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Babraham Bioscience Boot Camp inspires a new generation

28 July 2011

The Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, ran a Bioscience Bootcamp last week, enlisting twenty eager 6th formers from around the region for a unique learning experience and insight into the world of research. Established in 2007, this innovative one-week programme provides students with hands-on research experience and chance to engage with role models in science-based professions from academia to early-stage bioscience companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Babraham Institute Boot Camp group 2011. Copyright: Babraham Institute

Babraham Institute Boot Camp group 2011.
© Babraham Institute

Students were selected from Hills Road Sixth Form College, Long Road Sixth Form College, Netherhall Sixth Form, CATS, The Simon Balle School, Hertford and The Robert Smyth School, Leicester with students from Saffron Walden County High School and Impington College joining parts of the programme.

Boot Camp aims to give students an unrivalled insight into bioscience research through short research placements, talks from Babraham's researchers, careers discussions and a workshop - led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's education team - exploring the social and ethical issues associated with stem cell research.

"A new dimension was developed for Boot Camp this year by partnering with a biotech company (Immunobiology Ltd) at our campus and Napp Pharmaceuticals Ltd, to illustrate how scientific discoveries are translated into commercial reality and new therapies are brought from bench to bedside," explained Boot Camp creator Dr Claire Cockcroft, Head of External Relations at the Babraham Institute.

"This year's programme has successfully brought together organisations from different sectors to share their knowledge of scientific breakthroughs, research in industry and careers to help young people make more informed decisions about their futures. It demonstrates the collaborative nature of public engagement events in Cambridge and our commitment to science education and skills training."

Louise Matheson (right) with student. Copyright: Babraham Institute

Louise Matheson (right), a PhD student at the Babraham who led one of the research projects said, "It was an enjoyable experience and great to see some enthusiastic students really engage with the project, as well as gaining some insight into what it's like to work in scientific research.
© Babraham Institute

The students were immersed in a variety of research projects ranging from lab-based projects investigating the immune system and cell signalling pathways to a computer-based cognitive neuroscience project analysing how people respond to emotional cues and facial expressions, which has relevance to understanding autism.

One lab project was organised by Dr Simon Rudge and Kate Champion who was herself a summer student at the Institute last year. "The Boot Camp was beneficial not only for the students but also for me, as a peer mentor. It was very rewarding for me to be able to share my knowledge of laboratory techniques and my passion for the supporting theoretical background," explained Kate.

"This wonderful opportunity to gain insight into a working research lab is especially important during year 12 as the students are making critical decisions about university and future careers. Having had the same decisions to make a year ago, the students were keen to hear my perspective on university courses and career paths. I was inspired to pursue biomedical research as a career by my placement last summer at the Babraham and I hope the Boot Camp has inspired them as well. I am glad I was able to be part of this worthwhile programme."

Boot Camp appears to have had the desired effect. Lisa Cassidy, from The Robert Smyth School in Leicester said, "The boot camp really met, if not, exceeded my expectation and I was amazed by just how much I learnt in a week. It really raised my awareness about the future of bioscience, its use, different topics of research and how to get there; it has helped me to make decisions about the career I'm going to pursue. Boot camp was a truly inspiring experience packed full of knowledge and practical hands-on projects in the labs. I really didn't want to go home on my last day!"

Students at ImBio. Copyright: Babraham Institute

Students at ImBio.
© Babraham Institute

Responding to some of the applicants' desire to find out about careers in industry, projects and presentations were organised to include both institute researchers and companies at the Babraham Campus. Immunobiology Ltd was keen to get involved and designed a project that gave an excellent insight into the research and commercial challenges for an early-stage company developing the next generation of vaccines. Ben Taylor of Hills Road 6th Form College who took part in this project said, "Boot Camp has been really helpful informing my career decisions and has helped me gain a better understanding of work in a science facility". The experience had made another participant, "want to do a PhD."

Ian Harvey, Head of Biology at Hills Road 6th Form College, who attended the team presentations at the end of the week said, "Boot Camp provides a great opportunity for my A level biologists to extend their experience well beyond the syllabus and to work with and learn from practicing scientists in a real research environment. The knowledge and insight they gain will be invaluable in guiding and supporting their university application and maybe whet their appetite for a research career in the future. The Boot Camp enables students from different colleges to work effectively in teams and to hone their presentation skills by explaining their project work and findings to other students. My students have participated in Boot Camp since its inception and unfailingly come away full of enthusiasm for the experience and I will be sending more in 2012!

Throughout the week, the students got to hear about some of the research at the Babraham Institute, which is generating new knowledge of the biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. This included talks about epigenetics, ageing in the nervous system, cancer and Professor Keith Kendrick, who supervised nine of the Boot Camp students, fuelled students' curiosity with a talk entitled 'pushing back the frontiers in neuroscience'. This explored some of the current and future advances in neuroscience which will help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and aid recovery from acute or progressive brain damage. Dr Elaine McCash of Rapid Biosensor Systems Ltd, located at Babraham, explained how the company was tackling the global threat of tuberculosis with their innovative rapid screening system.

Facilities tour at Napp. Copyright: Babraham Institute

Facilities tour at Napp.
© Babraham Institute

While visiting Napp Pharmaceuticals the students heard about innovations in the treatment of pain, took part in a workshop analysing information from a fictional clinical trial and toured the facilities, getting a behind the scenes insight into how pharmaceuticals are produced. Dr Jo Montgomery, Napp's Science Ambassador Scheme Coordinator said, "Students attended a one-day workshop at Napp on clinical trials and the Industry perspective of careers and drug development. This is part of our ongoing commitment to encouraging and inspiring the next generation of scientists through Napp's Science Ambassador Scheme."

Dr Cockcroft added, "Talking with the students, Boot Camp appears to have been helpful in opening their eyes to the different realms of bioscience research, from academia to entrepreneurs in early-stage start-ups and Pharma. Informally chatting with PhD students and undergraduates conducting summer research projects has also helped to inform their decisions about University courses and potential career path. Working together in teams with inspiring scientists, students get to experience real research and its challenges at first hand while also learning about each other, gaining important communication and teamwork skills, which are essential for any scientist."

Four years downstream, the Boot Camp students of 2007 are nearing the end of their degrees and contemplating their futures. Former Long Road student, Joanna Durkin said, "Boot Camp really helped cement my desire to go into practical science and I am currently in my final year of my Biomedical Science degree at the University of Sheffield, which I love."Last summer I undertook a Wellcome Trust funded research project studying prostate cancer at Sheffield's Medical School which was really exciting. Having already seen the research environment at Babraham, it was a lot less daunting when I started! My ultimate plan is to do a PhD in the area of cancer cell biology. The experience provided at Boot Camp was incredibly helpful in pushing me towards where I am today."


Notes to editors

Further photos on request: attachments include group photos and lab projects

About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute is a life sciences research organisation near Cambridge, undertaking international quality life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. It receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The Institute's research is focused on understanding the biological events that underlie the normal functions of cells and the implication of failure or abnormalities in these processes. Research focuses on signalling and genome regulation, particularly the interplay between the two and how epigenetic signals can influence important physiological adaptations during the lifespan of an organism. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and healthier ageing. For more information visit:


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Claire Cockcroft, Head of External Relations, Babraham Institute

tel: 01223 496260
mob: 07786 335978