The Passionflash competition invaded the thoughts of many students here at Salford, with incredible prizes of up to £250 in Amazon vouchers per year group, funded by the Salford Community for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. Students from the School of Science, Environment and Engineering auditioned with a 2-minute Ted talk style video on a topic they were passionate about. Of the 30 auditions, just 18 were selected to go through to the finals – what a tough call for the judges! The finals took place on the 28th April 2021 as an exciting online event, allowing both student and staff to make the best out of a strange period in university life.
PassionFlash is likely to become an annual event that allows for development of a huge variety of skills. For more updates on opportunities like this, follow BiomedSoc on twitter @SocBiomed.
Public Vote winner
Aksa Ghulam stole the public vote with her dazzling transformation into an anatomically accurate human heart while sharing her personal story of spending her first days with a ventricular heart defect.
The Biomedicine society launched its very own book club! If you’re not already a member, it’s never too late to join. When you join the Biomedicinee society, you’ll be added to our Microsoft Teams page, where you will see all the updates about events!
Every month we will read and discuss a new book! This is a great chance to explore new ideas, ways of writing, and read books you might not have read otherwise. We might discuss controversial topics such as ethics and express our individual opinions. Being a student is a stressful experience (as we are sure you’ll know!) so reading is a great chance to have some much-needed downtime and lose yourself in a book! These fun and informal sessions are the perfect opportunity for you to meet like-minded people and explore exciting new books!
Our next book club meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams to discuss Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Keep up with our MS Teams page to find out the date of the meeting!
The book addresses end-of-life care, hospice care, and also contains Gawande’s reflections and personal stories. Being Mortal reveals the suffering this dynamic has produced. Nursing homes, devoted above all to safety, battle with residents over the food they are allowed to eat and the choices they are allowed to make. Doctors, uncomfortable discussing patients’ anxieties about death, fall back on false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them.
The ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end.
Suppose you haven’t already joined the Biomed soc. In that case, you can do this by going onto the student union website, searching for ‘Biomed society’ and filling out your membership form! Once you’re part of the Biomed Society, you will be able to access these monthly meetings. Get ready for some discussion, debate and reflection! We hope to see you soon!
With a great finish to trimester 1 and 2, students have organised some extraordinary and enjoyable socials in such a short time span. The excellent collaboration between students and teaching staff have brought about several exhilarating events since the last issue of the magazine. New developments of the society have thrived rapidly by the remarkable efforts of the Biomed Soc!
The trimester one launch event brought about the true motivation and hard work from the inspirational community of the biomedicine society which initiated further successful events. Shortly after, at the Xmas Extravaganza event students and staff came together once more – and we even had our Alumni Danny Gaskin join the festive fun whilst also sharing his career story. The hard work and determination of everyone’s contributions was celebrated with lots of fun, games, and positivity throughout. Achievements were celebrated with an array of entertaining stories, a festive quiz, a scientific adventure, Christmas bingo, origami and even some exercise! The unforgettable joyful atmosphere was enjoyed with great attendance- it was a shame we were not all gathered in Santa’s grotto!
Another recent event which took place was the Bioemd Soc spring social, where students had a chance to unwind with an origami session, played entertaining games like Among Us and Pictionary, and made some amazing memories! We want to offer a warm invitation to all students to come along to one of our socials – join our welcoming and friendly group! Everyone is most welcome! You will get the opportunity to make new friends, have fun and be part of a community. You do not need to travel anywhere too, so you can enjoy the advantages of being in the comfort of your own home or accommodation!
There are plans to get involved with raising money for charitable organisations, and students are planning on even designing an online Etsy store to sell handmade items and artwork pieces. This work will be funded by the Salford Advantage fund.
New exercise classes will be starting up soon, so why not join in? “I don’t think limits”, an inspirational quote from Usain Bolt may persuade you to give it a go! Broaden your horizons! We really do have something for everyone!
We have numerous ideas and several student-led events coming up in the pipeline for you to be involved in.
We are open to new ideas and feedback! We encourage you to actively contribute to these socials and get involved with the student community – other students have given us really positive feedback and had the opportunity to make friends despite not attending classes this year, and we think it’s important to remember that you won’t get this time back – so don’t waste it.
Our next social is May/June celebrating the end of trimester 2, and for most, the academic year. Look out for the poster!
Autistic people are 7.55 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Abbie Storan explores the evidence that this devastating statistic has roots in biology.
By Abbie Storan
This article may be distressing for some readers due to its themes of suicide. If you are feeling suicidal, please visit here for help.
