My placement at TCD

Hi everyone! Today’s post is about my placement at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). I work in an academic research group, which is part of the university. Our building, the Trinity Biomedical Science Institute, is just next to the main campus in the centre of Dublin. This is really convenient as it makes exploring the city very easy!

Honestly, one of the best parts of my placement is the people I work with. Our group consists of 15 people, plus occasional visitors from other labs or Trinity students who are on their final year project.  Everyone has been extremely welcoming and super helpful. Whenever I have a question (which, even after working here for 5 months, happens a lot), I can always rely on someone being at hand who knows the answer. I’m also lucky that my lab recruited two Surrey students, so I don’t have to tackle this placement year alone. Having someone to discuss day-to-day issues with makes life so much easier.

I work in a biochemistry lab that aims to analyse the structure of membrane proteins to then design new drugs e.g. antibiotics based on this structure. Getting a structure is the result of a VERY long process I was not aware of before including genetic engineering, production of recombinant proteins in cells and then the purification of the protein. This lab uses macromolecular X-ray crystallography to obtain protein structures, so the final step is to set up crystallisation trials. I won’t go into more detail here, but if you’re interested, feel free to email me! In the five months that I have been working here I’ve learnt so many different methods and subject specific knowledge and there is always more to it. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on three different projects that are at completely different stages, which is a really interesting experience. The main thing that is completely different to university practicals is that something like a clear ‘correct’ answer does not exist. At uni, when you’re in a practical, there is always one simple protocol to follow and one main aim that you should achieve. And if it doesn’t work, don’t worry, there’s always an explanation. This completely changes when you transition to ‘real’ research, where sometimes nothing works for weeks and you simply have no idea why. This does massively increase your resilience and also ability to work under pressure. Of course, I’m also working a lot more independently, balancing my time between doing experiments for different projects and writing up reports.

For me, a typical work day starts at 9.00 am. Either I get straight on with an experiment in the lab, if I have a busy day, or work at my desk in our ‘reading room’ (which is really just an office). Working days in research can be very long, as some experiments just take their time, but normally, I finish at around 6.00 pm. The good thing about experiments taking a while is that sometimes you don’t have much to do while you are waiting for something to finish, so the other Surrey student and I can go to this coffee place in our building to escape the lab for a while. All in all, the hours are long, but pretty flexible.

Our principal investigator is very dedicated, so I have to write a report every week and discuss it with him and my supervisor in weekly meetings. On top of that, we have a group meeting every week where one of the lab members gives a presentation about what they’ve been up to. It’s inspiring to see how my coworkers discuss each others research and help each other with problems.

Obviously, another perk of my placement is the location! I’m able to live in a different city and explore another country for a year – I will tell you all about that aspect in many different posts though!

Here’s a picture of our building, the Trinity Biomedical Science Institute: