Ulrica’s Summer Internship Experience in NUMed + UKM

By Ulrica BSc Biomedical Sciences


Hello! I am Ulrica, a third-year BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences student from Malaysia. I would like to share my 8-week summer project experience during my summer break at Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) with Dr. Roshan Mascarenhas.

Research project background

Our research project title is “Analysis of the impact of mangrove forest degradation on bacterial diversity in mangrove soil sediments”. As a tropical country, Malaysia has one of the highest mangrove forest populations in Southeast Asia. However, due to rapid economic development, more than 20% of mangroves have been destructed. Therefore, we would like to investigate the bacterial diversity in different mangrove locations in Johor using the MinION sequencing technique to develop a map of the bacterial community in the hope to contribute to mangrove rehabilitation.

International school visit

During the first two weeks of my summer project, we were focusing on preparing for an international school visit. I really learnt a lot because I have never had the experience of preparing lab materials and teaching materials from scratch. I had my first experience of teaching gram-staining to the students as well!

Had my first go at teaching

Sample collecting experience

Sample collection isn’t as easy as we thought! I went to Kukup Island, an island located around 30 minutes of drive from the university and famous for its natural scenery, with my supervisor, Dr. Roshan Mascarenhas, and course lecturer, Dr. James Woon.

From left to right: Me, Dr. James Woon, the local secretary, Dr Roshan Mascarenhas

Funny enough, I have never been to Kukup even though I am a Johorian (most Johorians like to visit Kukup for holidays). The trip was very well-arranged, we had the experience of walking in mud, it was fun even though sometimes I got my foot stuck and needed someone to pull my foot off.

Struggling in the mud while finding a suitable sample collection point

At other sample collecting sites, Bi Han (another classmate who was working with me) was in charge of sample organisation and assisting Dr. Roshan on mangrove soil sample collection while I was on the boat in charge of water physical properties measurement. We had to get off the boat first, then dig the soil for around 10cm with a spatula and put it into a falcon tube. We collected 2 samples per sample site. The second sample had to be located at least 1 meter away from the first sample. Measurement of water physical properties was easy. I just had to throw the probe into the water and wait for the reading to stabilize. At the end of the sample collection, Dr. Roshan was kind enough to treat both of us with ice cream!

After sample collection, we returned to the university lab to process the samples, they can be very time-consuming and could be nerve-wracking when it comes to handling extracted DNA because they are very precious! We spent most of the time extracting DNA from soil samples and did quality checking. Luckily enough, we managed to pool and sequence all samples on my last day of internship.

My work bench with mangrove soil samples, pipettes, and reagents

I went to UKM for a week!

During my break, another lecturer from the course, Dr. Pang was kind enough to invite me to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in Kuala Lumpur to experience and learn about cell culturing techniques. There were two other NUMed students working on a project titled “Combinational effects of gamma- and delta-tocotrienol with imatinib on human chronic myeloid leukemia K562 cells”. This is the first time I entered a cell culture lab and saw the project that they were doing.

UKM cell culture lab

The lab work is very different from my project. For example, they have to spray alcohol on everything they will be using in the experiment because cells are very fragile to contamination. Also, they need to spray their hands with alcohol every time their hands come out from the hood. They use so much alcohol that they have to refill their alcohol bottle once every few days. Whereas, in our project, we didn’t really use much alcohol unless for cleaning up, we didn’t even use half of the bottle throughout our project… So, this is something that I have to adjust to while working in the cell culture lab.

My working hood in UKM, everything that will be used in the experiment needs to be sprayed with alcohol and put under UV for 15 minutes

All in all, it was a unique experience to gain research experience in the lab, which made me have a clearer idea of my future goals in research. I feel like the project we are working on is really meaningful to me. As a local, it feels very accomplished to do something that is contributing to the local community, this is also why I chose this project in the first place. I would also like to thank Dr. Madihah Rushaidi, Dr. Roshan Mascarenhas, and Dr. Pang Kok Lun for giving me this opportunity and building up my research abilities.

Interested in studying BSc. Biomedical Sciences at NUMed in Malaysia? Check it out here!

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