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Matthew Herdman

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My Story
Matthew Herdman

BSc Microbiology with Professional Studies

DPhil at The University of Oxford

Where are you now?

I am currently finishing up my undergraduate degree and working toward that 1st. I was able to work my way into the Wellcome-Wolfson Centre for Experimental Medicine for my honours project, a compulsory element of the degree all students undertake. A lot of my work is with emerging and opportunistic pathogens, trying to uncover the many ways in which they evade killing by antibiotics and our own immune system. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to carry out original research at the boundary between core biology and clinical research.

 

After my undergraduate degree is completed and I finish up my research project at the centre, I’m looking forward to making the move to the University of Oxford where I have accepted a place in a DPhil programme. My industry placement and research project reinforced the idea that a PhD was for me, and I was happy to be able to use my experience so far to land a place on a very competitive programme.

How did you get there?

When I started at Queen’s, I had very little idea of what I wanted out of a career. I considered becoming a scientist in the NHS, working in large pharmaceuticals, or becoming a technician.

 

The first changing point for my development was the workplace tour run by the school of biological science, which I attended at the end of my first year. We were given a tour and were able to talk to scientists from a variety of backgrounds. Many had years of academic experience while others had spent their time after graduation excelling in industry. Being able to talk with people who had been so successful in the field was really reassuring. It was definitely an eye opening experience.

 

After the tour I took some initiative to bolster my CV, using tips and advice I picked up from the alumni I talked with. I took courses in clinical and manufacturing practice (GCP and GMP) to understand the industry field better and gain additional qualification. I became a student representative for my course to show that I was willing to take on additional responsibility and enact changes in my course.

 

My biggest take away from the tour was that if I wanted to compete, I needed more practical experience. Thankfully, the School offers placement routes for almost all of their degree pathways and encouraged me to convert from a standard BSc to one with a year-long professional studies module. Applying to placements was intense and often disappointing, but I was finally able to obtain an industry placement in a small biotechnology company called Immunocore.

 

The Oxford-based company gave me ample opportunities to learn about protein engineering, immunotherapeutics, and cancer biology. I learned to use techniques and machinery that I had never heard of, giving me a very competitive edge on my CV. I got a level of confidence in the lab I never would have achieved otherwise.

 

Just as important were the personal connections I made. Immunocore employed academics from all over the world with varied backgrounds, all of whom were happy to give me advice and lend a hand. I made friendships, met reliable networking connections, and now have several references to add to my CV. At the end of it all, I decided that, like many of my colleagues, a PhD was the next step in my career. The experience I gained on my placement allowed me to skip the MSc step a lot of BSc students require and make my way directly onto a doctoral programme.

 

Making use of Careers, Employability and Skills at Queen’s

The careers department at Queen’s was incredibly helpful throughout my undergrad. I can easily say I wouldn’t be on this path without their guidance and the opportunities they provided me. From arranging the workplace tour, regular information events, providing key networking contacts, and CV help, careers at Queen’s gave me all the tools I needed to go out applying in the real world.

 

The careers department regularly updates students with opportunities for development, and my experience only reflects a handful of them. The university really puts in the effort required to help its students surpass their own expectations.

Advice for current Queen’s students

Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given while at University! If you have a chance to do a placement, do it! Nothing beats getting into a lab and figuring out how biology is actually used in real life.

 

At the end of the day we’re all leaving with a degree, some better than others, but what really sets us apart is our drive and our commitment to science. Queen’s will offer you so many chances to improve both your employability and your student experience, and it’s up to you to get involved.

 

Finally I’d like to give you some advice that was given to me by a former Professor. Don’t think you can’t compete. Queen’s has a reputation for being focused on student development, reflected in the modules you’ll undertake and the career guidance you’ll receive. It’s easy to feel inadequate when you’re competing with graduates of “bigger name” universities, but at the end of the day what matters is the student. All it takes is some confidence and all those limitation you thought were an issue will disappear.

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