STP Reflections | Year 2 | Adriana

This week, I can officially call myself a third year STP. This calls for celebration, excitement and possibly panic that there’s just a year of training left, a year left for the OneFile progress dial to reach 100% and less than a year till the OSFAs. But what it also calls for, is time for reflection.

First things first, second year was soooooo much better from day one! The minute you stop kinda wasting your time on the first year competencies, it is instantly more enjoyable and rewarding. It was finally the time for me to do actual work and help my department. I know, we are supposed to be supernumerary but being involved directly in clinical work is a great way to learn. You incorporate yourself to your department and once you stop second-guessing yourself it feels great to be trusted, as a scientist, as a co-worker and if you are lucky enough, as a friend.

The main thing that second year has taught me is that the STP is not a magical programme that everything falls into place. It has taught me to be critical about a lot of things but also taught me perseverance and resilience. First year finished with my training officer deciding to move to a different country. It was a shock to all of us but we made it through. One of the members of our team got a promotion, and we worked through the transition together, as a team. Everyone pulled their weight and all was good. Second year started with a trip when I heard that there was a computational conference in Greece I was all for it. Submitted an abstract, it got accepted and I got to go. (Remember, you don’t get anything unless you try). Sneaked in a cheeky two weeks of holiday back home before the conference and attempted to tan. I had a great time, learned a lot of things and made some new bioinformatics friends.

It was time to come back to the hospital where two new trainees had started in our department. Clare (Genomics STP and work bestie) and I  were suddenly not only second years, but also mentors. The programme and the NHS as a whole, are filled with people that want to help each other, and now it was time for us to return the favour. Share our first year experience with the kids (that’s what we called them), help them go through what we went through, and in the process become friends. So this brings me to my first piece of advice:

Lesson number 1: Help others like others helped you.

Come October, it was time to start my project. My department shares the office space with the Tissue Typing department of the hospital. This lead to an opportunity for multidisciplinary collaboration with one of my favourite people and best housemate (aren’t I lucky?). Our project, creating a tool to assimilate high-resolution HLA alleles from historical low-resolution data, using Hannah’s H&I expertise and my ability to code and with the help of some very smart and helpful people. What am I talking about you ask? HLA nomenclature is a tricky business. I had to get my head around it in order to incorporate it to our tool but it is great fun.

Lesson 2: Collaboration is rewarding. Don’t be afraid to branch out from what your department does.

The time before Christmas was uneventful, the quiet before the storm. I was trying to work on my project, went to university for two weeks to spend time with my fellow bioinformaticians and tried to finish my first year competencies before the March deadline. Now, I am a master procrastinator, if I am not thrilled about something it might take a while for me to find the motivation to do it. And that is what happened to some of the first year competencies. Which brings us to:

Lesson 3:  Don’t leave you competencies till the end, however boring they might sound or actually are.

They have to be done, so find some time and courage to do them. There are some great tips about motivation in this blog if you have some free time.

Sometime after Christmas, we had a major incident in our department. Came across some errors trying to push some code to git and it wasn’t working, something weird had happened. Went to talk to one of my colleagues and he was also noticing weird things in our cluster. Turns out, something had indeed gone very wrong. To this day, I am not sure we even know what that was. A glitch, a hardware failure, something happened which caused us to lose our local copy of our data. And that is a lot of data. It took some time but it all got resolved, thanks to the resilience and hard work of some bioinformatics team members, and also thanks to data back up. We were up and running again, and although it was challenging, the team made it through and it was a great learning experience. Dealing with problems brings people together, and shows the true nature of the NHS, how hard people can work to ensure the best for the patient disregarding sometimes the limited resources.

Lesson 4: Be prepared for whatever is to come, and get involved to maximise your training potential.

The new year also brought another cycle of the STP applications. It was an opportunity to share our experience with any potential applicants and anyone interested in healthcare science. Almost six months since Jes and I started this blog, we were helping out people, slowly creating a small trainee community, one of the best decisions I’ve made in this programme. I am so grateful for having Jes as a fellow trainee and friend. It has been a great journey of countless slack messages, numerous blog proofreadings and lots and lots of tweets. Sometimes we get an email or a tweet thanking us (and everyone that has written for this blog) and it feels good.

Lesson 5 (or 1b): Every little helps and sharing is caring. Engage with your community.

