Practicals do make perfect


Having gained valuable summer experience in the Conway Institute, Katie Nolan explains to Zelda Cunningham the benefit of practical experience.

In recent years, Ireland has emerged as a major player in the world of scientific innovation and research, something that is vividly demonstrated by the enormous body of students beginning science degrees this year in UCD.

However, with the increase in interest, competition intensifies for employment and education for positions in the science arena. Katie Nolan studies Science in UCD. To enhance her degree with practical experience, she opted work in the Conway Institutes’ labs this summer before embarking on her final year.

Nolan explains that the experience fortified her interest in her subject and fixated her ambitions on advancing her education. “I approached my lecturer, Dr John Crean, for a reference for UREKA (a summer work experience programme), I didn’t get on, but Dr Crean offered me a summer placement for seven weeks where I could work in his lab. He taught me all the techniques that I would use in my forth year project,” Nolan explains.

For her summer in the Conway Institute, Nolan worked alongside Dr Crean on his work on diabetes, but was given a lot of autonomy, revealing to her the reality of work as a scientist. “You have freedom regarding time because it’s really up to you about how much you get done on a particular day, but you have to be very self motivated.”

The absence of strict restriction and supervision nurtured Nolan’s enthusiasm for her subject, inspiring her to continue her scientific education. “Before forth year [in Science] we have never really been in a lab setting. We do practicals but you don’t get a feeling for what it is like in a lab. If I did a PhD, this would be the kind of work that I would be doing. You get the feeling of what it’s like to be responsible for your own work and be careful for your own experiments.”

For Nolan, her work experience in the Conway Institute was enjoyable, adding, “everyone in the lab was helpful and friendly,” however it was also a beneficial exercise for her degree. Her current forth year curricular experiment is a progression of the work done in the summer. “My forth year project is a continuation of my summer. Obviously, in the seven weeks I didn’t make a discovery but everything was moving in the right direction so that is why I’m going back to it.”

Nolan is clear to express that this type of experience is hugely valuable and also obtainable for other students. Although she describes Dr Crean’s invitation for work experience as being “just his own generosity”, Nolan feels that if Science students express an interest to their lecturers about obtaining practical experience, they may happily oblige.

“If students approach their lecturers and ask what they should do if they want to gain summer experience. You just need to show that you are interested.”