Alex van der Wateren is authoring a feature series finding out more about the Biomakespace members! In this second entry of the series, we learn more about James Sanders, who has been an intern at the space.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am about to go into my 4rd year at the university of Glasgow where I am studying genetics. In high school I took all the sciences for Highers (Scottish equivalent to A-levels) in addition to English and math. I am very interested in how DNA works: how you go from DNA to an organism. I had a good biology teacher, so it kind of went from there. I always liked the molecular side of biology, so I followed that interest. At school I thought for a while to perhaps go into medicine, but the constant human interaction of being a doctor doesn’t suit my interests that well. I would eventually like to go into plant science, specifically the improvement of crops. I want to go into crop development because I think food security is going to be an increasingly important issue as the population grows, and I think we now have sufficient tools at our disposal to make crop-engineering advances.
Q: How did you find out about Biomakespace, and why did you decide to want to intern?
I was reading an article in the Biologist on biohackers, and from there on I researched these spaces in the UK. I was hoping there would be one in Scotland, ideally around Glasgow, but sadly there weren’t any. I looked a bit further afield and came across Biomakespace. On the site I saw their advert for an intern, so I applied! This was only three days before the deadline, so a real coincidence. My internship here is eight weeks, and I am right now already in my sixth week.
Q: What do you hope to gain from being an intern?
Obviously, the idea of Biomakespace sounded interesting, and I wanted to gain some first-hand experience in synthetic biology/biotechnology. I am also keen to get lab experience away from a university environment so I will be better prepared for my final-year project.
Q: What are your tasks/responsibilities during your internship?
At the moment I am almost six weeks in. I have mainly been working on Jenny’s project on open-source enzyme production. At the same time, I’ve been helping organise the space by creating presentation slides, cleaning out the lab etc. We’ve also been stocking the lab with reagents and equipment for transformation and sub-cloning, so that’s been really insightful.
Q: Do you have any skills, knowledge, or expertise to contribute to the community?
Right now I’d say I am gaining more than I am giving in terms of a skill set because I am still working on my first degree. However, I can run the experiments I’ve planned and can perform most standard biological techniques. I also keep the other intern, Yanbo, company!
Q: How has your experience been so far?
It’s been a great experience—it’s flown by! I thought I’d get a lot more done than I have done, but that might be because I didn’t run a project like this before. My expectation of what I could get done at the start was probably too high. I would love to be able to work on this project for longer since it’s been such a good experience. I’ve definitely gotten to grips more with background lab work that you usually don’t see in a teaching lab, such as COSHH forms for various protocols. I’ve also learned a bit more on what goes into the chemical reactions that are part of our experiments. Moreover, I feel I worked more independently compared to practicals in a teaching lab. I found that when you first perform a type of experiment, it seems harder, but as you run the same techniques more often, you almost do it without thinking. This experience will hopefully help me to hit the ground running in my final-year project in the next academic year.
Q: What are you going to do after you’ve completed your internship?
After this internship I will go on to finish my degree, and I am currently looking at Master programmes in synthetic biology.