"It offered hands-on experience, whilst also providing the opportunity to discover another country and culture in Europe, not merely as a tourist but giving real-life experience and networking opportunities."
Study abroad locationCBMSO research institute in Madrid, Spain
What subject did you study at the University of Surrey and what year did you graduate?
I studied for a BSc (Hons) Microbiology, graduating in 2012
What were the best things about your course?
It was very practically orientated, which is very important for a future job in a lab, and it covered a broad range of topics, allowing graduates to go into a wide variety of fields, such as medical or environmental research, drug or food production.
Why did you decide to take an Erasmus study/work abroad exchange?
It offered hands-on experience, whilst also providing the opportunity to discover another country and culture in Europe, not merely as a tourist but giving real-life experience and networking opportunities.
Where did you go and what did you do on the Erasmus scheme?
I went to Madrid, Spain, and worked at the CBMSO research institute studying the foot and mouth disease virus.
How did your Erasmus experience help you develop personally or professionally during your time as a Surrey student, and has this influenced your choice of career?
The 8-months working in an actual research lab were very different from the short practical sessions I had had at Surrey so far. It made me a much more independent young researcher and gave me a variety of very useful practical skills, which I could put to good use in my final year project.
Without the research skills I developed (certain laboratory techniques, but also just independent research) I would not have achieved my grade of >90 per cent in my BSc dissertation. Also, several years on and I am still in touch with the research group leader and we have published a paper on the findings generated during my time there.
What do you do now and what do you find most enjoyable about your line of work?
After my BSc I went on to do a PhD at the University of Bath, working on metabolically engineering compost bacteria for bioethanol production. I just finished it earlier this year and am now working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Bristol studying antimicrobial resistance mechanisms and antibiotics. I really enjoy working in the lab and being part of an international community of scientists furthering people's health and wellbeing.
How can students hoping to work in your profession make the most of their time at Surrey?
Wet lab research is all about hands-on skills and experience, so talk to your tutor and look for opportunities to develop these - be it workshops, placements, internships etc.
I did several laboratory summer internships while I was a Surrey, with my tutor and in analytical labs in Germany, as well as my Erasmus placement year. This allowed me to develop my skills so that my final year research project was very successful. I even got to present it at a Society for General Microbiology conference in front of a big room of academics from all over the UK and further afield, including my PhD supervisor.
What would your comments be on the value of Erasmus to future generations?
I think it is incredibly valuable. It was an amazing experience and the financial support was greatly appreciated as it was an unpaid placement, unlike a lot of the UK placements. Like I mentioned, I learnt an incredible amount about Spain and what it is like to be a researcher and I am still in touch with my supervisor in Madrid.
Do you have any specific advice you would you give to current students thinking about an Erasmus study or work abroad placement?
Do it. Try to learn some of the language before you go and do some research on the culture. Although saying that, I didn't have a lot of time to prepare for living in Spain and English (which is not my mother tongue, German is) did get me quite far. And get involved, not only with the local countrymen and women, but also with Erasmus clubs/societies if available, and enjoy their trips and activities to see more of the country you are in.