What Alex Pool did with his prize money…

Alex was voted the winner of the Europium Zone in November 2014. Here he writes about donating his £500 prize money to the Barts Cancer Institute to train aspiring research scientists.

If you’d like the chance to win funding for your own public engagement work, apply for the next I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here: imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply


When I first entered I’m a Scientist I had already decided, if I won, that I would donate the money to the Barts Cancer Institute Science Training for Aspriring Research Scientists (BCI STARS). The STARS project is a scheme that everyone here at BCI is very proud of, and I wanted to do my small bit in supporting that. Having been asked by a lot of the children during the competition what I was planning to do with the money they all thought the scheme was brilliant and wished they had their own local version.

 From John Marshall – head of STARS programme the money was donated to…

BCI STARS- A programme to introduce school students to scientific research and to train PhD students in science communication.

In 2014, a group of Year 13 students from schools that historically had had relatively poor progression to university for their students, joined PhD students at Barts Cancer Institute, part of Queen Mary University of London, for the first Science Training for Aspiring Research Scientists (STARS) programme.  In small groups the students had a full-time one week tuition in basic cell and molecular biology techniques taught to them by PhD students. Thus students learned:

  • How to correctly use micro-pipettes and automatic pipette guns
  • Sterile tissue culture of cancer cells
  • Biochemical analysis of cancer cells using SDS-PAGE and western blotting
  • How to label biomarkers in cancer tissue using immunochemistry and analysis by microscopy
  • How to purify, analyse and clone DNA
  • How to run polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) of cheek cell DNA

Photo: BCI STARS

In addition the PhD students learned the type of language that is required to describe the scientific bases of techniques they use on a daily basis. The programme does cost money and for the first year we could not find any funding.  Thus I was thrilled when one of BCI’s PhD student’s, Alex Rhys, donated his £500 prize that he had won from I’m a Scientist, get me out of here which helped enormously to cover costs.

The experience of both the students and the PhD demonstrators (now referred to as DEMONS) was extremely positive and encouraged the continuation of the programme which now has had two dozen Year 12 students in both 2015 and 2016 and about 35 different PhD students participating. All the school students are identified by the charity ACCESS Work Placements who work directly with schools to give students a real work experience. A very exciting development is that two new STARS programmes, the Blizard STARS (also at Queen Mary University, run by Dr Cleo Bishop) and King’s STARS (at Kings College London, run by Professor Maddy Parsons) started in 2016 also with great success and we are keen for other institutions to develop their own STARS programmes. Thus Alex’s initial generous gift has helped make this happen and I remain extremely grateful to him for his generosity.

Photo: BCI STARS

All of those students from our first cohort who replied to our enquiries entered their first choice university. The courses included medicine, dentistry, physics, biomedical sciences and mining. STARS was a subject of discussion at the university interviews so we hope their experience helped in their success. Below are comments from several students taken directly from their feedback forms.  More information and photographs of our STARS programme can be found here. Contact me if you are interested in starting a programme at your university.

Students’ feedback on their experience of STARS

“ I hoped to gain more information on research science and also learn one of the basic skills needed to carry out the experiments, and this course has covered every expectation I had before starting”

“Speaking to the PhD students was really useful-treated me like an equal which helped me gain knowledge and confidence”

“I’ve thought research science was boring but after the programme I started to like research science as you get to work on your own projects and be independent and I’ve got to know that I actually like working in (a) laboratory”

“It made me realize that I can go to any university I like and I can do the course that I want to do”

“Whiteboard explanation sessions were really good and gave a sort of “school explanation”- a format we are used to and helped in understanding more”

 “Do you have any feedback on the teaching approaches used?” “Continue! Enjoyed every bit of it. I wish I could join again. Thank you.”

Posted on July 11, 2018 by modem in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports. Comments Off on What Alex Pool did with his prize money…