Fueling Alice’s passion for science through outreach

Alice Robinson, PhD student in Molecular and Cellular Medicine at the University of Oxford, was one of our fantastic mentors on the 2020 In2scienceUK programme. We spoke to Alice about why she got involved in the programme last summer and why she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend signing up! 

“For my PhD I am investigating specific pathways involved in innate immune cells (the cells involved in our first line of defense), with an interest in their importance in cardiovascular disease. To answer my research questions, day-to-day I work in a wet lab environment, largely using cell-based assays. My ultimate goal is to understand how these specific pathways contribute towards cardiovascular-related inflammation, and more pertinently, how they may be therapeutically manipulated to reduce disease progression, severity, and fatalities.

Although I really enjoy the lab and it’s where I am most comfortable, I am passionate about outreach. When seeing the fantastic opportunity for involvement in In2scienceUK’s mentorship programme advertised, I knew I had to apply.

When I was at school, hearing anecdotes and experiences from those engaged in scientific research was what truly brought the words in textbooks alive, and this formed the basis of my desire to study Biomedical Science at university. 

Idealistically, irrespective of our background, we should all be given an equal opportunity to reach our potential. Sadly, we know this not to be the case. Although I have many reasons for wanting to promote diversity and social mobility in STEM, my greatest motivators originate from the wealth of opportunity and lack of discrimination I have been afforded, in addition to how unfairly early socio-economic barriers are introduced to a person’s life.

I strongly believe great science stems from diverse collaborations, and feel incredibly sad and frustrated knowing how many barriers still exist. Although social mobility is not something we can implement overnight to reverse these issues, every step forward, every voice heard and every person breaking that cycle is an invaluable step in the right direction.

It was a privilege and great fun to be a mentor to a group of aspiring scientists who were eager to learn, while also bringing their own creative take. Our sessions ranged from an insight into my own scientific journey (from GCSE’s to Ph.D.), covered some key study skills, such as setting smart goals, and the most fun part of all, informally interacting with the students; answering specific questions about university life and hearing their aspirations and excitement for the future! The students turning up with such resilience and enthusiasm for their future in science despite all the challenges COVID19 has introduced to education was a breath of fresh air too!

The students had a very varied programme, with mentorship making up only part of it. Everything was highly complementary and there was such a diverse range of sessions for students to engage with and benefit from, which created interesting conversations during mentor sessions, especially for hot topics in science and medicine in 2020! 

The organisation from In2scienceUK was very thorough, support was never far away, and the systems used were great. The programme was very flexible and a lot of support material was provided if you so wished to use it; so if it’s something you think you might like to do but are not sure if you’d have the time, I’d certainly say to go for it!

The students were a huge boost and great motivator for myself personally, and it’s a highly rewarding challenge to engage on different levels, and through different means!

I wouldn’t hesitate to return to In2scienceUK’s programme in the future, and hope next time I will be able to get some students into the lab for even more fun!”