2 Jun 2015

Mastering my research destiny

After her undergraduate degree Jessica Irving wasn't sure what step to take next. She chose to join our Clinical Sciences Master of Research (MRes) programme and hasn't looked back since!

When deciding what route to take following my undergraduate degree, and with no PhD studentship secured, I was torn between the reliability of a taught Masters (MSc) course or the relatively unknown Masters by Research (MRes). After weighing up the two options I decided an MRes was a great opportunity for me to develop my skills and gain valuable research experience before diving head-on into the three years of a PhD.

Research laboratory at the Institute of Infection and Global Health [Photo by Joel Redman]
I decided to choose the Clinical Sciences MRes course at the University of Liverpool as it offered the chance to complete three research projects throughout the year – more than enough time for me to decide where my key interests and future lay. My course is made up of a mix of intercalating clinicians, scientists and vets which has brought a varied perspective to our group. I have found everyone is driven to learn and keen to get involved in university life - you would be surprised by how many cheese and wine events the course organisers arrange!

The opportunity to work within three professional and successful research groups throughout the year has given me a plethora of research skills, knowledge and lab techniques that I would have been unable to develop during a taught MSc. I have worked with next generation sequencing, phylogenetics, PCR, proteomics, tissue culture and assay development and ELISAs. I was also lucky enough to be able to take part in some work at the University of Cardiff designing an in-house ELISA with a professor specialising in monoclonal antibodies.

 I chose to work at three different sites over the year, which provided experience of how different labs work and allowed me to meet a variety of supervisors, however it did mean moving every three months! In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it any differently. I have been fortunate enough that all the supervisors I have worked under have been incredibly patient, supportive, and committed to ensuring I develop a wide range of technical skills.

The MRes course has been rewarding but, as with most experiences, you get out what you put in. I based my three project choices on my interests and the lab skills I wanted to develop. If you are reading this as a future student, don’t be afraid to ask around if there isn’t a project outlined that you want, or there is a particular supervisor you would like to work with. I actually managed to organise my second project after I made enquiries about an area I was interested in and got put in touch with relevant academics.

In order to benefit the most from the course, my advice would be to make sure you plan and organise your time well, as the workload is high at some points. In addition, make sure you network, attend seminars and conferences, and get involved in some of the outreach activities the institutes have to offer! I have been lucky to meet a huge range of academic staff, postgraduate researchers and PhD students who have all helped and advised me throughout the last year. I have made useful contacts which would not have been possible without a course like this, where you are interacting on a day-to-day basis with key members of the university institutes. My experience on the course has helped me determine what I want to do with my future, and I am currently applying for PhD studentships.

Jessica Irving is a postgraduate student on the Clinical Sciences MRes course which is led by the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease and the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool.

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