Graduate Highlights of the Year
The past year has been a very successful one for graduate students in the Department of Biochemistry, with them contributing to the department’s numerous achievements and outputs.
OBR seminar attracting wide interest
A notable highlight is a promising new initiative called Oxford Biotechnology Roundtable (OBR), launched largely by students in the department. The idea of Daniel Perez, a student in the department’s Glycobiology Institute, OBR aims to fill the gap between industry and young academic innovators. It has taken a wide-ranging approach towards facilitating academic/industry collaboration, focusing its activities in three areas: education, industry immersion and communication
Interest in the initiative, in Oxford and further afield, is evident: OBR's membership has grown to almost 1500 members from Oxford, Cambridge, London and beyond, with around a fifth coming from industry. It is actively bringing people from different backgrounds together, which, its founders say, is essential to move ideas and innovation to market.
OBR's sights are set wider still. ‘Our goal is to continue to foster this on-campus conversation about innovation between students/postdocs and experienced professionals,’ explains Daniel. ‘We hope to create a pan-UK network of young innovators and pair them with each other and the industry resources to move ideas forward.’
Biochemistry students have excelled in other science-related areas this year. A group of students and young postdocs from the department and elsewhere in the University, led by Biochemistry student David Yadin, won the chance to put together an issue of The Biochemist. The October 2010 issue of the magazine, which is produced by the Biochemical Society, was the fruits of many months of labour.
For the theme of the issue, the group chose epigenetics, a broad and topical research area and one likely to appeal to The Biochemist readers. 'We were enthusiastic about our proposed theme,' says David. 'It's becoming increasingly clear that there are many factors beyond gene sequences that contribute to observed phenotypes. With experts on epigenetics working in Oxford, we also thought it would be a chance to showcase some of their work.'
Several weeks of intense work followed, in which the group secured a critical mass of contributors including several from the Biochemistry Department. This was the first year the competition was run and it attracted an unexpectedly large number of entries. David and his team were delighted to have been chosen as winners, and agree that they learnt a great deal from putting the issue together.
Two regular features of the graduate year are the DPhil Symposium and Poster Exhibition. These events are organised by the Graduate Advisors and provide an opportunity for students to showcase their work and to meet each other.
Some of ‘The Biochemist’ winning team outside the department
The Symposium takes place during induction week for new graduates and talks are selected from third or final year students to be representative of the 5 Research Laboratories into which the departmental research groups are organised. The event provides the new DPhil students with an introduction to research in the department and its breadth and scope. Last year 2 prizes were awarded: the Lloyd Stocken Prize (generously provided by Dr Margery Ord) and the Biochemical Society Award. June’s Poster Exhibition, organised for students in their 2nd or 3rd year and held in New Biochemistry, is open to all departmental members and sponsors, who have included OSI Prosideon, GlaxoSKB, Oxford Glycosciences and The Oxford Science Park.
The Oxford University Biochemistry Society (OUBS), the student-run society that aims to promote biochemistry at all levels across the University, has had a busy year. Continuing with a seminar series that brings in world-leading UK and international researchers, it has welcomed speakers from a range of institutions including the Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts and the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht.
This year has seen the establishment of the Micron Advanced Imaging Unit, a new facility offering state-of-the-art, super-resolution microscopy and related technologies (http://www.micronoxford.com). Located within the Biochemistry department and the Dunn School of Pathology, the facility boasts a number of microscopes which researchers can use for imaging with a range of different techniques.
Graduate students are taking advantage of courses taught by Micron staff and others. A three-day training course in the Spring covers optical microscopy from first principles to a range of cutting-edge techniques. It aims to give attendees a basic grounding in the subject and an overview of advanced techniques. There is also a practical course to teach basic microscopy which will be expanded next year to a much wider group of students thanks to the acquisition of new teaching microscopes.
The super-resolution OMX imaging system based at the Micron Unit which opened earlier this year
Optical imaging is such a crucial technique in modern research that most projects involve imaging at some level. More than half of incoming students attend the courses and find that their grounding in the basics and knowledge of the advanced techniques available, assist them with imaging within their research groups and in Micron.
Biochemistry undergraduates have made their mark at conferences over the past year. Successes include Oliver Zeldin, an EPSRC-funded graduate student in Professor Elspeth Garman's group who won a prize for the best Young Crystallographer’s talk at the British Crystallographic Association Spring meeting in Keele.
Hayley Lees, a first year graduate student with Drs Alison Woollard and Lynn Cox who is funded by Research into Ageing,won first prize in the Physiology poster competition at the International C. elegans meeting in Los Angeles attended by 1600 participants. Her poster described how she has used C. elegans as a new model system for the study of the premature ageing Werner syndrome.
Through the generous donation of Daniel E. Koshland, a Guggenheim Fellow in Oxford in 1972, nine students this year have been able to attend conferences around the world including in Ireland, Colorado and Budapest.
Daniel E. Koshland Jnr (1920-2007), who established the Biochemistry Postgraduate Conference Fund, spent some time in the department working with Lord David Phillips. He discovered that proteins have the ability to reshape themselves depending upon which enzyme they encounter. He later served as Editor of Science from 1985-1995.
Another departmental graduate fund, the Colin Sanders Scholarship, has also supported students this year, helping one to remain in the UK so that she could undertake additional experiments to complete a paper – something that would otherwise not have been possible.
Finally, one student in the department discovered first-hand how science might be used outside the lab. Claire Chivers won a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council placement at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and enjoyed 3 months working on science policy in her final DPhil year.