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Postdoctoral Research Scientist Dr Rita Alonaizan hosted two students via the In2ScienceUK programme, and provided a hands-on work experience in Associate Professor Mathilda Mommersteeg’s Lab from Monday 1 – Friday 5 August during the school summer holidays.

L-R: Associate Professor Mathilda Mommersteeg, placement students Hannah and Maria, and Dr Rita Alonaizan

In2ScienceUK is an award-winning charity that inspires and supports secondary school pupils from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds by giving them opportunities to work alongside scientists, and to receive advice and information they need to successfully apply to and progress to university and STEM careers. DPAG has hosted students via the programme in the past, most recently in the Wade-Martins Lab, providing an opportunity not only for students to gain insight into the work we do but also for departmental staff to engage with the wider community. 

In the newly opened IDRM, Dr Rita Alonaizan hosted Oxfordshire sixth form pupils Hannah and Maria. She gave the students the opportunity to shadow herself and others on the BHF cardiovascular floor as they carried out different techniques, with even the opportunity to do some of the work themselves. Dr Alonaizan’s research in the Mommersteeg Lab focuses on heart regeneration in the Mexican cavefish, and findings from the cavefish model are tested using zebrafish and mouse models. Hannah and Maria were able to watch zebrafish embryos grow and help take care of them at all stages of development. They also watched mouse embryo dissections with Dr Helena Rodríguez Caro from the De Val Group and Dr Irina-Elena Lupu from the Stone Group, some of which expressed fluorescent tags on different proteins. Dr Alonaizan additionally showed the students the techniques of Immunohistochemistry, and fluorescent and confocal imaging, assisted by Research Assistant Konstantinos Lekkos. Finally, they were showed stem cell cultures and how these can be differentiated by Dr Christophe Ravaud from the Riley Group. Dr Alonaizan said: “They were very excited because they said they always hear about stem cells but have never actually seen what they look like. They also loved seeing how fast the embryos develop.”

Hannah and Maria want to study Biology at university, so Dr Alonaizan and others in the lab took time to discuss their options and how they could get into research as a career later on. Dr Alonaizan said: “I told them about how I switched career path, because my initial plan was to do Medicine, but during my Medical Sciences degree, I realised how much I loved basic science. The students didn’t know how people end up doing scientific research, which is understandable because when I was at school, I had no idea that I could actually do science as a career.”

“They enjoyed the whole experience very much and felt they learned a lot in such a short time. They told that they wished they could stay for another week! It was also a very rewarding experience for me. I was nervous at the beginning because I wasn’t sure how to best manage having such young students for a very short period. But you just need to speak to them and find out what they want to learn and gain from the experience, and then tailor it to their needs or interests. It reminded me of why I chose science as a path and how passionate I am about it. I would definitely do this again.”

For more information about the programme, visit the In2ScienceUK website.

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