My life in Science whilst raising a child with type 1 diabetes

Biomedical Science, Type 1 Diabetes, Coeliac Disease and other findings

IBMS Congress from a student perspective

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2015-09-28 13.30.33Yesterday, I traveled down south from Glasgow to Birmingham, for the IBMS congress at the ICC.  On my part, this was a mixture of career planning, travel enthusiasm and escapism if I’m honest (who let mum loose?).  Who doesn’t like day trips? (insert Beatles song here).

Also, I want to be proactive about my career. It’s a great combo!  Since the flight was cheaper than travelling to Edinburgh for the day, I thought why not? I was eager to meet people who are passionate about biomedical science from other walks of life.

Expectations

On arrival, I found Birmingham looked like an up and coming city. I felt full of  “spring” in my step! The newly opened New street station was certainly worth my visit, if all else failed.  However, I was full of purpose, so didn’t hang around much to be honest – heading straight for the ICC on a mission.   2015-09-28 13.22.55I had expectations of chatting with scientists, and professionals on current treatment options/diagnostics and you guessed it… all with a bias towards autoimmune conditions. So where was Medtronic?

Students of Biomedical Science unite!

The student expo, as aimed at undergraduates wondering where this ‘broad-ranged‘ degree will take them.  Sarah May, Deputy Chief Executive of the institute highlighted the routes into working for the NHS and options which may be available to a new graduate – more often than not – a laboratory support role.  These jobs are marketed at pay band Grade 3 (NHS grading)  for those without any qualifications, which may seem like you’ve hit disaster after 4 years of hard slog, and brain-bashing theory to gain a piece of paper, which you didn’t need to begin with! Don’t be disheartened was the message, students with the BSc(hons) degree can progress from these roles within the NHS, and aim to specialise in a chosen niche – look at it, as a step in the door.  For those who wish to be at the forefront of diagnostics, and feel the support of the largest employer of BMS behind you, then I feel this could be a great career.  Also, a wonderfully, inspiring talk presented by Sgt Colin Hudson of the Royal Air Force left me feeling amazed at the capabilities of scientists in the most difficult of places and circumstances a person could ever be asked to face.  This also made me feel a little sad, because my son can never apply to the forces due to his medical condition, but it is good to know there are strong minded, focused and extremely capable scientists meeting the needs of those at the face of human crisis on our planet.

I personally was very interested in the talk by Dr Sue Jones, from York St John’s university.  I am not a young undergraduate, and have come to biomedical science as a second career. Therefore, I have strong determination and deep personal reasons for being interested in completing this degree. I carry with me experience of treating a child with a severe life threatening medical condition, and this gives me a double-sided view of why research is vital, why it is important to network and sell products that vastly improve patient’s lives.  I am that customer.  Which leads me onto the exhibition.

Exhibition hall and the big names in industry including Leica, Abbott, Siemens and the list goes on…

At break, we ventured into the massive exhibition hall to wonder at the latest and greatest of diagnostic equipment, laboratory aides and tools.  I chatted with a few exhibitors about my student experience so far and well wishes all round were exchanged.  I personally felt like a child in a sweetie shop – literally, due to the fact every stand was happy to supply everyone with a quick sugar rush. Ironic? … discuss.

From a student perspective, I felt the career aspect of the expo was vital to anyone who has not thought about the different routes to follow after the undergraduate degree.  I got chatting to a few students from universities in England, about the differences in their degree programme and mine, but one thing remained the same, these degrees are very popular in the UK. There is widespread competition and we all need to aim for more experience in the lab if we want to stand out from the crowd.  If it is financially viable, to gain lab experience at your university or research institute, then keep trying – I know I found my summer work experience invaluable.

Finally … let’s not avoid the elephant in the room any longer – Earning potentional!

There is an element of “but when will I get paid?”,” When will I earn from this degree?” and I admit, I have thought that quite often. I do have two children and a mortgage and without my husband’s career things would be very different for our family. Nonetheless,  I try to hold onto the dream and hope I had at the start of this route for a specific reason, and that was to help make my son’s life easier, to understand the mechanisms behind his wonky immune system, and to try and work alongside researchers who also feel as passionate about that as me.  Currently, I have no delusions about earning the best wage.  I know that applying for funding for a PhD is highly competitive.  As is, finding that job that makes all this seem worthwhile. Basically, I have admired a certain researcher for the past few years who works at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston, USA – so quite a far travel for someone from Ayrshire, Scotland. It does all seem like a pipe dream to me, but not one I am willing to give up on just yet.  For those who wish to enter the NHS, there is also the delayed potential to earn a band 6 wage – which could take quite a few years post-graduation.  In summary, why should we not go for sales jobs? I’ll leave that to you to answer, It is a very personal answer – but please feel free to share your own experiences.

When you walk around the exhibitors hall, it can be quite an eye opener to see the ones who make money from biomedical science. But if you are passionate about the subject, it could be you who helps to write the rule book, who aids the invention of the next immunoassay or who writes a paper leading to the improvement of millions of lives.  We certainly wouldn’t be living with some of the best technology for managing type 1 diabetes without some of the best research and pharmaceutical involvement in the world. medtronic-cgm

So without coming across as a cheesy motivational speaker, I would like to finish up by saying, it would have been wonderful to be able to sign up to attend a talk listed on the plenary. If this was an option (I’m not sure if it was), I would have loved to hear the talk by Dr Claire Guest – CEO of Medical Detection Dogs (I know of a family who have a dog that responds to a child with hypo-unawareness – a life saving dog!).

My aim was to explore where my career would go, but I still leave that open. Open to chance meetings.  Open to networking. Open to fate perhaps, and certainly open to more day trips and conferences.

Please feel free to comment, and share!  I hope my post inspires others to attend conferences, and get meeting others in the field.

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