• Ava Clarke and Enya Nordon

SPUR: Research interns join the Family Genomics Research Group

"This programme is incredibly insightful into a career in research and gives you hands-on experience in an interdisciplinary research environment."

The SPUR internship programme (Summer Programme for Undergraduate Research) is a summer research-based learning experience at Maynooth University for undergraduate students. The SPUR Programme is funded by the HEA Innovation and the Transformation project, MU Future Ready. The programme aims to enhance student’s personal and professional development. From engaging in a departmental research project of their choosing, it is hoped that students can gain insight into the world of research and postgraduate study. Through this programme students are inspired to determine research objectives with support from their academic mentor. Students are then encouraged to employ appropriate methodologies to investigate their chosen research area.


Enya Nordon and Ava Clarke were awarded a place on the SPUR programme which funded their work for six weeks. Funding was gratefully extended by an additional 2 weeks by the Centre for Research Training in Foundations of Data Science. Both students chose to work with the Family Genomics Research Group under the mentorship of Dr Lorna Lopez and Dr Cathy Wyse. Over the course of their summer internships, both Enya and Ava investigated the effects of certain factors with regards to a person’s susceptibility to becoming infected with the common cold. We interview both students about their research experiences.




Good afternoon! Thank you for meeting with me today. To start off this interview would you both like to tell me a bit about yourselves?


AVA:

Thank you for having me! I am going into my final year of Biomedical Sciences in Maynooth University.


ENYA:

It’s lovely to be here! I am also a Biomedical student at Maynooth University and I am going into my 3rd year.



Can you talk more about the research projects you focused on during your time with the Family Genomics Research Group?


ENYA:

I was part of the MU Summer Programme for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) along with Ava. We both undertook projects focused on factors that could influence a person’s susceptibility to becoming infected with the common cold. As part of this programme, I carried out a data analysis project that investigated the effect that sleep duration and sleep quality had on contracting the common cold.


AVA:

I carried out a data analysis based research project about whether an individual’s susceptibility to the common cold was influenced by the season of infection (i.e. the time of year).



Why did you choose to apply for the SPUR programme?


AVA:

I wanted to apply for the SPUR programme as it was an exciting opportunity that offered an interactive experience in a research-based setting. I was really intrigued by the project proposal for the report under the supervision of Dr Lorna Lopez and was interested in learning more about the topic. The research project experience also offered an insight into professional development and public speaking, which are areas I did not have much experience in.


ENYA:

I chose to take part in the SPUR programme as I wanted to gain experience as a researcher at a third level institution. I have always had an interest in developing a career in research, but I had never been able to experience it in a university setting. I heard about the SPUR programme and thought it was the perfect opportunity to gain this insight.



What have you enjoyed the most during your research experience?


ENYA:

I have enjoyed the whole experience but I mostly enjoyed getting to know new people and having this opportunity to broaden my skillset. I have been very fortunate to get to speak to people both on the research team and from other various backgrounds about different career paths and opportunities that are available. I learned many new things that I don’t think I would have known without these meetings. It has also been very enjoyable getting to learn new skills that I will be able to use in the future. Being able to work remotely with weekly deadlines was nice as it gave me the flexibility to work on my own initiative and at a pace that suited me. Although some aspects were challenging to wrap my head around the overall experience was very enjoyable.


AVA:

There are many aspects of the programme that I have enjoyed. I have really enjoyed getting to know everyone and learning about the dynamics of a research team. Both Dr Cathy Wyse and Dr Lorna Lopez have provided so much insight into their work and career paths. They have opened my mind to many opportunities. Aoife, Fiana, Tom, Shane, and Carol have also been really helpful by giving me advice and tips during the weekly lab meetings and I hope to bring this advice with me into my future career. I have also really enjoyed the process of data analysis and learning how to objectively answer a hypothesis. My favourite aspect of data analysis is that you are constantly learning and there is lots of room for innovative thinking.



What parts of the SPUR programme have you found to be the most helpful?


AVA:

I found that the most useful part of this programme was to learn skills in data analysis using R studio and Excel. By learning how to use these platforms, I can now explore and visualize data efficiently which will be really helpful in future projects. Under the guidance of the research team, this programme has also enabled to me gain valuable dissemination skills through weekly presentations and group meetings. I believe that this a highly advantageous skill acquired during this programme was evaluating and summarising scientific literature as it will benefit me greatly in my degree and in any future projects.


ENYA:

I think the most useful part of this programme was getting to speak to people from lots of different careers and having the opportunity to network with them. The SPUR programme includes tasks to help with project management and professional development which have been very beneficial. Although working remotely came with challenges it was nice to be able to work away independently and learn first-hand about time management and problem solving. I also found all of the new skills that I learned to be really useful. The skills and knowledge I have gained from this programme will be useful throughout the rest of my time in university and beyond.



Would you recommend participating in the SPUR programme to others?


AVA:

I would highly encourage anyone to take part in this programme. I have gained multiple new skills that will make me more confident in my degree and in my future career. This programme is incredibly insightful into a career in research and gives you hands-on experience in an interdisciplinary research environment.


ENYA:

I would also highly recommend this programme to others. Not only do you get to work as part of a research team and experience everything that goes along with that, but you learn valuable knowledge that will be used in the future. It is an excellent way to get a true insight into how a research team works, while also building up skills of your own.



How has this experience had an effect on your perspective on research and future career aspirations?


ENYA:

Before taking part in SPUR, I had an interest in pursuing a career in research. This programme has shown me that it’s something I still want to do. Working as part of a research team has been really enjoyable and I can see myself doing it in the future. Getting to speak to people from different careers has also been really useful as I have learned so much about different pathways into different careers, that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.


AVA:

Unlike Enya, prior to this programme my aspirations for my future career in research were slightly blurry. However after gaining experience in Dr Lorna Lopez's lab, I am now confident that a career in research is for me. This programme has contributed greatly to my future career aspirations as I am now hoping to continue my studies to pursue a career in research. I really enjoyed the process of studying and reading on a topic, extracting information and testing hypothesis based on your prior knowledge.



Students who wish to apply for the SPUR programme should keep an eye out for any research project postings promoted within their university department. If you or someone you know may be interested, register to participate in the programme by visiting the SPUR website or contact the Experiential Learning Office at explearning@mu.ie.


Academic support and research career progression is a priority to The Family Genomics Research Group. We have been delighted to have both SPUR students with us this summer and are glad that both students have gained more insight into the directions of their future research career paths as a result of working with our team.



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