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Tuesday 8 September 2020 12:49pm

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Last week Otago Biochemistry gathered together to listen to the fourth-year biochemistry students presenting work from their first year at the coal-face of biomedical research.

When studying biochemistry at Otago University, your fourth year is when you start to leave undergraduate life behind, and finally begin to contribute to scientific research yourself, with a project in one of the 23 research laboratories in the department.

Each year, the fourth years, including students who are studying for BSc Honours or Master's degrees, share their research results at a mini-conference called the Meeting of the Biochemistry Department Research Society.

Despite a year of challenges, particularly the weeks locked out of research laboratories due to the pandemic, the fourth years presented an impressive body of research results.

The audience of supportive supervisors and laboratory colleagues (socially-distanced in the seminar room or elsewhere on zoom) were treated to a diverse range of projects, encompassing investigations into anything from onion bulb formation and the molecular details of photosynthesis, through to breast cancer, atherosclerosis, and ubiquitination in epigenetics, and even glowworm bioluminescence, plus a lot more.

The talks also revealed some of the human journeys behind the figures and graphs, when students mentioned the ups and downs of life in research, prompting laughter from a supportive audience who have been in those shoes before.

Some students ended up wading through a sea of western blot after western blot, others learned the real value (and hard work) behind negative results, or found themselves spending long stretches of time trying to find out the reason for a stubborn 'errant' error bar. One remarkably calm student recalled when his supervisor managed to lose his precious protein crystal.

The Honours students now have a month or two to complete the research project, write a dissertation summarising the work, on top of exams, while Master's students have another year to delve further into their research before writing up.

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Above: The fourth-year Otago Biochemistry students of 2020 standing with Professor Sally McCormick and Associate Professor Paul Gardner (at the back).Top photo: Socially distanced fourth-year talks in the new BIG13 seminar room (now with added Zoom).
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