Around 800,000 people lose their lives to suicide each year. The World Health Organisation propose that for every person lost to suicide, there will be 20 more attempting suicide. Autistic people are 7.55 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Approximately 1% of the population is Autistic, but many will remain undiagnosed1.
When you consider a relationship between Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Mental Illness, and Suicide you will not fall short for evidence relating to the psychological nature of their connection, such as the JAMA network report published this January, which states that Autistic people have a “more than 3-fold higher rate of suicide attempt and suicide than neurotypical individuals, and that over 90% of people with ASD who attempted or died by suicide had another comorbid mental health condition2. But what if we want to go deeper? Can we establish a biological explanation for why Autistic people are at such an exaggerated risk of mental illness, suicidal ideation, and death from suicide compared to the Neurotypical population?
What is Autism?
Autistic Spectrum Disorder [ASD] is a neurodevelopmental condition which affects how a person experiences the world around them, how they perceive others, and the way in which they communicate. With ASD, everything is different, and everyone is different. Due to the phenotypic heterogeneity as well as the accompanying differences in things like brain connectivity, it has been extremely hard for research to completely describe ASD neurobiology. However, promising progress is being made with identifying the molecular pathways underpinning ASD3. With the increasing success in neuroimaging data and genetic analysis, it is likely we could see breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of ASD and co-morbidities in the future.
Before exploring the biology of ASD and Suicide, we should make note of the psychiatric evidence for relationships between ASD and Mental Illness. In 2017 AUTISTICA – the UK’s leading Autism research charity – partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Alliance. They produced a report wherein it was mentioned that depression is present in 30-50% of adults with Autism4. Meanwhile in a meta-analysis of 21,797 Autistic participants, 11.8% of were also diagnosed with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders5. Another large-scale meta-analysis of 26,070 people with ASD reported that the prevalence of co-morbid Anxiety Disorders was 42%. This same study also reported the lifetime prevalence of OCD within participants was 22%6.
In the UK there are approximately 500,000 adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Eight in ten of these adults will also suffer from mental illness7.From a study of 374 adults with ASD researchers found that 66% had experienced suicidal thoughts, and 35% had attempted suicide1.
Genetic links between Mental illness and Autism
Thanks to a fascinating review of genetic associations with psychiatric disorders, from Andrade et al, we can now outline a direct biological relationship between ASD, Depression and Anxiety. This connection is facilitated by the dysfunction of genes encoding voltage-gated calcium channels (CaVs). CaV1.2 and CaV1.3 encourage neuronal firing and also couple excitation to gene expression; studies show this activity is linked to a number of psychiatric disorders. In particular CaV1.3 is encoded by CACNA1D genes, which have been associated with conditions such as ASD, Major Depressive Disorder, Schizophrenia, ADHD, and Bipolar Disorder. Andrade et al report that, “The non-coding SNP rs893363, located in the 3’ UTR of CACNA1D and the putative promoter region of the choline dehydrogenase gene was found in a genome-wide analysis of these five major psychiatric disorders”8.
We can go on to consider the roles of Cortisol and the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA) in relation to Autism and Suicide. Cortisol is colloquially referred to as the ‘stress hormone’, stress is a known biological and psychological response to experiencing threatening stimuli. The effect of acute stress is the Fight or Flight response, wherein the Hypothalamus stimulates the adrenal medulla to secrete adrenaline – which decreases activity of the parasympathetic nervous system while increasing activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Meanwhile chronic stress is regulated by the HPA axis9. Secretion of cortisol is controlled by actions of the paraventricular nuclei in the hypothalamus. Those nuclei secrete Corticotrophin-Releasing Factor to the pituitary, leading to the release of Adrenocorticotropic hormone into the bloodstream which stimulates cortisol synthesis and release from the adrenal glands. The HPA axis is under direct circadian regulation by the hypothalamic body clock, leading to diurnal rhythms in all components including cortisol10.
Many studies on post-mortem brain samples from neurotypical people who died by suicide, and those who died by other means have highlighted higher concentrations of corticotropin-releasing hormone12; suggesting that people who commit suicide biologically possess higher levels of cortisol, thus higher levels of stress. This has been supported by a particularly interesting study by McGowan et al in 2009, outlining the direct role of the HPA axis in suicide. From observations of the hypothalamus in people who died from suicide they found evidence of hypermyelination as well as reduced expression of the NR3C1 gene – a glucocorticoid receptor responsible for weakening cortisol signalling – compared to their control group of people who had died by other means. Their work also revealed that early-life adversity can have lifelong detrimental effects on function of the HPA axis13.Autistic children are 63% more likely to suffer from bullying than neurotypical children; wider research confirms that 16.6-18% of Autistic children are physically or sexually abused14, and that autistic children are over 2.5 times more likely to be reported to child protection services for abuse15. So how is this relevant to ASD? The Diurnal Fluctuation of the HPA axis leads to a maximum concentration of salivary cortisol during the first half hour of waking, which decreases throughout the day10. We know that an increase in cortisol synthesis can dysregulate the HPA axis, and research states that children with ASD have elevated plasma and salivary cortisol concentrations, which we know to be associated with suicide.
