One of the best kept secrets
Summer studentships offer a fantastic opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience of real research.
Our team at the Department of Psychological Medicine generally offers summer studentship projects related to our existing mental health research platforms although sometimes the student may be collecting new data for a stand-alone project. In all cases, it is clinically meaningful work and students learn a great deal about aspects of mental health conditions, treatment or service delivery.
For many who are interested in careers in mental health, the projects may be directly relevant to future studies and in some cases there may be the potential for post-graduate research topics and ongoing collaborations with supervisors.
From our perspective, it is a pleasure having bright, enthusiastic students and the fresh perspectives they bring to the projects. The contribution students make is extremely useful for research teams and the UOC Summer Studentship programme represents excellent value for money from a sponsors perspective.
The ten week studentship offer a microcosm of what it is to be a health researcher. Although the project proposals are already set up when they arrive, students may be involved in fine tuning details of the protocol, are involved in searching the literature, collecting, analysing and interpreting data,and communicating the results succinctly in a written report and an oral presentation. All this in ten weeks!
Although it can be a bit daunting, past students tell me how worthwhile the experience has been in increasing their skill level and confidence regarding undertaking future research. One told me that the summer studentships were like a best kept secret - incredibly valuable for those who find out about them.
Having been on the summer studentship judging panel for a number of years, I am always incredibly impressed by the calibre of the student presentations and how much I learn about topics new to me in the very short presentations.
What budding researcher would not want that sort of experience over a summer holiday?
My first experience of the Summer Studentship programme at the University of Otago, Christchurch was about 13 years ago co-supervising a bright young undergraduate student.
During the 10 week project, this student made a significant discovery, won the award for best presentation and went on to publish his findings in a prestigious international science journal.
What budding researcher would not want that sort of experience over a summer holiday?
Successes have been different for every summer student; not everyone wins an award or publishes in a top journal, but every student who visited our laboratory hopefully experienced the excitement of researching a key health issue, learning new skills and making some interesting discoveries. I am always amazed at how much students learn and accomplish in 10 weeks of their study.
The Summer Studentship programme has also been a great way for us supervisors to identify potential candidates for post-graduate research. Maybe not surprisingly, many summer students within our laboratory have returned to complete an honours and/or PhD degree.
This programme is a fantastic opportunity for anyone wishing to have a career in research.
Students bring so much enthusiasm to our lab
The University of Otago, Christchurch summer studentship programme provides a fabulous opportunity for undergraduate students to undertake a 10-week research project in a laboratory, clinical or community setting.
For me, as a science undergraduate, it was a great way to find out what doing research is really like and to learn about the different types of medical research being undertaken here in Christchurch.
This experience led to a PhD, supervised by Prof Vicky Cameron in the Christchurch Heart Institute and a career in cardiovascular genetics.
I now supervise and work alongside summer students of my own.
They bring so much enthusiasm to our lab and make an important contribution to our group’s research.
Over the years our summer students have helped us process hundreds of human blood and tissue samples, set up new genetic techniques, generate pilot data for upcoming grant applications and produce high-quality data for publication in cardiovascular journals.
I strongly encourage anyone thinking about a career in medical research to apply for a University of Otago, Christchurch summer studentship.
Medical students should be exposed to research throughout their training
If he had his time again, there is one thing Professor Richard Gearry would change about his time as a medical student. Instead of stacking shelves in a Christchurch warehouse for a holiday job, he’d do a summer studentship. Or three.
“To be paid to do research for 10 weeks as a medical student is an amazing opportunity. I wish I had done that. I feel very strongly that medical students should be exposed to research throughout their training. Understanding evidence and new findings as they are discovered; understanding the limitations of research and where research stops and the real world begins gives you a discipline that clinical medicine can never give you on its own.”
Students encouraged to take a different approach to answer research questions
The research in my laboratory covers a variety of projects under the collective umbrella of “Gut health”.
These projects range across the Departments of Surgery, Paediatrics and Medicine, and are linked by a growing awareness that the gut has a far greater role in human health than previously recognised.
As a supervisor, the University of Otago, Christchurch summer studentship programme provides me with the opportunity to have someone come into the lab for 10-weeks to work on a specific project.
The projects, which can be novel or an extension of an existing project, are designed to generate pilot data, with the idea that the findings will be used to direct future research.
Accordingly, one of my main aims is to provide summer students with a project that not only fully engages them for 10 weeks but also provide some (if not all) answers to our question(s).
To achieve this, laboratory-based students are mentored, either by me or one of my colleagues. Our aim is to introduce you to the project and where it fits within the wider context of gut health.
However, I am also aware that this may be your first time working in a research laboratory, so we work alongside you, particularly during the early stages of the project, until you learn the techniques involved.
As you take ownership of the project, discussion around how you might modify these assays and/or take a different approach to answer the research question is welcomed (and is the one of the aspects of hosting a summer student that I really enjoy).
I encourage you to consider undertaking one of the many projects on offer. You will learn something new, we will enjoy having you work with us and, who knows, you may even develop a passion for medical research.
Summer students speed up the research process to benefit everyone
Professor Nigel Anderson
I have supervised many summer students over the years. It has been an enjoyable and valuable exercise for me. The diversity of academic backgrounds of the students brings something extra to my medical research. In nearly all cases publications or grant applications have resulted from their work.
Our programme of research would be slower and the poorer if the students had not been present. I have found that having more than one summer student at a time compounds the value of each.
For instance, the work of the students from last summer (2016-2017) has cemented an overseas collaboration and will be incorporated in 4 publications to be submitted and two grant applications. If the projects are selected carefully and the groundwork laid to make the studentships efficient, summer student’s speed up the research process to the benefit of everyone involved.
Provides a great introduction to clinical research
The significance of research cannot be highlighted enough.
Personally, I completed three summer studentships as a medical undergraduate in the University of Otago, Christchurch. Several years later, while doing a PhD at the university mid-way through my vascular surgery training, I had the opportunity to supervise four research students on their summer studentships. These have resulted in publications and presentations in national and international conferences.
I strongly encourage every science student to take advantage of Otago University’s Summer Studentships during their time at university; this is the best way to learn critical thinking and in the case of medicine it provides a great introduction to clinical research which is indispensable to advancing medical knowledge.
An essential step in career development
I have been very fortunate to supervise about 20 Summer research students during my career at University of Otago, Christchurch.
One of the things that excites me most about our Summer Studentship programme is that it provides a great opportunity for young people who are curious about the idea of research to actually roll up their sleeves and give it a go, in a laboratory environment that is supportive and populated by experienced professional researchers and postgraduate students alike.
Our summer students get a chance to tackle interesting research problems, learning new skills, gaining confidence and adding to their curriculum vitae along the way. They become engaged in a programme which is well run and they do this as part of a large cohort of peers travelling along similar paths. This makes the studentships interesting, fun and of course, challenging (in a good way)!
The talks given by the students near the start and end of their studentships are a wonderful smorgasbord of the diverse research going on here in Christchurch in labs, clinics and the community.
I look back with great pride at my prior summer students. Many continued on and did PhDs in my laboratory or elsewhere, several are now practising doctors and several are working overseas in scientific or medical research positions. I believe that they will equally look back with fondness at their summer research projects and count this as an essential step in their career development.