Some notes on the transcription…

I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.

I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.    

You can find the full interview here:

Emma  00:01

Hello, Samia. Hey, this is so lovely. And I’m so grateful. I’ve just said to you, I’m really grateful that you just responded to this random person emailing you saying, can you talk about your internship experience? And you were very generously said, of course. So thank you so much for that.

Samir  00:20

Oh, you’re so welcome. You’re so welcome. Thanks for the invite.

Emma  00:23

I always so appreciative of people giving up their precious time and talk about their experiences, because I know that it’s really helpful for for other people. Sure, sure. Sure, sure. And as I just said to you, I think I asked people what they wanted to have podcast episodes on, and the idea of PhD internships came up. And so I know, it’s always really keen to sort of serve that need or desire. So that’s what we’re going to get into. Right. Before that, I’m going to ask the question that I asked everybody, in terms of, can you tell us a little bit about yourself about your journey into the PhD and out the other side?

Samir  01:01

Sure. Yeah. So it’s quite a quite fun story. It’s nice reliving, reliving this period. So I went through, I was in the, at the University of Sheffield, for, for the for the whole shebang, actually, and did an undergrad in biomedical science. And at that point, was was just in love with understanding about human disease and how we’re trying to improve people’s quality of life. So I, at that point, was quite interested into in pursuing a PhD. But my grades weren’t really good enough, in my final year to be allowed to do a research project, which is part of the third year for the top students. But I overcame that. And I volunteered in a summer for it in a summer period, with a lecturer that I worked, that I knew previously and spent the summer with them, got some research experience, and then went and did a master’s in translational oncology instead. So more about cancer research and the translation from bench to bedside, as they say. So that involved is six month research project as well in the University of Sheffield, where I started my love for working with zebrafish, which model organism now so So, so the lecturer who’s to teach us about zebrafish and proficient and they use as a model organism for understanding basic biology of the immune system. He was called Steven Renshaw and and I had quite a good rapport with him. I liked him a lot as a lecturer. And I kept in contact with him after my undergrad. And essentially, during this master’s period, I applied for a lot of PhDs have a lot of interviews. And I was feeling a little bit of despair, sort of not knowing, because I wasn’t getting getting through to the point that I wanted to. I was getting good comments, but you know, other people were were were slightly getting ahead of me. And one evening, I was I remember being on the phone to my mom. And she was like, Oh, what about this lecture that you really liked Steve Renshaw. So I was like our best drop him an email. And weirdly enough, when I got off the phone from my mum, I got an email from him. Oh yeah, which was literally the following day. Was very odd. So, and this was about using separate fish, but more in the context of ageing, studying this cellular response to stress called senescence. So I went and interviewed for that literally, the next day, I was I was doing my lectures in the day for my masters. And then I had my suit in my bag. So and got the position. So that was great. I started in 2015, and had the four year internship, PhD, which was with the bpssc White Rose, DTP doctoral training programme. And as part of that they had mandatory internship requirements. So that sort of led to me having the internship but I’m extremely glad that we had that component of the PhD.

Emma  04:45

Right? Yes, because for some for some places, there’s there’s a kind of option to and as you say, in some places you have to do and I think then some people think, Oh, should I actually apply for this because I don’t know if I want the internship or not and so amazing and So, um, we’re gonna come into that experience and what that was like. And then And then what happened? And then just tell us the next bits for you after that, after that PhD experience. Where are

Samir  05:11

you now. So I’m now I’m at the University of Cambridge, which is quite close to where I did my internship, actually. So I was sort of familiar with the place. And now I’m at the early Cancer Institute, working in the Munoz Aspen lab where we study the role of the senescence cells in the initiation and progression of lung cancer. So that’s where I am now been here since the start of 2021. So it’s coming up on on three years now. There was a bit of a rocky period in between finishing the PhD, as I’m sure most people have with with COVID. Yeah, where I sort of had a couple of short postdoc extensions from my PhD, but that was furloughed a lot. Right. But we made it through the other side.