The Role of Serotonin
We can now consider how serotonin plays a part in Autism and suicide. Hyperserotonaemia – elevated levels of whole blood serotonin – was the first biomarker identified from ASD in 1961, and it is present in more than 25% of autistic people. We can also note that elevated whole blood serotonin has been attributed to OCD too. Although we still do not completely understand how the serotonergic system contributes to ASD pathophysiology, neuroimaging and genetic research has concluded that the following clinical findings are related to both ASD and the serotonergic system:
Reduced platelet 5-HT binding, and reduced brain 5-HT binding. Since 5-HT is degraded by aromatic acid decarboxylase into 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), this means reduced 5-HIAA levels are characteristic too.
Intensified by tryptophan depletion
A genetic linkage to chromosome 17q in males
Rare SLC6A4 amino acid variants leading to low expressions of the Serotonin Transport (SERT) receptor – associated with increase in cerebral cortex grey matter volume16
Post-mortem studies of people who died by suicide have revealed low levels of 5-HIAA in the brainstem, as well as in the prefrontal cortex. These low levels are also observed in suicide victims known to have depression and schizophrenia. Dysregulation of the serotonergic system predisposes individuals to suicidal and other self-injurious acts – The amount of 5-HIAA metabolite in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is strongly correlated to current and future suicidal behaviour. So, we know that not only do low levels of CSF 5-HIAA predict a higher rate of suicidal acts, but also indicate more lethal suicide attempts. Most serotonin receptor studies focus on SERT, with results showing reduced amounts of SERT binding sites in suicide victims17. This information highlights more neurochemical evidence for the biological relationship between Autism and Suicide.
Hope For The Future
There is a lot of work to be done to further our understandings of both Autism biology and the biological basis of suicide respectively. Therefore, primary research into the direct biological relationship of suicide and Autism is understandably lacking. From past investigations discussed here, we can be positive this work is underway, and remain hopeful that in the future we may have answers that could keep more autistic people alive. Unfortunately, Autistic people are more prone to experience discrimination throughout their lives from other individuals and even from services expected to keep people safe – undoubtedly having a severe impact on their mental health. There is also still not even enough resources or support specifically for Autistic individuals with mental health issues, which tells us that equally as much progress is desperately needed on a societal basis to reduce Autistic suicides.
1. Cassidy S, Bradley P, Robinson J, Allison C, McHugh M, Baron-Cohen S. Suicidal ideation and suicide plans or attempts in adults with Asperger’s syndrome attending a specialist diagnostic clinic: a clinical cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2014;1(2):142-147. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70248-2 2. Kõlves K, Fitzgerald C, Nordentoft M, Wood SJ, Erlangsen A. Assessment of Suicidal Behaviors Among Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Denmark. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(1):e2033565. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.33565 3. Ecker C. The neuroanatomy of autism spectrum disorder: An overview of structural neuroimaging findings and their translatability to the clinical setting. Autism. 2017;21(1):18-28. doi:10.1177/1362361315627136 4. Cusack J, Cassidy S, Spiers J. Suicide and autism. Published online 2017. Accessed March 23, 2021. http://www.nspa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/1b.-Suicide-in-autism.pdf 5. Lugo-Marín J, Magán-Maganto M, Rivero-Santana A, et al. Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in adults with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Res Autism Spectr Disord. 2019;59:22-33. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2018.12.004 6. Hollocks MJ, Lerh JW, Magiati I, Meiser-Stedman R, Brugha TS. Anxiety and depression in adults with autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychol Med. 2019;49(4):559-572. doi:10.1017/S0033291718002283 7. Baron-Cohen S. Vulnerability – Autism. Autistica. Published 2020. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.autistica.org.uk/our-research/research-projects/why-are-autistic-people-more-vulnerable 8. Andrade A, Brennecke A, Mallat S, et al. Genetic Associations between Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels and Psychiatric Disorders. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(14):3537. doi:10.3390/ijms20143537 9. McLeod S. What is the Stress Response. Simply Psychology. Published 2010. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-biology.html 10. Sharpley CF, Bitsika V, Andronicos NM, Agnew LL. Further evidence of HPA-axis dysregulation and its correlation with depression in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Data from girls. Physiol Behav. 2016;167:110-117. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.09.003 11. Knapp S. HPA Axis – The Definitive Guide. Biology Dictionary. Published 2020. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://biologydictionary.net/hpa-axis/ 12. Offord C. What Neurobiology Can Tell Us About Suicide. Sci Mag. Published online 2020. