INSPIRE fuels student passion for research

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Student Doctor Lidia Nunez Jaramillo

A four-week INSPIRE summer studentship at a prestigious cell and molecular biology research lab helped Student Doctor Lidia Nunez Jaramillo cement her interest in research as a career, develop key transferrable skills and acted as a springboard into further studies and ground-breaking projects.

The INSPIRE programme is funded by the Academy of Medical Sciences and aims to support students in a variety of academic endeavours, including research, intercalation and application to the Specialised Foundation Programme by providing undergraduates with funding, training and career-building opportunities.

INSPIRE is back, following a further successful grant application. The programme is an active collaboration between five schools, Liverpool’s Veterinary, Dental and Medical Schools and the Medical and Veterinary School at Keele University. Each School within the consortium has its own activities as well as shared ones, and there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved, including joining the student research committee that runs and supports INSPIRE as a Student Research Advocate. Head to the INSPIRE webpage (link) for full details of this and plenty of other exciting opportunities available to you.

One popular opportunity is the offer of an INSPIRE summer studentship of up to £600 to help support four weeks of research activity. Student Doctor Lidia did just that last summer and hasn’t looked back since!

What brought you to medicine, and to Liverpool?

If I am 100% honest, Orthopaedics! I am very much a hands-on person and I have always enjoyed building things using tools.

I was the kind of kid that wonders, how does the body know where to send the tablet to make the pain go away?

To me it was settled, one day I was going to become a surgeon. But the big question was how? None of my relatives were in healthcare or completed higher education. So how could I possibly get into a highly competitive career? I took the big decision to leave the comfort of my family and move to the UK without even knowing how to speak English, with the goal of getting into medicine.

How did I do it? I did some self-direct studying to learn the language and managed to get a job giving out food to patients in a hospital. Talking to them and listening to their experiences taught me the language which allowed me to find a job in trauma and orthopaedics as a healthcare assistant. I worked nights and during the day I took a vocational level 5 emergency qualification which allowed me to get a job in A&E and in a private ambulance company. Whilst working, I took a distant learning A-Level course and finally I was able to apply to medicine.

Why Liverpool? Merseyside was one of the places I visited during my vocational qualification placements. People were so friendly and understanding. When the pandemic started, I would come up to the Northwest on my days off to support the ambulance service. I got so attached to the people. So, when it came the time to apply, I had to put Liverpool.

Liverpool has such a good range of tertiary specialist hospitals, and research. It is unbelievable how much top-quality research is going on in Merseyside!

What draws you to medical research? How have you gotten involved in research as an undergraduate?

Three main components drew me to research – to try to find answers to my questions, to be able to be myself and run free with my imagination, and the potential to impact not just the person you are treating in front of you but also people who you haven’t met by being part of a research community.

My interest is in regenerative and reconstructive medicine, and how that can be applied to trauma and orthopaedics. I grow up in an island, right next to the sea, seeing starfish with different size limbs as they regrow them, and sea cucumbers eviscerate but not die from it because they regenerate their entire digestive system. How odd is that!? And the most important question, how do they do it? Why them and not us? If we manage to map out the genome of the species with this amazing ability, we could compare it to the human genome to find the equivalent of this ability in our bodies. Imagine the potential therapeutical use. How can you not be excited about research?!

I got into research by being proactive and not being afraid to approach people. If there is an area that you enjoy, approach the lecturer, your Year Lead, the doctors you meet on placement.

Show them your passion and interest for the subject. They have dedicated their career to it, they love to talk about their specialty!

And always remember it is ok, if they turn you down because it is not the right time for them or don’t have a project at the moment. You will gain experience and knowledge from the interaction, and they might be able to signpost you to other opportunities within the field.

You don’t need to have experience in research to get involved, just wiliness to learn and be genuine. There are plenty of opportunities around us to help build our confidence and skills. Get involved with your Research & Scholarship workshops and projects and with the great research societies that the School has. Keep an eye out for collective research opportunities. Invest a couple of weeks of your summer on a research studentship, it will give you real-world insight and some money too. INSPIRE studentships are brilliant to give you that first exposure and build your confidence.

Why were you interested in taking part in the INSPIRE programme?

I didn’t have much exposure to research previously and I was not very confident about my skills. INSPIRE opportunities are an excellent taster of research to gain new skills and build up confidence in the ones you already have, not to mention networking!

What did your Summer Research Studentship entail?

During my studentship, I had the privilege of being part of the LaNts and Laminins La, and to get involved in their revolutionary and ambitious research. To develop a short-acting RNA as therapeutic treatment of an inherited eye disease. We are talking about cutting edge research. We are talking about the possibility of applying this new knowledge to other haploinsufficiencies. How exciting is that!? Being able to provide treatment to groups of people that currently are limited to palliative therapy.

This opportunity allowed me to touch on skills such as cell culture, transfection, RNA isolation, polyA cDNA synthesis, RT-qPCR, western blotting and fluorescence microscopy.

Concepts such as ‘transcriptionally upregulating’, ‘knockdown’ or ‘transfection’ were also introduced to me giving me not only new skills and increasing my curiosity about regeneration but making it so much easier to read journals and articles as I had a better understanding of what research entails.

Additionally, I got to write a report about the four weeks which enabled me to practise the skills gained during Research & Scholarship 1 without the pressure of it being an assessment, and I got friendly feedback from it helping me to develop further.

How has the experience helped support your studies and future plans?

I strongly recommend the experience to every student. It will give you valuable transferable and soft skills and will provide the foundations for a prospective career in research as well as a real-life snapshot of what being a researcher demands and perhaps help you to consider research as a career.

The INSPIRE programme has definitely increased my understanding of research as a profession, and cemented my wishes of having a future career which allows me to combine my clinical work with research.

At the moment, I am involved in a collective systematic and meta-analysis review regarding machine learning and outcome prediction following a lower limb trauma. I am in the process of closing an eight-week summer studentship in regeneration genetics and have been offered an internship at a revolutionary, emerging company which is aiming to eliminate radiation from trauma and orthopaedic surgeries by using artificial intelligence to guide surgeons. So getting yourself involved and talking to people really does pay off!

What advice would you have for other student doctors interested in research?

First at all, if I can do it, you can do it. Secondly, be kind to yourself. You do not need to know everything, and you do not have to come up with the latest and most revolutionary invention. Negative findings are still valid and valuable, they help us to reflect and learn from the past. Every research contribution counts and gets us closer to an answer.

Get yourself out there, talk to people, be curious! Join research societies, speak with colleagues who are doing research, get into a group and start your own project, look around for opportunities such as the INSPIRE studentship. The possibilities are endless!

The most important advice that I can give is, enjoy want you do! Be passionate! When tough times come (and they always come) your drive is the only thing that will keep you going.

Discover more

  • New to INSPIRE? Head to the INSPIRE webpage (link) to learn more about the programme.
  • Every year, students across all years of the MBChB Programme become INSPIRE Student Research Advocates acting as student leads on the INSPIRE committee and working with student research societies and School staff to promote all aspects of research. Applications are open until Monday 17th April. Go to INSPIRE Student Research Advocates (link) to apply.
  • Keen to follow in Lidia’s footsteps with an INSPIRE summer studentship? Get your application in to the INSPIRE team by Monday 8th May. Or perhaps you are looking to take part in research projects, Public Engagement training or obtain funding for society activities or conference attendance. The INSPIRE Opportunities page (link) sets out the many ways the programme can support your academic interests.