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24th November 2023

Student voices: Carla Handford’s North American Travel Scholarship

Carla Handford (2020, Medicine) spent spent five weeks working in a lab and getting to know the city of Boston. She writes about her experience receiving the Exeter College North American Travel Scholarship.

This summer I spent five weeks in Boston, working in The Crickmore Lab, which is associated with Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. It was a behavioural neuroscience lab, and I was working in a team which studied motivation and attention in drosophila (fruit flies) through the study of mating.

My lab supervisor was amazing and taught me a lot about scientific research, different experimental techniques and data analysis, and I was given the freedom to conduct a lot of my own research and the opportunity to present my findings to other members of the lab. The lab team were all really lovely and supportive, and it was an environment where creative thinking, exploration and group discussions were  encouraged. I could tell that they valued having students who could provide different insights. It was also fascinating to compare this experience to that of my lab work in Oxford, both in terms of differences in the individual lab functioning and also by comparing the British and American scientific and healthcare systems.

I am extremely grateful to have completed this work experience and feel that I gained a lot from it, and will definitely recommend it to medics in the year below me. It has definitely shown me that I may be interested in pursuing research throughout my career, alongside hopefully being a doctor. I am going to stay in touch with my supervisor as I am very intrigued to see where their research goes next!

I also loved having the chance to live in a new city and I enjoyed spending the weekends walking round and exploring the different neighbourhoods in Boston, visiting art galleries and museums, trying new cuisines and meeting new people. I was lucky enough to find a house-share with some other students who were incredibly welcoming and showed me some of the city. It was also lovely to spend some time with some of the students from Williams College, Massachusetts, who I had previously met whilst on the Winter Study Programme at Williams College this year.

Boston is a beautiful city which has large areas of greenery, a beautiful river and is also right by the sea, so there was always something new to see. Walking around the Harvard area was also really lovely and it was interesting to learn about its history and establishment. One weekend, I visited New York with a friend who was also in America at the time, and this experience was truly incredible! The city was super cool and felt really alive, and we managed to see all of the main touristy things during our weekend there which was very special.

I am incredibly grateful for this travel grant making this trip possible, and I will remember it forever. I learnt so much from my experience in the lab, but also from living in a new country on my own for the first time and immersing myself in a completely novel environment. I honestly had the best time and want to thank the Exeter College North American Travel Grant for making this dream a reality.

Collage of images from Carla Handford's trip to Boston

Collage of images from Carla Handford’s trip to Boston

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