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.the-scientist.com/features/what-neurobiology-can-tellus-about-suicide-66922 13. McGowan PO, Sasaki A, D’Alessio AC, et al. Epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse. Nat Neurosci. 2009;12(3):342-348. doi:10.1038/nn.2270 14. Mandell DS, Walrath CM, Manteuffel B, Sgro G, Pinto-Martin JA. The prevalence and correlates of abuse among children with autism served in comprehensive community-based mental health settings. Child Abuse Negl. 2005;29(12):1359-1372. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2005.06.006 15. ScienceDaily. Children with autism more likely to face maltreatment, study finds. Published 2019. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190215135837.htm 16. Muller CL, Anacker AMJ, Veenstra-VanderWeele J. The serotonin system in autism spectrum disorder: From biomarker to animal models. Neuroscience. 2016;321:24-41. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.11.010 17. Wassink TH, Hazlett HC, Epping EA, et al. Cerebral Cortical Gray Matter Overgrowth and Functional Variation of the Serotonin Transporter Gene in Autism. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(6):709. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.6.709
This academic year started off with a strong sense of confusion and uncertainty for many students, a sentiment that became apparent upon discussion with Biomedicine students in casual society meetings. The challenges that the pandemic posed were new and unprecedented: the seeming lack of proximity to the wider student community, inability engage in collaborative projects and the feelings of loneliness that came with this. Adjusting to this new form of university life through harnessing the power of technology was difficult at first, and called for an extraordinary form of grit and resilience. I am proud to say that these challenges paved the way for unparalleled growth for the society which has gone from strength to strength over recent months. We owe these achievements to wonderful diversity in the talents of Biomedicine students, and the invaluable support of academic staff.
Part of accommodating the restrictions imposed by the pandemic was finding (virtual) spaces to express ourselves and feel a sense of community, and if they didn’t exist, creating them ourselves. One such example is our use of virtual study rooms, where students continue to enjoy the company and support of other students whilst studying. Other initiatives include a Book club for invigorating discussions, our BioArt club to help relax and express creativity alongside a heavily technical programme of study, and online student socials for games and a good laugh. This is all aside from the launch of our most collaborative project yet: Bioscientist Magazine.
So yes, the year started off with the urgent need to adapt to and overcome challenges, but ended with a plethora of lessons, experiences and (online) friends, the main legacy of which is this very publication.
Biomedicine Society, it has certainly been a pleasure leading an exceptional team through this remarkable year. Here’s to the future!
Dr Caroline Topham answers your wellbeing queries.
Programme Lead Dr Caroline Topham has been hosting “Coffee with Caroline” drop in sessions for students to discuss their wellbeing. In this article, Caroline answers some of your queries. Have more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
1. How do I maintain a healthy work-life balance?
This is so important and getting into good habits now will help to set you up for a healthy work-life balance for the rest of your life. There will always be times when we need to work late or have a particularly busy period, but this should be every now and then, and not the norm if you can help it. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose a good work-life balance all the time – at the end of the day we all have to pay the bills – but if you find yourself spending a lot of time working, but not actually getting a lot done, then maybe your work-life balance is something you need to address.
For me, a good work-life balance is partly about good planning, and partly about respecting your own wellbeing. Planning well helps you to use your time efficiently; instead of spending a week twiddling with an assignment, set yourself some deadlines. For example, spend an hour on your literature search, 4 hours of reading time (with a break!) then the next day you can crack that essay question. Planning little rewards and downtime can help you to stick to the plan.
Now for the second part: respecting your own wellbeing. When you have a lot to do it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is no time for breaks or relaxation, but this is a false economy. If you feel overwhelmed with work, this is a sure sign you need to take a good break and focus on your wellbeing, even just an hour off can help. Take a walk, call a friend, cook a meal, spend some time doing anything that you find calming. Investing in your wellbeing this way will pay off, as you will be able to be more productive when you do choose to work.
Peer pressure has role to play here too: if your friends are pulling ‘all-nighters’ or your colleague is always the last to the leave the office it can be tempting to think that you should be too. However, this style of working is often a result of bad planning and procrastination, and in ten years you will be very glad you took the time to look after yourself when you see your colleague is off work with stress and burnout. No one is going to tell you to look after yourself, so learn do this for yourself! It’s important.