Another piece of advice at this point would be to sign up to be a STEM ambassador and help your department with outreach whenever you get the chance. So far, we went to speak to undergraduate students at the University of Essex, spoke to Year 10 pupils at career sessions, taught 10-year olds DNA complementation and made them excited about science, extracted DNA from strawberries, spoke to patients in the concourse about what we do, took part in the Cambridge Science Festival and wrote numerous posts in this blog to share the love for healthcare science.

Lesson 6: SHARE YOUR SCIENCE.

The year continued with new people joining our team and people leaving again. Who knew, in my three years of training I would lose two training officers? Another TO decided to leave. Made me think- is it me?? At this point, I had gone through this once, so maybe it wasn’t as much of a shock. Prior to this our team started working closer together, we all had our own projects and helped each other with any problems, so it was another thing we would go through together, and for a second time we made it through.  At this point, I was lucky enough to be trained to help out with some clinical work, feeling like I was an integral part of the department. And this is an invaluable experience. The first time someone came and asked me a clinical question and I was able to answer it was a great day.

Lesson 7: Have more confidence in yourself. You are here for a reason and you know your science so embrace it.

This brings me to summer. All my first year competencies were signed off, my MSF gave me some great tips on how to improve myself and my training, and I had finished all my university teaching. At the end of our Manchester week, some of the bioinformatics trainees went camping in Wales and went up an unpronounceable mountain in Snowdonia. I am so lucky to have them. In June, I had the daunting task of presenting my preliminary project results to the ACGS conference in Birmingham. Presenting in front of people is not my strong suit, but hopefully one day I will be able to give a presentation without a heart rate of 120. Apparently, it went well, but it is all a bit of a blur. On top of that presentation, our project abstract was also accepted to ISMB/ECCB 2019 so travelling was in order. Got to go to Switzerland for that conference to present our poster on HLA assimilation. You can read what I learned there, in addition to some tips for making a poster in last month’s post.

Lesson 8: However daunting it might seem if you get an opportunity to present your work, do it.

Prior to that conference, we took an STP road trip to Belgium. Two trainee bioinformaticians and two trainee genomic clinical scientists decided to spend the weekend together in the land of great chocolate and beer. It was a fabulous weekend. I am grateful and lucky to be doing my training alongside some very hardworking, intelligent, funny and sometimes loud fellow STPs.

A few months prior to this, I volunteered to help out with the regional trainee network, the genetic counsellor trainee in our year and I became the co-chairs of the network. This was another opportunity to engage with other STPs and share our experiences. We organised a few events and socials, to help with signing some of the tricky professional practice competencies but also to get the chance to meet and interact with trainees from other specialisms.

Lesson 9: Make friends with your fellow trainees. It is rewarding and you get to learn a lot.

So this brings me to today. I am writing this on a plane to Boston for my elective. YES BOSTON, MA! This programme gives you the opportunity to take a 4-6 week elective to broaden your horizons. Choose what you want to do. Something you are interested in but can’t learn in your department or go experience how other departments, organisations, companies or even countries work. Choose something that will teach you new and exciting things and you are truly passionate about. Now, I haven’t actually started my elective yet, so I cannot talk about how well or bad it went. I hope to blog about it throughout the six weeks. Six weeks away seems like a lot of time and although I am excited, I am also a little bit stressed (I stress about everything). Fingers crossed I will learn a lot, meet a lot of lovely people and share the love for the NHS abroad.

Lesson 10: Seize every opportunity to improve your training.

I wish I wrote this many words for my assignments as quickly and enjoyably I wrote this post. I do apologise for how long it is if I keep going and I can make it as long my masters thesis, but I think this is a good time to conclude. The STP is a great programme but it definitely has its flaws. And it has taught me to try and make the most of my training by engaging with my department, my hospital, my trainee cohort and everyone that is interested in healthcare science. So if there’s one thing you could take away from this post is this.

FINAL LESSON: EMBRACE YOUR TRAINING. It will have its ups and downs, its highs and lows but you will make it through so try and make most of it.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. There’s something about a long haul flight and being in the middle of the Atlantic ocean that inspired me to write 2000 words in under two hours.

If there are things you have learned in your training, we want to hear them. Please get in touch in the comments or drop us an email if you want to share your thoughts on the blog, we welcome all opinions and want to grow our little STP community.

Till next time.

Author: Adriana

I am a trainee Clinical Bioinformatician based at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I am all for increasing genomics awareness in and out of healthcare and interested in bioinformatics and cancer genomics.

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