The moment I got an offer for the STP, I think my heart skipped a few beats. Throughout last summer I was constantly excited, couldn’t wait to move to Cambridge and get started. Not that I was entirely sure what it involved at that time but I knew that bioinformatics in healthcare was something I was passionate about.
Ready, set, go!
September came fast and my first month was all about getting settled, getting to know my department and attending the inevitable inductions. I think it was a bit of a shock at the beginning, coming from a year being free doing my own research- with my own computer and root access, to being newbie again. The clinical world was a bit more strict in their operations and the trust computers like to block everything useful. But it didn’t matter, I was an STP trainee, ready to conquer my rotations and add another Masters to my degree collection.
Next up, we had our time at university. There was stuff that was taught to us that if you have done a Masters or PhD you probably know, but they do try and make sure everyone is on the same page, so if you are a new trainee reading this, bear with it. Time at university is a wonderful time to spend with your fellow trainees, because although we are all doing the same programme, we are scattered around the country. Communication and collaboration is key to succeed in your training. Getting to know what everyone is doing is useful to make sure you are on the right track.
Rotations cover the entirety of first year. Some are interesting, some not so much, but they expose you to a different part of the NHS, outside the safety of your office. It is easy to forget you work in a hospital sometimes but it is important to remember that your work helps patients, even if you don’t get to meet any. But first year is all about new experiences. I did a clinical audit, made a script to correct motion artefacts in renal paediatric scans, created my own database with a colourful web interface and did variant analysis on real patient cases.
My favorite moment in my training was when I briefly shadowed in GFR measurements in Nuclear Medicine. I had to follow a patient that was given a tracer injection and then blood samples were taken throughout the day. I didn’t do anything, just observed on the side and talked to them. At the last injection before they left, they said “You made me feel better from just being there and smiling”. It made my day. Isn’t this why we all are clinical scientists (or just training to be). I do wish bioinformatics had more patient contact sometimes, but we just need to remember our work is important and has an impact on actual lives.
This year had definitely had its ups and downs. I have met some amazing people, both in my department and all the rotations I have been. From the beginning, I was welcomed in my team, and it didn’t take long to feel part of it. One really sad moment of my year is when I learned my training officer was leaving. It was a shock at first, as I was really looking forward to my second year of training but it is now reality and my training has to go on.
I have learned a lot of new things in this last year, the list is long. But if I had to pick a few to share with all those trainees starting in a couple of weeks that would be:
- The STP is YOUR training program. Take charge of your training. The curriculum and your TOs/mentors are there to guide you and ensure you have the essential skills required but you are free to explore every aspect of your specialism in your own way. If that means learning a different programming language or specialising in a new technique or field of bioinformatics. Be proactive with your time and make sure you get your competencies done in time.
- Ask for help. When you are stuck, go to someone and ask them to help you. 99% of the time they will just come and help. There is no point waiting around feeling lost, you are a trainee and you are here to learn.
- Be nice to people. A lot of the people at rotations willingly volunteer their time to help with your training. If their work with you becomes a chore they might not do it in the future for the next trainees.
With this first year almost over, I am already excited of what is to come next. I will be travelling to Greece to attend the European Conference of Computational Biology and presenting some of my work. Sun and bioinformatics sounds like an excellent combination. After that, I will be starting my research project which will be in collaboration with our Tissue Typing department and if all goes well, it will be a steep but exciting learning curve.
If you are a new trainee, I hope this was a useful insight of what your year ahead might involve. If not, thanks for taking the time and interest in our work.