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Tomas Soto: My summer internship at CRM

17 October 2019

Tomas Soto, a pupil at Holy Rood RC High School in Edinburgh, spent his summer on a four week internship at CRM. 

Tomas working in the CRM laboratory

The last thing I would have expected to be doing during my summer holiday was to be spending my time at a laboratory working and learning from Postdocs and PhD students. I am Tomas Soto, I go to school at Holy Rood RC high school and this summer I had the incredible opportunity to participate in an internship program at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. One of the reasons that drove me forward to do this internship was the opportunity to see first-hand how a laboratory works and to understand how all we learn in school is put to practice. I was also really excited about knowing how scientists work on a daily basis and what goes into all the scientific papers we read.

During the four weeks that I spent here, I developed my understanding in biology, especially in the field of regenerative medicine. I also learned different techniques and procedures from the various groups that I worked with. I learnt about the people here and the job they do. I got to work with four different groups focused on different research fields. I was quite surprised about how the laboratory was run, as I had always thought that only one type of research was carried out in a lab at a time. In this case, the main subject of research is stem cells, but each group uses them in very different ways.

I spent my first week at the Forbes group, where I was taught about their research on liver. During this time I learned about many techniques that are used during research. Some of these techniques were: immunofluorescence staining, flow cytometry, using different types of microscopes, as well as culturing and harvesting of cells. I also got many useful and interesting opinions and insights from the scientist I met here, about their job and area of study. Each scientist has its own research study but always in relation to the liver. During this first week I was able to see both the technical part and the experiences and career paths that scientists follow. Additionally, I realised that a lot of things I thought about labs and scientists were proved untrue.

Image of biliary cells taken by Tomas using a microscope

My second week, I spent it at Tissue Culture. This is not a research group in itself but plays a supportive roll in the lab. The technicians that work here provide all the other groups with different services like karyotyping and making sure everything is kept clean. They take care of the household work like making sure everyone is stocked with things like pipette tips. This meant that sometimes there were more rudimentary jobs to do like doing rubbish collection, wash up as well as cleaning machines like incubators. I still found this one of the most interesting parts as I got to find about some of the things that happen in the background so scientist can have a smooth experience while working. During this time, I had the chance to culture some cells. I had to make the medium and passage them every couple of days. I thought that being in TC was really helpful because I learnt about and got comfortable with things like pipetting and working in a sterile environment.

Image showing the result of PCR of a digestion

During my last two weeks I mainly worked with the Forrester group, but I was also able to work with scientists in other fields. I had the opportunity to work for a day with technicians at the flow cytometry department. Flow cytometry is a technique used to analyse the characteristics of the cell cultures. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about how scientist examine data and about the machines they use for this. In the course of the two weeks I was also able to prepare and do PCR (Polymerase chain reaction), a technique used to generate more copies of DNA. Even though we are taught about it in school, it was a really good experience to get to try it out. 

One of the best things during this time was being able to really get to know some of the scientists at the CRM. It was very interesting to learn about their backgrounds and perspectives as well as a bit about their life outside the lab. This really gave me a feel about what being a scientist working at a lab would be like and all the ups and downs that come with it.

The month that I spent at the CRM is one that I will never forget. It was my first real experience in an area that I’m really interested in and I was able to learn about so many different parts of biology as well as about working in a lab. I also had the opportunity of meeting amazing and very interesting people from whom I got very good advice. Even now, I am not able to describe with words how fun and just how different it felt from going to school. Although I had to give up my summer, it now feels like it was a small price to pay for the incredible opportunity I had and I would recommend it to anyone who has the chance to do it.