in taking on a student for a summer research project.

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