A summer with the King’s Muscle Lab

Sasha is a KCL student who is working with Dr Joerg Steier, a former King’s Muscle Lab researcher who is still part of our wider research group.  Here she tells us how she has found her research ‘taster’ summer so far…

My name is Sasha and I am a 2nd year Neuroscience student at KCL. The Neuroscience course,Sasha much like other Biomedical Science courses at King’s, aims to coach you in to a research career. For ages I was never really sure whether I wanted to pursue a career in research. I couldn’t see myself stuck in a lab with pipettes in a white coat, but after a few months of working as a summer student alongside researchers, I have learnt research is nothing like that at all!

I decided to get work experience over the summer because I knew I wouldn’t be sure to pursue a career in research unless I actually had some experience of doing the job. I saw a project online through King’s called ‘the Multiple Dimensions of Sleepiness’ and after having a few lectures on sleep physiology and medicine and thoroughly enjoying them, I decided to email the supervisor, Dr Steier, and share my interest in his project. It was agreed that I would help Dr Steier throughout the summer in collecting and analysing data, attending research meetings, and writing up the paper.

On the first day of helping Dr Steier I was super nervous – I really wanted to make a good impression! We were meeting at his office at 11am so I got there at 10.40am with plenty of time to spare. I knocked on the door and there was no answer. Not to worry I thought – it’s just because I’m early. I stood outside the office for 45 minutes with no one answering the door. I decided at this point to email Dr Steier as maybe he had forgotten we were meeting. He speedily replied saying “Ah I wondered where you were, today I am at my other office in the Lane Fox Unit (Westminster) not at Nuffield house (London Bridge).” So I spent my first day on the job running across London to the other campus arriving sweaty and breathless. Already I had learnt something very important – researchers may have multiple offices in different locations (and I must check beforehand which office I need to go to)!

The next few weeks went smoothly, I attended research meetings where researchers of the King’s Muscle Lab shared their ups and downs of their projects. From these meetings it became clear that research isn’t always smooth sailing, there are set backs and hurdles you need to get through but you have your colleagues, who have often been through the same thing, to support you. Attending these meetings I gained a really good insight in to the different projects that take place in the King’s Muscle Lab. At first it was difficult as I noticed researchers seems to abbreviate EVERYTHING, they are either discussing what happened in ICU or they’re gathering data from EEG’s, MSLT’s and PSG’s… It took me a few meetings to get the hang of it but after that there is nothing cooler than abbreviating everything and having your housemates think you’re an actual genius!

So far, my favourite part about helping on the project has been the data collection. This is because our data is questionnaire based so I have been able to interview patients from the sleep clinic. I have really taken to patient contact and I feel that it is the best way to really get down to the problem you are researching. It’s also really helped with my confidence and I have learnt to approach different patients in different ways based on their needs.

After data collection was completed, we needed to do some analysing. This was done using SPSS [statistical software]. Having never using this software before I was a bit overwhelmed. It seemed so confusing and Dr Steier could do everything on it so quickly. I honestly thought I would never get the hang of it. But after several YouTube videos and a couple of hours in the library I seemed to be producing means, standard deviations, correlations and linear regressions with ease! Alike to the abbreviations, it was tough at the beginning but it felt so good to actually understand how it worked.

We are now at a point in our project where we have sent off an abstract to a journal and we are waiting for it to be accepted. I have prepared myself to not be too disgruntled if it doesn’t get accepted because, like I said, there are many setbacks in research – you just need to let your passion for the subject keep you going. In only a couple of months I have learnt so many research skills that will help me in my career, but I think most importantly I have learnt many skills that will help me through life. I would say the TOP career skills I have learnt are to be a Team player, be Open minded and to Persevere!

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