Hannah Rudd, a second year UWE Biomedical Science student updates us on her placement at Virginia Commonwealth University in Virginia, USA, and explains why placements abroad are the opportunity of a life time.

A weekend trip to San Francisco. Credit: Hannah Rudd
A weekend trip to San Francisco. Credit: Hannah Rudd

Last year I applied for and was offered a research placement in the USA, and after a little deliberation I took the plunge and now here I am, living and breathing half way around the world.

To say they do things a little differently here would be an understatement. I have been stretched far more than I could have imagined – from homelessness to loneliness. There have been many trials and tribulations; however, all things considered, I think I’ve done fairly well.

I am settled in at work, attending research seminars, paper presentations and PhD defenses; I have started my own project in the laboratory, which has already taught me useful skills that can be applied in all manners of labs in all types of research. A wise woman once told me that ‘even the most mundane and seemingly simple tasks are the most important; without them the experiment may fail’. Indeed, if you make up a buffer at the wrong concentration or inaccurately measure a substance, the entire outcome of that experiment is in jeopardy, not to mention the results wouldn’t be exactly reliable.

I am currently undertaking my research in the field of breast cancer, more specifically the prolactin receptor, under the supervision of Dr Clevenger, a world leader in this field. I have already experienced things I would have otherwise not been able to, such as being trained in animal research and using a variety of cutting edge instruments and technologies and performing data analysis using a multitude of software. Building on the skills learnt at university, I am developing skills in cell culture (growing and maintaining a healthy cell line), western blotting (protein analysis) and advanced microscopy.

There have been times where the personal challenges I have faced, like finding myself homeless, and adapting to the massive culture difference (where is the decent cheese and chocolate, America?) have caused me to waiver and want to head home. Every time I do, however, I think of what this experience is going to do for me – it will look great on my CV, actively help me get a job and push me above other applicants, and it will help me in my final year project as the skills I will have learnt here are transferrable. This experience has not only aided me academically but personally as well, as living independently in another continent has provided me with the opportunity to learn more about myself and the way I cope with a variety of emotions and challenges.

The ease of travel over here is amazing; I have spent weekends hiking, skiing, sunbathing and exploring new cities. Knowing you can head off at the weekend and forget about things definitely makes the challenges of your placement a lot easier.

I would definitely recommend a placement year abroad to everyone; you learn things you couldn’t possibly learn at university. For instance the real do’s and don’ts of your work environment, a glimpse of a possible career path allowing you to decide whether it is the right path for you, how to integrate into different societies and a different way of life. The skills you pick up will help you for the rest of your life and you become adaptable to any environment – it’s a skill employers crave and they will definitely appreciate the fact that you will uproot your life to gain experience. If you are thinking about going abroad, you should certainly do it.

P.S.: If you think going home for the holidays after 3 months at University is amazing, imagine how you’d feel landing at Heathrow after 5 months in another country (let’s just say it’s the best feeling ever).

By Hannah Rudd