Emma  06:01

Amazing, amazing. And what I love about your story, I love the shout out because we always love shout out to people. And especially also shout out to your mom as well, moms know, moms. But also the sense of, it wasn’t necessarily an easy road. And the the, the the, the word, there were a lot of applications. But that sense of tenacity and knowing that you were in love with zebrafish, you wanted to do this work. And this kind of tenacity, which has has served you well. And yeah, so I love that part of the story. And then you’re, you’re ending up doing the work that you love doing. And that’s not true for everybody. But I think what’s important to remember, especially when you’re at a place where you think twice, not really, it’s not really working for me just now that sense of kind of things can things can change, things can shift. So amazing, amazing for all of that. So now we can jump back in into this internship experience, which was a mandatory experience. Tell us a little bit about how that kind of evolved and what it was like?

Samir  07:12

Sure. So though, so even though it was mandatory, it was very flexible, in how you could do it, I think the period. So the period of the PhD was four years funded by the internship was around three months, and it could be taken at any point during the PhD. But it took me some time to get settled with the research and things like that. So I ended up arranging it at the end of my third year, which I think was quite a good time, I sort of was confident in my work, I’d got some results. And it was I also needed a slight change of scenery a bit of a break.

Emma  07:52

Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s very useful for that as well. That makes a lot of sense. And I think that really good advice in terms of that centre, because and I love what you said there in terms of getting some results. Because what you don’t want to do is be away and be fretting, you know, on behind doing the thing. So that sense of getting to a place where you feel confident in the work that you’re doing. And as you say, it gives you a bit of a gives you a break. It gives you a whole different energy. I think that’s what I’ve heard from other people that have done internships. Tell us about your internship. Tell us about your so yeah, so it was third year, it was third year.

Samir  08:23

Yeah. So instead, yeah, and you can arrange it with anyone you want, as long as it’s not to do with the current research that you’re doing now. So this is what I mean by bit being really, really flexible. Right. So in terms of my decisions, in the run up to it, I was sort of questioning myself, what type of thing? Do I think I’m good at what what strengths do I have outside of research? One being that I quite a chatty person, quite sociable person, and I liked talking about research to my friends and my family. So I was thinking that perhaps something to do with science, communication and public engagement could be could be something that I might find useful, and maybe even a potential career path in the future. Yes. So sort of taking these into account. And I was at a conference. So the first conference, I went to my PhD, which is at the Wellcome genome campus, near Cambridge. And I think it was here where I met who was going to then be my, my boss in my internship. She was called to see to crouch and she runs the public engagement. Division of Abraham at the time. I’m not sure if she’s still there, actually. But yeah, so I met her there. I was using my my chatting social network, and she actually had gone to university in Sheffield as well and was giving a talk in Sheffield, so when she came to visit she sort of gave me a an informal interview in Sheffield and then I went to visit The Department had a more formal interview. So it was more like an official job process. And they thought it would be useful for us to be to carry out this internship where I worked in the public engagement department of the Abraham Institute.

Emma  10:19

I think I think what’s what’s useful about that what you’re saying there is, I think it’s not like doing work experience from school is just trot off and have a look around that actually. And what can be brilliant about it isn’t it is that it can be a kind of trial run, that you do get that experience of making contact with someone go through that process. And developing relationships. Amazing. So so that process was was sounds like it’s quite a pleasant one.

