Mentoring young people at the start of their careers in science and medicine

11 Feb 2023, 8 a.m.

Pipettes, papers and 96-well plates sit on a lab bench. The 96-well plates contain coloured liquids in different patterns

In August 2022, the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (UCL GOS ICH) opened its laboratory doors for three days to invite members of the GOSH Young Persons’ Advisory Group for research (YPAG) to shadow researcher Merry Wilkinson.

Read on to hear more from Merry and Hannah, GOSH YPAG member, on what the experience meant to them.

Meet Merry

A brown-haired woman with a plait in a stripy jumper

Dr Merry Wilkinson

Who inspired you to pursue a career that is based on science?

I have 7 doctors in my family! From a young age it was suggested that medicine was a good career choice. I was able to do quite a lot of work experience before my application to medical school. This included hospital, general practice, and community care in a spectrum of specialities. I went to Norwich medical school and was very fortunate to be inducted into the world of research science by my immunology lecturer. After 4 of 6 years at medical school I changed career path and pursued immunology research thanks to his help. I remain in contact with my immunology lecturer to this day and he is my main inspiration for my research.

What do you like most about your role?

Being able to work through a pathway from question, problem solving and answer. My role as a research scientist is extremely varied and rewarding.

Tell us a little bit more about the work experience you offer

It was my great pleasure to host GOSH YPAG member Hannah for three days. I work as part of Professor Lucy Wedderburn’s laboratory group, and I was able to involve many members of my group during the three days. The group spans from Research Co-ordinators and Research Assistants, Managers, PhD students, Clinical fellows, Post Doctorates and Principal Investigators. Across these roles we provided lots of different sessions introducing research, cohort studies, sample collection, medical school application, being a doctor, experiments, and laboratory experience.

What other things can be done to encourage girls to take up science as a career?

My laboratory group works as part of the Centre for Adolescent Rheumatology which has many Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement initiatives that include laboratory days and talking to sixth form students. I think we need to provide more outreach from female scientists. We are unable to go into every school in the country, but we can create social media communities, resources, and open events.

What would you say to girls who are thinking about a career in science? What advice would you give them?

Science is vast and can be very daunting, but you can find your niche. Be brave and reach out to others. Talk to teachers, friends, family, school alumni. Contact universities and potentially companies when at GCSE level to see if they can provide any advice, information or are holding outreach events. Find accurate resources online, check with teachers.

Read about some of Merry’s recent research.

Hannah's story

Hannah in a white t-shirt looks down a microscope in a busy lab

Hannah, GOSH YPAG member, during her time in Merry's lab

What made you want to join GOSH YPAG?

When I learnt about GOSH YPAG while being a patient at the hospital, I wanted to join the group to further explore my interest in science. I was keen to learn more about how medical research works and use my experiences as a patient to contribute to GOSH YPAG’s work in giving feedback to researchers.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in medicine, has being on GOSH YPAG helped with that?

I have been considering a career in healthcare since secondary school following my own experiences as a patient, but GOSH YPAG has really helped me decide that I want to study medicine. Taking part in online meetings and projects has inspired me to pursue a career in medicine and given me the confidence and skills to do this. For example, I had this opportunity to take part in work experience, and I was able to learn about how doctors can be involved with academic research and its translation into clinical practice.

What would you say to girls who are thinking about a career in science? What advice would you give them?

Explore further the areas of science that interest you. Join groups like GOSH YPAG or take part in events as these are great ways to meet other people with similar interests to you and can provide you with opportunities to meet professionals working within science, giving you an insight into possible careers.

A researcher wearing a blue lab coat sits at a lab hood while Hannah, wearing a white t-shirt, and another GOSH YPAG member, in a yellow t-shirt, watch on

Hannah and another member of GOSH YPAG observe a researcher working in the lab as part of their shadowing experience

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