Over a number of years, Lions Medical Research Foundation has formed an ongoing relationship with the SPARQ-ed program (Students Performing Advanced Research Queensland) which is a unique educational facility founded as a partnership between the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute and the Department of Education and training located with the Translational Research Institute (TRI) in Brisbane. Through this program, students from around Queensland are offered opportunities to participate in week-long programs that allow them to conduct an experimental project in conjunction with one of TRI’s world renowned biomedical research groups. To encourage participation across Queensland, Lions Medical Research Foundation, offers scholarships to students from regional and remote Queensland. These scholarships, of up to $750 per recipient, are paid to the families of student participants to help defray the costs in travelling to and staying in Brisbane during the program. Students who receive a scholarship, also make themselves available to speak about their experience at their local Lions Club. Ngoc Huynh from Cairns State High School received a scholarship and here she shares her experience at SPARQ-ed:-
Being interested in both medicine field and research, I applied and was accepted to take part in the SPARQ-Ed (Students Performing Advanced Research QLD) Research Immersion Program from 26th to 30th June 2017. This program was reserved to regional and remote students in particular, hence participants were provided with accommodation at UQ College. Moreover, the cost of travelling from Cairns to Brisbane was covered with the assistance of the generous travel scholarship from Lions Medical Research Foundation. The financial help from both SPARQ-Ed and LMRF had enabled me to travel to Brisbane to participate in this week-long activity.
During this week, I worked on the project titled “The Role of NR4A1 Protein in the Response to DNA Damage and Genotoxic Stress”. This project was developed by Dr Aaron Smith and was tutored by PhD students in the Translational Research Institute. I was working in a team of three, completing a series of experiments and being exposed to a variety of advanced experimental techniques. These included transfection, cell splitting and analysing assay data. Afterwards, I completed a literature review and scientific report, which I received constructive feedback on from Dr Ezequiel Balmori Melian, as part of the Bonus Rank Program. This additional program qualifies participants for a bonus points under the University of Queensland Bonus Rank Scheme.
The week was fully packed with detailed and challenging activities, and the level of work is higher than the curriculum covered at school. However, for students who are interested in a career in biomedicine, or research in science in general – this is an exciting opportunity to partake in. Not only did I gain more insight into the biomedical research, I was also able to mix with working scientists from different areas – biomedicine, physics, and even technology. I remember on the first day, we were presented with a presentation filled with aesthetic images produced by microscopy of Dr Samantha Stehbens. The exciting technology that we used and were presented throughout the week was my favourite part about the program!
Overall, this has been a remarkable week. The challenging nature of the work we studied, the experimental skills we developed, the insight of scientific and soft skills that a scientist should possess that we gained – were all valuable experiences from this research immersion program. Science is a diverse and mind-blowing field – and I can see myself a part of this community in the future!