Samir  10:50

Yeah, it was indeed, yeah. I appreciate it. The experience in terms of getting it myself, it felt like something that I’d learned. And yeah, it was it was, it was great. So I sort of packed up my bench work and moved down to Cambridge. To work in the beaver hair Institute, we we got stuck, right. And straightaway, I remember they have had like weekly meetings on a Monday morning. And they said, right, we’re going to go into school, like some primary schools nearby, on Thursday, so severely help running these classes and things like that. So they really put me in the deep end. And it really it was, I was I remember being terrified. But it was, it was great to get really stuck in the so. So the signup, there were sort of three main things that I was involved with in that internship. And I ended up staying nearer to four months actually than three because I was really enjoying it. And it was running up to Christmas anyway. So the first was to work with schools and show them the so dependent on the level with primary schools with sort of get them engaged in science and show them how to extract DNA from a strawberry and things like this, and showing them about different should know about different sound frequencies and where the kids can start hearing the high frequencies were. So myself, I couldn’t hear it, because I’m slightly older than them. Things like that, though. So that was very exciting. We went to different schools. But I also worked with with Sixth Form students as well, where I was more developing resources about showing the woman showcasing the research that they do at the Abraham Institute, which is predominantly around ageing, research, and understanding the processes of what happens when we get older. And a lot of it has to do with the immune system. And epigenetic, so what happens to which genes have been switched on and off, and how that changes over time. So with the sixth form students, those more developing teaching resource and things like that, right. So so it was very interesting that it was it was extremely different job depending on the audience that we’re aiming for. Yes. Additionally, we also looked at, there was a as part of Horizon Europe, which I believe were back in

Emma  13:18

back into brilliant, knew that being in the European organisation was a good idea who knew that.

Samir  13:31

But as part of them, they have something for the European researchers night, I think, something along that and the Cambridge leg of that was called Life Lab, where we went out and did lots of activities in Cambridge and nearby nearby in Peterborough. So that was great, like, really face to face with the public families to start on the day out. I remember reading, reading stories to young kids in the library. To get them passionate and insight excited about science. It was it was great. I remember some of the grammatically correcting me. But yeah, so that was that side of it. And the third was actually developing these teaching resources to be available online for people to use. So that’s, that’s on the Abraham website now under teaching resources. So yeah, those were the sort of three aspects that I covered and I loved it really I enjoyed it. I enjoyed disseminating the science. And it was a really good learning process for me and showed that there’s something I could do if academia doesn’t work out, which I was being told as it’s quite possible, right. At the moment, I’m keeping my tenacity and consumer to try it out.

Emma  14:49

I mean, you’re staying in, but I think I think this this sense of an opportunity, as you say, to explore something kind of tangental to your work, I think can be a really precious part of that internship experience Carnac.

Samir  15:02

Yeah, yeah, totally. Yeah.

Emma  15:05

And being able to develop professional skills, as we’ve always been told this is good to do. But it is it is good to do

Samir  15:13

right is good. Absolutely. And I think

Emma  15:16

having that that sense of from, from what I can hear that what excited you is about that kind of connection with the real world and with the public. And that sense of kind of being energised by seeing how the work that you were doing, has an impact, I think on a PhD journey that can become really difficult in those in that kind of that messy middle into that final stage where you’re like, What am I even doing here?

Samir  15:41

Yeah, you get so stuck in your, in your small little area, and it can be really good to see the big picture again, and it was very motivating. And yes, yeah, I mean, even staying in academia, now, it’s still been an extremely useful experience. Having I mean, I remember taking after the internship, I ran a seminar where I was sort of teaching people back in Sheffield about public engagement, other researchers, I mean, and was invited to give a talk on the topic and a conference. And so I’ve really taken in those skills, even though having not necessarily gone into public engagement full time, or yet anyway. I think it’s still been an extremely valuable experience.

Emma  16:29

We’ve we’ve given a very positive spin, and we said, good things. I’m just wondering if there’s anything that you were like, not so good, or I do it differently next time?

Samir  16:39

Yes, it’s a good question. So So what was quite interesting was that I, though, I loved that dissemination of research that side of it, I wasn’t so enthused about just solely doing the public research, and I suppose talking about other people’s research that they’re doing is actually part of doing doing the research as well. As as so that was a learning point for me. And that, I’m not sure whether I would do it full time as a career person. Because I really missed the research side of it as well, you know, where you’re actually cracking these questions and finding out unknown things. Yes, so that that was a big learning point for me as well. It’s something I also realised that even though it wasn’t quite right, for me, terms of careers still was an important lesson to learn that as well.

