Student travel

10th January 2017

News, Student news, Alumni news

How did you spend your summer? Wadham students were manipulating nano-particles in South Korea, shadowing medics in Massachusetts and teaching underprivileged school students in New York thanks to alumni funded travel grants.

Joseph Emsley (MChem Chemistry, 2016) spent his summer synthesising nanoparticles in South Korea and sampling sushi so fresh that it wriggled.

“Spending my summer in the heart of Seoul was a hugely memorable experience. I interned at the IBS Centre for Nanomedicine, Yonsei University, to work on “evolutionary nanoparticles” with novel magnetic properties and promising bio-application. Made possible only by the generosity of a Wadham Travel Grant, I spent my downtime exploring the vast cityscape and cultural gems of the country.

Nanoparticles (essentially “tiny rocks”) exist naturally in substances like fine sand, volcanic ash, and mineral water. Certain varieties are magnetic. Many migratory creatures, like salmon, ingrain magnetic nanoparticles in their brains or nasal cavities. Acting as a “biomagnetic compass”, these respond to the Earth’s geomagnetic fields and guide the creatures’ journey (1).

When engineered in the lab, we have free reign over nanoparticle composition, size, and shape allowing fine-tuning of their magnetic behaviour (2). For example, below a threshold diameter, nanoparticles may enter the super-paramagnetic regime rendering them instantaneously de-magnetisable on the removal of a field, which also inhibits dangerous aggregation. This has powerful biomedical implications. Implanted nanoparticles may be manipulated as required, without fear of the patient becoming sensitised to magnetic fields for prolonged periods of time following a procedure. Moreover, the inorganic nature of nanoparticles reduces the risk of unforeseen biological activity, a common obstacle faced by organic pharmaceuticals.

Tethering these tiny magnets to biological tissue has contributed to profound advancements within enhanced MRI response and remote-controlled drug delivery. Another compelling application is the irradiation of nanoparticle-infused tumour sites with magnetic fields to induce hyperthermia (an increase in temperature), which promotes the destruction of cancerous cells. Nanoparticles are even being considered towards deafness therapy. Binding to hairs in the ear canal, magnetic stimulation may induce their vibration to mimic sound waves.

Under the supervision of Prof. J. Cheon, I synthesised zinc-doped iron oxide nanoparticles, employing familiar techniques like centrifuge separation and electron microscopy. Following this, I carried out surface modification procedures to accommodate the in vivo compatibility of my nanoparticles in aqueous media (namely, the human body). Finally, I turned to “core-shell” type nanoparticles, engineering a cobalt-doped core and softer manganese-doped exterior, to introduce exchange coupling. This phenomenon maximises heat induction efficiency, tailoring the use of these nanoparticles as hyperthermia agents in cancer therapy (3).

Working in the research lab was a wholly fulfilling opportunity, steering me towards synthesis and biotechnology as likely academic career paths. The internship was well structured, insightful and stimulating. I had the freedom to share ideas and partake in thought-provoking discussions regarding the underlying theory.

Beyond the lab, a most memorable highlight was climbing Inwangsan Mountain. Observing from the peak at 338m, the sheer metropolis of Seoul sprawls over the horizon in all directions, and forms an urban basin among mountains and forest. The relative quietness of these mountain trails makes for a peaceful retreat from the city bustle and booming nightlife. It is popular activity for many Koreans, in particular for shamans who claim the space for meditation and prayer.

At night, the city is alive. Emanating from the party centrals of Hongdae, Gangnam, and Itaewon, neon blaze and music fills the streets until the early hours. Despite this, everyone is incredibly hard-working and as the sun rises, it's business as usual. In stark contrast to the mugginess of London, the internationally acclaimed Seoul Metropolitan Subway is bright, clean, and brought to life with artwork, imbuing the commuting network with an air of pride and purpose. Merely 50 years ago, South Korea was largely in poverty off the back of civil war. A generation later, the economy is thriving. It is not difficult to see why.

Further weekend adventures included traversing across the country to the second-largest city, Busan. Ocean-side and renowned for its seafood and beaches, I had the opportunity of trying freshly prepared sushi for the first time. So fresh, in fact, that it wriggled on my plate. This prompted an alarmingly casual “remember to chew” from a Korean friend. Surveying the city from an observatory in Bukchon Hanok Village, watersports in Gapyeong County, and bizarre escapades to the dog cafes of Hapjeong, all made for unforgettable highlights.

I benefitted enormously from my time spent in Korea and enter my final year at Oxford with many lasting connections from across the world. My gratitude is with the Cheon Group who were very welcoming, accommodating, and superb in structuring an engaging itinerary that challenged my knowledge of chemical science. I would highly recommend other curious students to follow in my footsteps and consider Korea for academic or travel opportunities.”

