A summer placement at Oxford University – yes please!

By Fahiza Begum – Physiological Sciences

It’s that time of year when uni is out and you’re not quite sure what to do with your 3 months of freedom. Does the phrase ‘unpaid internship’ fill you with dread? Well, let me introduce you to UNIQ+…

So what is UNIQ+?

UNIQ+ is a 6-week summer school at the University of Oxford designed to give students a flavour for postgraduate study. This was the first year of launching the summer school, which makes me one of the pioneers! The programme specifically aims at students from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’ including students who are the first generation in their family to attend university, or who are from a lower socio-economic background, in order to widen access to Oxford at a postgraduate level.  

Not only is the idea of making Oxford more accessible brilliant, we were all given a £2500 stipend and free accommodation at one of the Oxford colleges too! My 6 weeks were spent living at Magdalen College with a deer park for my back garden – it doesn’t get much more prestigious than that.

Deer park at Magdalen College, Oxford

My project – looking at premature babies’ eyes

Babies. Who doesn’t love them, right? Especially when they kick out of the womb early so that their adorable faces are only the size of your palm. However, this also means that the blood vessels in their eyes haven’t yet developed properly which can lead to abnormal retinas (back of their eyes).

My project involved analysing data from premature babies who were tested for this eye abnormality called Retinopathy of Prematurity.

I wanted to see whether the testing process itself caused periods of instability such as pauses in breathing (apnoea) which can lead to other health problems later on in life.

Premature baby. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash]

The exciting news is that hopefully my research will contribute towards a way to quickly and easily identify pauses in breathing in the future.

Life at Oxford

The majority of my time was spent at the John Radcliffe Hospital with a fantastic research group who were extremely supportive. Day to day activities varied from analysing data from babies to watching them have their eyes examined in clinic, so there was never a dull moment to say the least!

Aside from the placement, I was fully immersed into life at Oxford by the wonderful graduate team and academics who organised talks and dinners at different colleges for us every week.

Formal dinner at Jesus College, Oxford

Of course, being able to roam around the grounds of different colleges to get a feel for them is great, but more importantly, everyone loves a free meal!

Formal dinner of meat, veg and gravy – tasty!

The talks we had from the academics that were from a ‘non-traditional background’ about their journey to Oxford were inspiring and opened my eyes to the possibility of graduate study at Oxford, and that its doors are open to all people of all backgrounds.

It wasn’t all just formalities though. For me, the highlight of the socials organised for us was punting at Magdalen College with a pizza party to end the night. I really enjoyed being punted down the river and networking with lots of different people.

Punting at Magdalen College. Photo by Phil Brooks / University of Oxford
Me and Lauren Atha punting at Magdalen College. Photo by Phil Brooks / University of Oxford

Plans for the future

Spending the summer surrounded by PhD students and post docs from all walks of life was incredibly inspiring and gave me a sense of reward for having been a part of their fundamental bench-side work. I’ve learnt that I find research interesting, in particular educating myself with the vast literature that is out there.

However, just as I opened the door to explore possibilities other than Medicine, luck found me an Ophthalmologist as my summer supervisor. So I spent the summer in awe at her expertise and solidified my decision to apply for Graduate Entry Medicine.

I’ve learnt that I truly enjoy clinical research and perhaps someday I will find myself working as a medic within an interdisciplinary research group.

My summer at Oxford has been mesmerising and I fully recommend this summer school to anyone who is considering postgraduate study. I’m indebted to UNIQ+ for this fantastic experience and I can’t wait to see what opportunities await me!

UNIQ+ cohort 2019. Photo by Phil Brooks / University of Oxford

Read about Sam’s experience of a summer placement doing research at Newcastle University here.

Find out more about the fantastic UNIQ+ here.

Info about our School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences degrees here.

Watch out for further news on our Facebook & Twitter feeds and future blog posts!

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