March 5, 2020, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

A breath of fresh air

This week we hear from Alexander Pritchard, a researcher in the Graduate School managed BBSRC Doctoral Training Centre, about his Professional Internship Placement (PIP).

Alex Pritchard

The main target of my placement was to gain experience in a different lab environment with a completely different focus. The second goal for me was to do a placement in a different country to see how I would fair living away from my family, so it’s pretty incredible that I got the opportunity to spend my time in Macquarie University, Sydney. The lab dynamic was a breath of fresh air to say the least. It was completely different to anything I’d experienced having spent all of my undergraduate and postgraduate time at the University of Nottingham. The lab was focused on evolutionary genetics in environmental microorganisms looking at the turn over of gene cassettes from various different areas.

I arrived at the lab two days after landing in the country, very jet lagged but ready to learn. The area I would be working on was optimising a relatively novel PCR technique called epicPCR. I was introduced to the group by my new supervisor Distinguished Professor Michael Gillings. They were all very welcoming and enthused to work with me on this new and exciting project, which is just what I needed to reset my brain and think about something other than my own ongoing PhD project. The team had a very open policy to sharing problems and approaches to each other’s projects which made the experience really healthy as I was able to learn about other research areas as well as see different ways to improve various methods.

The first two weeks entailed gaining more understanding of the epicPCR technique by literature review, allowing me to find tips on optimisation for different steps of the methods, and breaking the project down into manageable chunks, which proved incredibly useful down the line. This time also allowed me to get over the jet lag and settle in to the Australian lifestyle, which is very much for me!


In the third week I presented to the group my own PhD work so they could gain more understanding on my background which proved very useful to me as I received great feedback which in turn has allowed me to develop the rest of my thesis plan and form the experiments I want to perform in the lab over the remaining time on my BBSRC DTP. Presenting to a non-European audience proved very helpful as I found that in general their approaches to scientific problems were completely different, which I hope will have rubbed off on me and given me fresh motivation for my own research.

The project progressed well and we got the method to work on an environmental soil sample, which was great to see. Unfortunately however, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to sequence the data collected (which would have been amazing as I could have given a lot more to that and hopefully spread some of my own knowledge in long read MinION sequencing).

Overall, I feel the placement was incredibly positive and rather successful. I gained a lot of knowledge on a new technique which has given me some good ideas for application to my own work down the line and I was also able to give them help with troubleshooting and getting the best out of their sequencing by MinION something which I have good experience with from my own work. The placement has also shown that I would be very comfortable working in a new country and that whilst I didn’t think I could live in a city and enjoy it, I was wrong. I met some great people in the lab which has given me an option to hopefully return or maybe collaborate in the future. Putting this placement to the test has been eye opening, I think research as a post doc could be for me, but I have more of an idea in what I would be interested in further down the line.

If you’re a student interested in doing a postgraduate placement visit our webpage for more information, or check out current opportunities at the Placements Portal.

Posted in Placements