2. How do I relax when stressed about assignments?
A good starting point is to try and identify what exactly is causing the stress. Having to complete assignments doesn’t have to be stressful, so maybe there is an underlying issue which is causing the stress. For example, is it a topic you feel under-confident about? Have you run out of time? Do you feel like you don’t know how to start? If you can identify what the barrier is before your stress levels get too high, then you can take action to fix it.
Without exception, getting started with assignments as soon as they are set will always work in your favour as it gives you time to identify the gaps in your skills or knowledge and then take steps to work on them. I really recommend these tutorials from the library when preparing for your assessments; they have some practical hints and tips to help you do your best: https://www.salford.ac.uk/library/skills-for-learning/assessments
3. How do I manage my time when I have multiple deadlines due at the same time?
The best way to manage deadlines that are close together is to set yourself a false deadline. For example, if you have 2 weeks to complete two assignments, spend a week on one and set yourself a ‘pretend’ deadline 1 week earlier than the actual deadline. Then when it’s done, leave it alone! Now you have a week to work on the next assignment. See the link below for a nice tutorial about ‘owning your learning’ which can help you to take control in situations like this:
Dr Lucy Smyth outlines the biomedical apprenticeship scheme at Salford University and announces one of its own apprentices, Christine Edgerton, as winner of the National Apprenticeship Week Award
By Dr Lucy Smyth
The government apprenticeship scheme launched in 2017 enables staff to become upskilled via 20% off the job study, while maintaining their full-time salary. This of course benefits the staff concerned but also their employers that are supporting the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of their team and developing a more skilled workforce. The partnership between universities and employers are powerful enablers for collaboration and generating new opportunities. Apprenticeships ensure that students are presented new challenges in the workplace as an integrated part of their study.
The University of Salford strongly supports apprentices raising their profile in the scientific community during their learning. One such opportunity is during the annual ‘National Apprenticeship Week (8th-14th February 2021), where high-flying apprentices are nominated for the ‘Apprentice of the Year Award’ within each school. For the School of Science, Environment and Engineering this award went to Christine Egerton who recently completed her integrated Biomedical Science degree. Here’s her story.
Christine recently completed her final (3rd) year of her apprenticeship combining her study with a full-time time role based in Manchester Foundation Trust pathology labs specialising in Biochemistry and Genetic Medicine.
Dr. Lucy Smyth, nominated Christine with wholehearted support of the apprentice academic team. Dr Smyth said: “Since joining the Biomedical Science programme, Christine has diligently immersed herself into the academic work, gaining superb marks in many of her 2nd year and final year modules. Apprentices have not had an easy journey through the pandemic. Shining through the adversity means Christine can now register with the Health Care and Professions Council, progress her career and perform the role of a fully registered biomedical scientist. Well respected by peers and staff, we feel Christine has truly deserved the award of Apprentice of the Year.”
Dr Smyth added: “Christine’s diligent attitude in working as an apprentice through the pandemic displays her professionalism and quiet resilience, which alongside an impressive performance in the degree’s End Point Assessment shows her merit in earning the title of Apprentice of the Year. Congratulations Christine.”
Christine’s employer (Willink Laboratory, Genomic Medicine at the Manchester Royal Infirmary), Robert Gibson, said: “Christine is a model employee. She has put a lot of hard work and effort into becoming a Biomedical Scientist. She has also had to manage her time very effectively to ensure all deadlines and objectives have been meet. Christine is an asset to the laboratory, and I am certain she will make a great success of her career as a Biomedical Scientist.”
About the opportunities and experience of the programme Christine (pictured) said:
“My career progression had come to a standstill due to not having a Biomedical Science degree. The apprenticeship opened up the opportunity for me to be able to study for my degree while also being able to continue to work. Salford was the most appealing as the scheme was already up and running. This meant my attendance was only required one day a week, which was a set day, during term time to attend practical sessions on campus. The advantage of this was that it enabled my employer to easily plan for my absence. The apprenticeship at Salford appeared to offer me the best opportunity to equip me with the knowledge and learning to successfully complete my degree.
“During my (workplace-based) final year project, I developed an alternative method for the diagnosis of Gaucher disease. The laboratory currently performs a lysosomal enzyme screen that consists of 16 enzymes being tested on a 5ml EDTA blood sample; Gaucher disease is currently tested in this screen but the method used requires a large volume of sample to perform the analysis. The method I developed requires less sample volume, which enables more enzymes to be added to the screen without the patient needing to provide more sample.
“I think that studying as an apprentice during the pandemic has taught me to consider different ways of approaching challenges.
