From the start of second year, our head of year and other lecturers drilled it into our heads that having a summer placement in second year was invaluable for our CV. Gaining extra experience, apart from our research project in year 3, would truly give us the edge. I first thought about contacting lecturers to see if they had placement, and almost secured one in the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, an area I wanted to be involved with in my modules in year three. But it was when our head of year gave us a talk about placements, and introduce the idea of going abroad to me, was when I thought “well, I should probably give this a go”. The application was a simple process, which included and personal statement, and grades from first year and second year in course assessments.
An interview was held a few weeks later and the questions involved talking about what you would hope to gain from the experience. I found out that I had received the scholarship about a week later, and I honestly almost fell off the treadmill!
We travelled to Tours mid-June, and it was HOT. This was during the French heatwave, which averaged about 38 degrees over the first week- we definitely swam in La Loire, and 3 showers a day were essential. The first week was mainly to get settled to our surroundings, the lab and the people around us. I was quite apprehensive of a possible language barrier, but actually, they all spoke very good English! They were also very friendly, and keen to answer any questions.
Week two started the main bulk of laboratory work. I was working parallel with a medical student at the university, Emma, who was in her third year. I was quite intimidated at first, she had been there a week before me, she already knew the ropes. But I was quick to catch up, and she was super nice. The poster (right) included the results from our collaborative project! We were working on the effect of ROCK inhibitors on the invasiveness of colorectal cancer cells. We worked together, doing the same experiments but on separate cell lines. It was reassuring having Emma around, because I could follow her lead, until a gained confidence in what I was doing. Our postdoc supervisor, Osbaldo, was so kind and really keen for us to deliver on this project. He was so patient and constantly quizzed us- just to ensure that we knew what was going on. If we were ever confused, he was so quick to help and was so attentive.
The girls loved exploring around Tours, the first weekend especially where we went to the markets on the Saturday morning. There were so many stalls full of fruit, vegetables, cheese and cakes! We ate out very often, trying as many restaurants as possible- within budgets of course, some French, others very much not (they had a great Chinese place)! The weekends were a great time to wind down, as after all, the 2-hour French lunch break wasn’t enough time off! The lab days were long, 9-5/6pm, so it was great to hang out at La Guingette some evenings with some French wine (sounds fancy, but getting the cheapest bottle was a must for me). However, the last weekend, I found my face to have swollen on one side (to the size of a baseball on the side of my cheek), after a Friday afternoon of having my wisdom teeth being really sore. Great, an abscess, I thought. Perfect timing teeth… brilliant. After rinsing my flatmates dry of painkillers, I finally went to the pharmacy on the Saturday morning, explaining (in very awkward, broken French) that my tooth hurt, and that my face was very swollen. The pharmacist gave me more painkillers, and a local anaesthetic gel. Luckily, after many salt washes and painkillers later, it was found that I had pericoronitis, NOT an abscess. My bank balance was very thankful.
Once it came to the end of our trip, I was quite sad to leave! Emma had become a good friend of mine, and my supervisor was so sweet, giving me a new memory stick and a cleaning cloth for my glasses with the université logo on them. The labs threw a lab party for Chloe, Eva, Emma and I- which meant lots of cake and sweets! It was hard to say goodbye!
Overall, I would recommend that if you ever got the opportunity to go abroad for your placement, would be to take it! The academics were right about it being such an invaluable experience. It was so much fun and I learnt so many skills! So far, I have found my year 3 labs so much easier, especially my tissue culturing technique- no infections just yet!
Hannah Evans, third year Biomedical Science student.