Emma  17:45

We thought we say it’s the flip side of it, isn’t it that you might try something out and go, I never ever want to do that again. It sounds like that wasn’t exactly what it is for you. But actually, I think also, and I know it’s happened for other people, gives what you call desk hunger is actually your like, I want to get back to my research. Now. I’m really excited about that kind of getting back in and diving back in and getting this PhD done. Yeah, yeah, totally. But I think it’s worth knowing that, yeah, it could be quite, quite a tricky thing to come out of your research and be away from that.

Samir  18:21

Yeah, the timing was important. Yes, yes. And even while away, even though like I said, I had results and stuff. I was in the back of my mind that, Oh, God only got left to finish, you know? Yeah. So I mean, maybe in retrospect, I would have tried to get things done a bit faster, and then taking the break slightly earlier, right. To have a bit more time or to have finished everything before writing, and then had the had it then or something like that, perhaps

Emma  18:56

that’s really interesting, isn’t it? I think, as you say, I think the timing is quite delicate. And I think that it’s, well, as you say, you met someone at a conference, and then things evolved from there. And that is often how things happen. But it’s worth just thinking about how this fits with the flow of your work. Which is not always easy to know, on a PhD, let’s be honest. But it’s, it’s I think that kind of having that conversation with yourself. And the potential placement can be really useful. carnate and

Samir  19:30

yeah, absolutely. Great. And so this but

Emma  19:34

overall, this is very positive. I’m liking this

Samir  19:42


Emma  19:43

So. So would you have any advice then it’s because we come we’re always at the end of the end of the episode. I always unfairly ask people for top tips, which of course is not is not good. But what sort of advice would Do you have, for people who are thinking about doing an internship or about to engage in internship,

Samir  20:07

I would say, Look into yourself and think about what type of what type of person you are, what you’re, you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then maybe tailor it towards that. And it could be, but even in the sense of taking advantage of your strengths, which is, I suppose, sort of what I did, but also it could be trying to address a weakness that you would like to maybe tackle or or turn into a strength. So I think I think that’s, it’s important to be reflective and, and take the time to think and and also, to speak to lots of people try and find people that have had experience in it. I mean, I’d be happy to talk to people myself, if that was helpful. But yeah, also supervisors, you know, there are people in, in public engagement departments for me that in Sheffield, when I was talking to them about their job, you know, talk to people network, and and try and think about what type of things could be useful for you, based on your strengths and your weaknesses?

Emma  21:14

That’s golden. That’s golden. And we will have your details in there in the show notes. I’m sure you’re getting indicted now. Thank you. I think he reminds me of we had someone as David Mendez was on the podcast, talking about kind of having a chat with people while you’re a PhD researcher, having a chat with people about the work that they do the jobs that they do, to do that kind of thought experiment of is this would this be something it’s interesting for me? Is this the right thing? And like you say, because it’s actually a process of self reflection, and of knowing, knowing yourself and what what really will, you know, you’ll be able to shine in org work to develop skills in. Yeah. Ah, Samia, thank you so much.

Samir  22:07

So welcome.

Emma  22:08

This has been a true joy. What a lovely interviewee you are, what else can I interview about? This? This is this is what I’m asked was it but thank you so much for thank you so much for your time. And for that insight, because I think is a bit mysterious.

Samir  22:23

I think the internship Yeah, I felt like that too. Yeah.

Emma  22:27

So I think it’s really useful to sort of open that up. And of course, people are going to have very different experiences. But I think that their sense of what the process might be like and the sort of things you might do is so helpful. So thank you so much for being here. Oh, you’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure. And thank you all for listening.