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Biological SciencesOur alumni

Sam Green MNeuro Master of Neuroscience, First class honours, 2019

Applying for a PhD in neurodegenerative disease research

Sam Green's Photo

The number one thing I would suggest for those looking to go into research in biology-related degrees is to get lab experience outside of your degree. Lab experience will help you stand out during job/ PhD applications.

What made you select the University of Southampton?

I chose Southampton for a couple of reasons. The opportunity to do a year in industry, the flexibility of my course and the location relative to my home were all big pluses, but the main reason was the ‘feel of the place’. When I visited during the open day, the university felt really welcoming, like staff and student reps actively wanted you to come. To me, other universities gave off the impression that prospective students should feel honoured to be accepted.

What was it like studying here?

I loved my time at Southampton, both from an academic perspective and outside of studying! Lectures were so well organised and gave a really large breadth of knowledge to set you up well for any field. Lecturers are also so knowledgeable and supportive, always happy to answer questions, even outside of lecture time. Besides studying, I love the fact that Southampton is a campus university. Everything being focused around one campus means there’s a great community feel, always events going on, and the opportunity to make friends with a wide variety of people, not just those doing a similar course to you. Plus, the massive range of societies and volunteering opportunities means you’re never bored.

What were your Southampton ‘highlights’ (best experiences)?

As cheesy as it may sound, a highlight was definitely the friends I made during my degree, people I know I’m going to be close with for the rest of my life. Another highpoint was my fourth-year dissertation. Although it was definitely challenging, the opportunity to be a part of a working research group, learn new technical and soft skills and become an expert in one specific area really furthered my career and my interest in the field. I’d personally recommend it to anyone, even if you’re not planning a career in your subject area.

What did you enjoy most about your course?

Definitely the flexibility my course offered! The opportunity to choose from a huge range of modules meant I could focus on my own personal academic interests and has really shaped my career goal of going in to research. 

Did you have the opportunity to study modules outside of your core subject area?

Although I was studying biomedical science at the time, I opted to study a psychology module on behavioural neuroscience in my second year. I did find it really interesting, but the teaching style was very different to what I was used to on my course, which made it a lot more difficult to study. If I could go back, I think I’d spend more time asking other students how modules from other departments are taught.

Did any exposure to employer opportunities (such as work experience, company presentations, career mentoring) or research led learning during your course help you achieve your ambition? If so, how?

Doing internships both within and outside the university have provided crucial experience in transferable laboratory techniques that have really helped me find work after my degree. For example, a previous placement at Southampton where I used a lot of different laboratory techniques was critical to me being hired for my current role; testing hospital patient samples for COVID-19, which uses a lot of the same techniques.

How has your degree helped develop your career?

Lectures during my degree, and my subsequent fourth-year dissertation really shaped my interest in and knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease. I now aim to do a PhD in Alzheimer’s disease research where I hope to contribute to patient therapies.

What interesting projects have you been involved in that you would like to tell us about since graduating?

I’m currently working in a hospital, testing patient samples to see if they have COVID-19. It’s been great to do something where I can make a difference to the lives of patients and help protect their families and doctors.

What have been the highlights of your career to date?

The main highlight of my career so far has been my summer internship in a research group at the University of Cambridge, where I investigated both aging and Alzheimer’s disease using a tiny nematode worm called C. elegans. Not only was this a fantastic opportunity to gain more experience in a laboratory setting and learn more about my subject of interest, the skills and techniques I got to practice there have been so important in helping me get interviews and job offers.

What tips would you give to current students looking to start a career in your sector? What could they be doing now to make themselves more employable when they graduate?

The number one thing I would suggest for those looking to go into research in biology-related degrees is to get lab experience outside of your degree. Your course does offer some good experience, especially if you do a laboratory-based dissertation or a masters, but a lot of other job applicants will have similar experience. I can’t overstate how much other lab experience (particularly in the most transferable skills like cell culture and molecular biology techniques such as cloning) will help you stand out during job/ PhD applications, and help you make sure that lab work is the right career path for you. A lot of lecturers will be happy to host you in their lab over the summer, particularly if you show an interest in their research area.

There are also a lot of summer internships or year in industry opportunities at major pharmaceutical companies or research centres which you can apply to. Finally, make good use of the careers service! Make a professional LinkedIn profile, get your CVs/ applications checked over, and get some interview practice before your graduate. These resources are hugely useful when applying for internships or jobs, and are much harder to access after you graduate.

Do you have any future ambitions?

I am currently applying for a PhD in neurodegenerative disease research where I aim to contribute to patient therapies.

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