Students Monica and Nathan have been recognised for their hard work on Reproductive science summer projects
Two University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) students are celebrating after their summer research projects on Reproductive sciences have been formally recognised through the award of a prestigious prize and a conference bursary.
Third year biology student Monica Smithies, and third year biomedical sciences student Nathan Parks, dedicated their summer break to working as research interns – their projects were externally funded by the Biochemical Society and the Society for Reproduction and Fertility, respectively.
24-year-old Monica, who lives in Ashton, Preston, was then selected as the winner of the Eisenthal Prize, after submitting her reproductive sciences research project, which looks at the molecular aspect of embryo implantation. The Eisenthal prize is awarded by the Biochemical Society, in memory of Professor Robert Eisenthal, a former academic of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath; he sadly died in 2007, and the prize honours his contribution to the success of the Society’s studentship scheme. Monica was selected as the top awardee from 2022’s entries, based on her application score and post-Studentship report, and received £500 as part of her prize.
Monica, who is married to Scott, a watchmaker based in Wigan, juggles her studying with being a busy mum to son Leo, 4, and daughter Leah, 2. During her time at UCLan, she has also been a Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS) leader, helping first year students with their studies, and more recently, completed her training to be a Student Ambassador. She says receiving the prize was a brilliant shock: “When I found out I’d been awarded the prize, I just cried – I honestly couldn’t believe it. I have always wanted to study at university, and it’s amazing for the extra work we’ve done to be noticed and rewarded like this. I generally do pile my plate quite high, and always have lots going on: but I’ve found the staff and other students here so supportive I also have a great family behind me – I’m very proud of to be doing this for them, as well as myself.”
Fellow student, 22-year-old Nathan, also has a busy home life, having just welcomed a new baby daughter Alina; he’s managing sleepless nights alongside studying for the final year of his degree. His hard work on his eight-week project over the summer has been recognised after submitting an abstract for Fertility 2023: he received a conference bursary from the Society for Reproduction and Fertility (SRF), and is now set to attend the international Fertility conference in Belfast in January.
Originally from Doncaster, but now having made Preston his home with his family, Nathan says: “I have always wanted to get a degree under my belt, for the opportunities that can bring, and the facilities here for scientists are fantastic. I worked in pharmaceuticals before I started university; our project over the summer has inspired my passion for reproductive sciences, so that’s really helped in giving me direction for a future career. I’m actually hoping to go and study for a PhD at UCLan; the support I’ve had here from the lecturers has been amazing, and this is where I want to continue my journey to becoming a researcher in reproductive sciences.”
Both Monica and Nathan are members of the Reproductive and Developmental Sciences Club – in fact, Nathan is a former president of the group, which is made up of around 60 Bioscience students.
The organisation is overseen by Dr Stéphane Berneau, lecturer in Physiology and Pharmacology at UCLan, and he supervised both the summer project applications to funders which led to the award of the Eisenthal Prize and the SRF bursary. The Berneau research team includes Master and PhD students too, who helped to support Monica and Nathan with their summer research project.
Dr Stéphane Berneau says: “I am so proud of what both Monica and Nathan have achieved as interns within the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences. Monica is the first student from UCLan to win the Eisenthal Prize, so that’s a fantastic first for the university, and the conference Nathan will attend in January is on the international stage to present our research project – I’m so glad he will be able to experience that.
“While of course what have they achieved as individuals is outstanding, collaboration and support are absolutely at the heart of our research at the UCLan Biomedical Research Facility; it’s always a team effort. By bringing together the rich skillset of our undergraduates, postgraduates and academic researchers, we can further our understanding of scientific areas such as the current challenges of human fertility, with the aim of ultimately applying that real-world research to help improve people’s lives.”