Learning new techniques and expanding horizons in South Africa

The Society of Endocrinology is eager to help you drive your career forward and, in line with this, the Practical Skills Grant is an opportunity not to be missed. This grant enables scientists in training to visit other labs to learn new techniques, so that they can return home with an improved skill-set and plenty of research collaboration potential!

Here is the story of Dr Naomi Brooks, Senior Lecturer at the University of Stirling, who is interested in exercise physiology, muscle biology and nutrition. In 2015, she was one of the Practical Skills Awardees and travelled to South Africa to learn a challenging lab technique from world-leading experts…

Naomi Brooks blog
Dr Naomi Brooks, Senior Lecturer at Stirling University

“My application to the Society for Endocrinology Practical Skills grant was inspired by my previous success in winning a Society Early Career Grant. I chose Prof Kathy Myburgh’s lab, in the Physiological Sciences Muscle Group in Stellenbosch University, South Africa. I was aware that the particular technique I wished to learn was difficult and that the Myburgh Laboratory had detailed knowledge and success with it. I had previously worked with the Myburgh group as a post-doctoral fellow. Since I knew the group and identified the potential for collaboration, the choice to return to Stellenbosch was key for my career at that stage.

Stellenbosch is a beautiful town surrounded by mountains and vineyards. I was there during the spring and the weather was kind, not too hot, which allowed me to walk to work every day from my local accommodation. During my work week I would spend time in the lab, either with colleagues or writing and reflecting by myself. When away from the busyness of academia, I visited local areas and enjoyed the beautiful African outdoors and hospitality, and I still had time to write papers and put ideas together for grant applications!

The Practical Skills Grant enabled me to investigate a number of different methods for stem cell isolation and primary cell growth. I was able to see the technique demonstrated, trouble-shoot and have discussions about the procedure and its applications. As a result of this, the cell culture laboratory at my home institution is currently considering building collaborations with molecular investigators to apply the technique in our labs. I continue to build my personal and laboratory group skill-set to enhance our work, and thanks to this grant I was able to improve my academic opportunities as a researcher able to integrate both applied and basic research. The experience provided me with an integrated understanding of the technique, which will hopefully translate into more research opportunities and encourage my transition into an established researcher in the field.

When I lived in Stellenbosch as a post-doctoral fellow, I volunteered at an orphanage in Kayamandi, the local township.  I also started a community exercise programme, which was both a research and a community engagement and development programme. Returning to these places was very special. The exercise programme was still running 5 years later, and was coordinated by those working in the community garden project.

Creating and fostering networks and collaborations, both within the UK and overseas, is very important in the world of academia.  I would encourage those wishing to expand their horizons and learn new techniques to apply for the Practical Skills grant; especially amongst those early career researchers, as having “many strings to one’s bow” is important to establish a career.”  Naomi Brooks, Senior Lecturer at the University of Stirling.

What would you do with a Practical Skills Grant? Applications close on 31 October 2017, so better start thinking about it!

Embracing excellence in endocrinology

How can you encourage undergraduate students to specialise and continue in endocrinology? The Society’s Undergraduate Achievement Award enables departments to reward and recognise the outstanding, endocrine-related work of undergraduate students. Successful departments receive £300 per year for three years, to award to students in any way they decide is most effective.

Director of Learning and Teaching at Kingston University Nigel Page tells us about the value of the award to his department, and his former student Nirun Hewawasam talks about how the experience set her off on a career in endocrinology.

“Recognising the talents of our students is vital, and the Society for Endocrinology Undergraduate Achievement Award gives us the perfect opportunity to do just that! This prestigious award has been a great way of encouraging academic excellence and bringing the field of endocrinology to the forefront of our students’ study. We have been able to offer the award to outstanding performances in our final year projects that have a specific endocrine theme. All of our winners from the last three years have felt the award has impacted on their decisions and confidence in being able to go on and successfully develop their careers in endocrinology, and have decided to undertake endocrinology related postgraduate research studies.

At Kingston University, this award has allowed us to recognise our most talented students and has helped in getting them to where they are today. In addition, it has been a fantastic way to advertise the work of the Society to our students and many of our undergraduates have taken the initiative to become members.

Each year we have been able to announce the award at our graduation ceremony to parents and guests, which is a real honour! The impact of receiving the award has been very positive to all parties, and is certainly something our students will always take away with them.”  Dr Nigel Page, Kingston University.

Nirun Hewawasam joined Kingston University as an undergraduate pharmacology student. As she had a particular interest in type 2 diabetes, her final year project focused on investigating the role of the novel protein SMOC-2 in beta cell growth factor signalling. She received her Undergraduate Achievement Award in July 2014.

Endocrinology Prize
Nirun, receiving her award with Drs Nigel Page and Natasha Hill

“I have always been interested in the field of diabetes, and although my project required a lot of effort and commitment, winning a Society for Endocrinology Undergraduate Achievement Award was highly rewarding and encouraged me to continue in the field of endocrinology. Currently, I am doing a PhD entitled “Intercellular communication and pancreatic islet function in type 2 diabetes” at the University of Roehampton, where I am investigating how two pancreatic islet hormones can modulate islet function and survival in type 2 diabetes. Being a research student has given me a lot of confidence, and being part of life changing research is exciting and fulfilling. So far it has been a great journey full of exciting experiences, including successful moments and hardships, but with rewarding outcomes.

I believe that the Undergraduate Achievement Award contributed to my being awarded my PhD studentship, thereby increasing my career prospects. The award constitutes a great opportunity to encourage any student to undertake a career in the field of endocrinology.” Nirun Hewawasam, Kingston University 2014 Awardee.

Nirun, working in the lab at the University of Roehampton

Applications for the Undergraduate Achievement Award are open from 14 June 2017 until 15 September 2017. Find out more about how to encourage excellence in your students!