Sam Shepherd, summer placement in plant science

Name: Sam Shepherd

Job Title: PMP summer placement

Organisation: University of Cambridge. My placement was in the Sainsbury Laboratory.

Time in position: It was a 9 week placement in summer 2016.

Qualifications: 1st class BA in mathematics from Cambridge, in 2016-17 I will study for the MMath (part III of the Cambridge maths course).

Description of organisation: The Sainsbury Laboratory does plant science research.

Average day: Mainly doing computer programming (in the R language) to read in data about DNA sequences of plants and to analyse it statistically. In particular I was analysing the sequences around small sections of DNA called G-boxes (which act like on-off switches for some genes in plants) and I was investigating the expected DNA shape of these sequences (things like how tightly the DNA double helix twists round, something which varies at different points in the DNA). I often met with my postdoc supervisor to discuss my results or any problems I was having.

What I like about the job: It was interesting to work with real data that is related to an important mechanism of the functioning of the plant genome – it made a nice change from the more abstract maths I had been doing in my degree course – although I do also love the more abstract maths.

What stimulated my interest in maths: Difficult to put it down to one thing; but the maths challenges/competitions that the UKMT held for school students was an important factor (from year 7 onwards).

What influenced your career choice: I did the summer placement because it showed me a possible career path for maths graduates, and because it enabled me to develop skills such as programming and presenting.

Skills for the job: Programming skills; within this is persistence for when you have to find that elusive bug in your code, and learning/research skills as I was constantly looking up how to program certain things. Analytical/statistical skills are vital when it comes to being critical of your results and determining what conclusions you can draw from them. And then communication skills when discussing with my supervisor or presenting my work at the end of the placement.

My future career plans: After I’ve finished the MMath at Cambridge I will do a phd in maths.