“My ambition is to secure a job as a HCPC-registered Biomedical Scientist within the NHS. My workplace-based learning linked with my degree has given me first-hand experience of what is required to be a Biomedical Scientist, and I feel that I’ve gained the confidence and knowledge to continue to develop and progress my skills. I have a real sense of achievement having completed the degree and I believe it has equipped me with the tools to carve out a good career within the field.”
I started my career in Syria in 2007 as a laboratory scientist. Shortly after this, I was promoted to manager of the general laboratory and IVF laboratory in 2009. My role grew quickly at the hospital, and it wasn’t long before I was overseeing the laboratory activities across seven floors, managing 40 laboratory staff – until 2013.
When the war started in Syria, in the blink of an eye I had lost everything you can imagine. Members of my family and friends, my house, and my job. My family and I crossed 14 countries just to find a safe place to live.
I arrived in the UK in 2014 speaking zero English. I started to learn the language and worked in a coffee shop at the same time. I also started my study at the University of Salford because I had been told:
You will never be able to work as scientist again.
Since then, I’ve been on a mission to prove to the world that I’d be able to not only learn English, but also make my life a success story once more, so that my daughter would be proud of me. It’s hard to believe I’m now in my final year. I would be lying if I said it has all been sunshine and roses. I cried and slept in pain, feeling confused, lost and exhausted. There have been times where I have questioned myself, thinking, ‘why am I putting myself through this?!’ But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
First day at University
Today, I’m a Bioscience lead at one of the largest UK testing centres. I am so proud to be a part of the fight against COVID-19 with the Department of Health and Social Care and Lighthouse laboratories.
I’m responsible for overseeing a lab-based team from sample receipt through to RNA extraction and delivery of PCR data. This includes troubleshooting and solving problems with PCR machines and supervising scientists carrying out their lab activities. I have had the opportunity to complete a portfolio of training activities including health and safety, manager essentials, and performance and improvement courses. Together with my team, we have delivered 7 million COVID test results to patients.
I could say so much more about my experiences and journey so far. I can honestly say that I have always appreciated the support that has been provided to me by the University of Salford and that I wouldn’t be here without it. My journey at the University of Salford is not yet over, as I intend to study an MSc in Biotechnology after I graduate from my BSc in Biomedical Sciences.
Through my educational journey at the University of Salford, I have learned four major lessons that I think other people may benefit from:
1. It’s NOT too late, never give up. 2. To finish any great endeavour, you must first start. 3. If you want happiness, help other people. 4. Failure and mistakes make you stronger.
Tahmina shares her tips as a BMS Team Manager and Blood Sciences Training Officer at Christie Pathology Partnership, for securing IBMS placements and getting involved with the IBMS as a student.
I completed a degree in Applied Biomedical Science at Manchester Metropolitan University, which involved a 12-month sandwich year placement in my third year which was an amazing opportunity to complete my IBMS Registration Portfolio to gain the IBMS Certificate of Competence, and also opened up the pathway for me to secure a job. Since then, I have completed the IBMS Specialist Diploma in Haematology and Hospital Transfusion Practice, and a Master’s degree in Haematology and Transfusion Science. Completing these qualifications has enabled me to expand my skills, knowledge and experience and have contributed massively towards my professional development and career progression. I have also completed the IBMS Certificate of Expert Practice qualifications in Training and in Quality Management. My particular interest is within Training and Education and developing students, trainees and colleagues and help them to grow in confidence.
Advice on placements
Based on my experience, the uptake of placements is highly competitive, therefore it is extremely important to apply for a placement if the opportunity is available. Without this, I would not have been able to complete my training and become a HCPC-registered Biomedical Scientist. The benefits of undertaking a placement are huge, as you will gain experience working in a laboratory while developing your knowledge and skills, as well as significantly improving your opportunities for employability. If you are unable to secure a placement via university, try and contact local laboratories to ask whether there are any work experience opportunities, connect with your local IBMS Branch and search for vacancies advertised for medical laboratory assistants or assistant practitioners.
When you are searching for a placement or applying for a position as a Biomedical Scientist, you should include key points in your CV that stand out to the employer. Your CV should be about selling yourself and increasing your chances at being shortlisted for an interview. Include your qualifications, how many years’ experience you have, what skills you have developed and what training you have previously completed. Make sure you include your roles and responsibilities in a particular job and relate them to the position you are applying for. Employers will be looking for skills that relate to Biomedical Science so keep your CV clear and concise and make sure it flows well. If you have attended other courses such as mentorship or been involved in other extracurricular activities that add to your skills, make sure you include it in your CV. If you take part in or contribute to any conferences or events as a speaker or write articles, these are all valuable skills and experience to add.
If you have been shortlisted for an interview, make sure you prepare well. Remember to sell yourself with the qualities and skills that you have highlighted in your CV and relate it to how it would fit the job criteria. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and how these can be used to your advantage. Most importantly, employers will want to know why you want the job but also what benefits you will bring.
For Biomedical Scientist jobs, most employers will ask specific competency-based questions, so be prepared to answer using past experiences. Examples of questions can be talking about your biggest achievement and why you are proud of this or how you might have handled a difficult situation. You may also be asked questions that are very specific to the discipline. For example, you may be given a scenario where a sample has been processed and an abnormal result is detected, what might the cause of this be? What condition might it be related to and what would you do? By preparing well and researching the common tests performed in the laboratory you will have a better chance at answering the questions well.
Don’t forget, although you may not have worked in a laboratory before, you can still demonstrate your knowledge in the interview, this will indicate your eagerness to learn. Take your time to answer the questions and don’t be afraid to ask your own questions. Examples of questions might include shift patterns or opportunities for career progression. When the interview has ended, thank the interviewers for their time, ask when you are likely to hear back from them and ask if they are prepared to provide feedback at the end of the process.
Tahmina’s advice on getting involved with the IBMS
There are other ways of getting involved with the IBMS which will help you develop new skills. Biomedical Science Day (24th June 2021) is the IBMS annual celebration of biomedical science. This day celebrates our profession and the work we do. You can get involved by promoting Biomedical Science and raising awareness to the public of our role in healthcare.
Prior to COVID-19 many of us celebrated by hosting events and exhibitions so that patients and staff in the hospital were able to come and ask questions; we also gave a tour of the laboratories! However, since the global pandemic, we were not able to celebrate in the usual way. But that did not stop us! The social media platform has become increasingly popular for promoting our profession so there’s always an opportunity to get involved and take part in increasing awareness.
National Pathology Week (4th-9th November 2021) is also an annual celebration of pathology to highlight the important roles we play and the contributions we make to healthcare. Again, there’s lot of ways to get involved! Public engagement activities such as delivering careers talks to schools and universities are great opportunities to engage people of all ages.
The IBMS Chats also take place on Twitter on the first Wednesday of every month at 8-9pm. You can join in the chat and ask questions and network with other professionals. The IBMS Support Hub also deliver free online sessions on various topics such as completing CPD, portfolios and professional development.
The IBMS mentoring program has been launched recently and is available for any IBMS member who would like some support in gaining skills and knowledge for career development.
If you are looking to connect with the IBMS, there are plenty of resources available on their website which are useful for obtaining information on the different qualifications, CPD and networking with other members. For more information, visit https://www.ibms.org/home/
Danny Gaskin shares the story so far and gives his advice for current students and early career scientists.
In conversation with Dimtrios Bitas
Danny Gaskin is a 28-year-old University of Salford alumnus from Accrington and an HCPC registered Biomedical Scientist. He completed his BSc Biomedical Science degree in 2018 and is currently employed as a Patient Blood Management Practitioner by NHS Blood and Transplant. In this interview Danny shares his career path and useful advice to current Biomedical Science Students.
Could you describe your career path as a Biomedical Scientist? What were your steps after completing your degree?
Between the second and the third year of my degree, I applied and successfully completed a placement year in the Haematology department at Manchester Royal Infirmary. I graduated with a first-class honour’s degree and the IBMS Certificate of Competency, which meant that I could go straight into work as a Biomedical Scientist. My career path started up in the lake district at Furness General Hospital, however, I didn’t spend long there. An opportunity came up, and I moved down to the southwest and joined the haematology and transfusion team at Milton Keynes University Hospital. I absolutely loved my time there. I worked independently, got involved with all aspects of the quality management system, started my MSc degree, and overall, grew quickly as a scientist. Being an ambitious person, my time in Milton Keynes didn’t last long either. A new challenge to join the Pathology team at Spire Manchester Hospital came up. This was my first post as a Senior Biomedical Scientist, and I learned so much very quickly. I left Spire roughly a year later to join NHS Blood and Transplant. I’ve learned something from the positives and negatives of everywhere I have worked. I look for a learning opportunity in every experience and I believe that’s made me a better scientist and probably a better person.
I’ve learned something from the positives and negatives of everywhere I have worked. I look for a learning opportunity in every experience and I believe that’s made me a better scientist and probably a better person.
After having a look at your CV, someone can notice that you switched courses and went from studying Adult Nursing toBiomedical Science.What changed your mind?
Before my biomedical science days, I studied Adult Nursing. The original plan was to train as an A&E nurse, but this only lasted about 18 months. During my first placement as a student nurse at the Haematology Day Unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary, I became fascinated by blood cells. I took up independent study on the different blood cells and the mechanisms that influence their production, replication, and destruction. I soon realised that a career in biomedical science was more suited to my interests.
Can you tell us about your current job?
I am currently employed as a Patient Blood Management Practitioner by NHS Blood and Transplant. My job involves work on activities designed to support Patient Blood Management in hospitals across London. This includes provision of an on-going programme of support, education, audit, research, and specialist transfusion advice. One of the most important elements of my job is building relationships with other healthcare professionals involved in blood transfusion, to ensure a co-ordinated approach to improving transfusion laboratory and clinical practice locally, regionally, and nationally. It’s a job that I really enjoy and get huge satisfaction from. I work with the most talented team of scientists, nurses, administrators and doctors and we really make a positive difference every day.
It’s a job that I really enjoy and get huge satisfaction from. I work with the most talented team of scientists, nurses, administrators and doctors and we really make a positive difference every day.
What was your role as a Biomedical Scientist in Haematology and Blood Transfusion like?Can you describe a typical week at work?
On a Monday, you might observe the presence of immature cells on a patient’s peripheral blood smear that you’re concerned might be indicative of a serious problem with the bone marrow, so you get in touch with the haematologist to escalate it. On Tuesday, you might be responding to major haemorrhage bleep to provide replacement blood for a patient that has been involved in an accident and lost a lot of blood. Wednesday might see you have to get the tools out and replace one of the probes on your analyser. Thursday might be a quiet day until you get the call from theatres to say that there had been some complications during childbirth and now a new mother is in desperate need of blood components. Thankfully, Friday is rest day.
What advice would you give to current Biomedical Science students? What steps would you recommend them to take?
Besides the obvious advice of working hard and putting the hours in, I would advise them to get involved with the university societies and the IBMS. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can whilst you’re a student. Some voluntary opportunities might first appear to be a lot of hard work for very little return, but there are transferable skills you can pull from any experience. Networking has had such a positive influence on my career to date. I’d suggest attending events, meetings and discussion groups. Build a social media presence. Make professional contacts and friends. Have fun and enjoy the process. Don’t let these three or four years pass you by without having fun. I miss university so much.
Don’t let these three or four years pass you by without having fun. I miss university so much.
What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to succeed as a Biomedical Scientist?
Often when I see this question, I go on to read about how one must be bright, have attention to detail, be data driven etc. which are all true, but actually I think first a foremost you need to be compassionate. You need to be able to always keep at the forefront of your mind that every single sample belongs to a person with a family that loves them and that are probably worried about the results you’re about to produce and report. You need to remember that every single task you perform in the laboratory, whether it’s analytical or administrative, is essential to uphold the high quality necessary to provide the minimum level of care we should all be striving for. If you’ve got that, and a passion for biomedical science, everything else can be taught.
How can other people help or affect someone’s career? Were there any people who had a positive impact in your career development?
My career path has been enjoyable but very fast paced. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people in my career so far who have given me every opportunity to progress, and whether they have realised or not, they have helped me grow professionally and personally. Being surrounded by good people in a positive environment for learning is really important to me. I’ll be forever grateful to Dr Lucy Smyth and the University of Salford for the help and support required to switch and join the Biomedical science programme. At Furness General Hospital I met Stephen McDonald, Ola Yahaya, and Shehz Abdullah, three really talented scientists who supported me through the haematology and transfusion basics. Stephen, Ola, and I still work closely together on a few different projects and Shehz and I speak most days. All three became friends for life. At Milton Keynes University Hospital I met some of the most knowledgeable and humble biomedical scientists and I learned so much so quickly.
You often talk about the value of networking, particularly through social media and what significant role it has played in your own career. What would be your advice to a biomedical science student looking to start networking through Twitter for example?
There is a huge biomedical science community on Twitter. You can get involved with #IBMSChat and @WEBMScienitsts. Twitter is an immensely valuable tool for networking. I have met so many scientists on Twitter who have positively influenced my career in one way or another. Twitter and other social media platforms make the world so much more accessible. One thing I will say about Twitter is that it can sometimes feel like work from work. This is particularly true if you only follow biomedical science accounts and only engage with other scientists. Shutting off from work is important. Don’t be afraid to be yourself on Twitter too. I don’t believe that you should separate your personal and ‘science’ accounts. Not unless you want to, or your employer insists you should. I like that I can get to know the people behind the science, and I hope that people can get to know me too.
You can follow Danny on Twitter (@NHSDanny) for some useful blood transfusion content, real time football, and boxing punditry. Use the #AskinGaskin hashtag for any questions. Danny is approachable and would love to hear from students and early career scientists.