1.    Walker M, Diebel C, Haugh C, et al. in Nature 390 (1997) 371-376
2.    Young-wook J, Jung-wook S, Jinwoo C in Acc. Chem. Res. 41 (2008) 179-189
3.    Lee J, Cheon J, et al. in Nature Nanotechnology 6 (2011) 418-422

  • Inwangsan cityscape

Emma Jade Flint (Medicine, 2014) spent a fortnight shadowing clinicians in Boston, Massachusetts.

“In July 2016, I flew to Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, to spend two weeks in the city. I stayed in Fenway during the visit, and my time abroad was spent on a mixture of gaining an insight into medicine in the USA and exploring the area. The combination of the two made for a very varied and enjoyable fortnight, and an incredible learning experience as my first time travelling alone.

Nick Haining, a Wadham alumnus, introduced to me by Stephen Goss, was my contact in Boston during the week, and he put me in touch with several clinicians and clinician-scientists who I had the opportunity to shadow during the visit. The first three full days of my trip were spent with Leslie Lehmann and her team at the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit in Boston Children’s Hospital, shadowing them during their ward rounds for the inpatients. I was also able to attend an extremely interesting presentation by a researcher from the Haining Lab on “Overcoming Immune Resistance in Paediatric Malignancies” in the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. On the fourth day, as well as attending the “Sign Out” meeting for the BMT team, I decided to get my first real glimpse of the city as a whole, by taking a trip up to the fiftieth floor of The Prudential Center, to get a birds-eye view from the Skywalk Observatory. I went both early in the morning and at sunset that day, which provided some stunning sights.

The fifth day involved a trip to Boston Harbour, where I enjoyed the brilliant New England Aquarium in the morning, before visiting the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, which was a great interactive experience that of course involved pretending to throw some tea overboard! That evening I took a boat from the Harbour to do some Whale Watching, which was a wonderful experience unlike any I have ever had. Following this packed day, I had a more relaxed Sunday spent exploring and window-shopping in Cambridge. On the seventh day, I decided to spend the morning at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital, including visiting the famous Ether Dome, the site of the first public demonstration of the use of inhaled ether as a surgical anaesthetic on October 16, 1846. During the afternoon I wandered around the Museum of Science, enjoying their exhibits, such as that on colourful frogs from around the world, the planetarium, the butterfly garden, and the 4D theatre.

On the eighth day, I visited the Warren Anatomical Museum in the morning, which is located within Harvard Medical School's Countway Library of Medicine. Following this, I met with a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who collaborates with the lab I am attached to for my Final Honour School research project (in endometriosis), to learn about their study and the electronic system they use for data collection. In the afternoon, I took the official tour of Harvard University, and was able to chat to a current student about the similarities and differences to Oxford. The next day began with a trip to the beautiful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, wandering around the galleries and sitting in the peaceful courtyard. Following this, I was very fortunate to be able to meet with an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, who also collaborates with the lab I am attached to. It was great to be able to discuss with her careers in academia in general, and also in the context of studying and working in the USA. That evening, I had a ticket to a concert at the TD Garden, where Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas were performing on their Future Now/Honda Civic Tour, which was great fun.

On the tenth day, I shadowed a fellow from the Haining Lab during his Oncology clinic at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I was really pleased to have this opportunity to see adult care too, which I was able to compare with the experience I had in the paediatric haematopoietic stem cell transplantation unit. The evening was spent at a traditional American movie theatre. The eleventh day involved me attending the lab meeting at the Haining Lab, enabling me to gain a deeper insight into careers in basic science research. During the evening, I watched my very first baseball game (Minnesota Twins vs Boston Red Sox) at Fenway Park, and the atmosphere was absolutely incredible. The next morning, I was up bright and early to observe a Neurology clinic with another member of the Haining Lab. This clinic is specifically for musicians whose clinical conditions are impacting their rehearsing or playing, with nerve entrapment and dystonia being the most common reasons for attending the clinic. It was fantastic to have one final clinical experience, and in an area so unlike the other previous opportunities, which helped to make the clinical and academic experiences of the fortnight incredibly varied. I feel that I learnt so much from them. The afternoon was spent at Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, before another trip to the local movie theatre.

For the thirteenth, and final, full day, I ventured on a day trip to the city of Salem, taking the commuter train early in the morning in order to make the most of the visit. Whilst there, I was able to visit the Salem Witch Museum and The Witch House, in order to learn about the history behind the famous Salem Witch Trials, as well as seeing the Salem Witch Trials Memorial that honours those lost at that time. Following this, I explored the city further and was even able to learn a bit about the history of horror films and admire some spooky models of old film characters at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery. I am very glad that I had a chance to see another city as well as Boston, particularly one with such an interesting history and maritime involvement, during my time in Massachusetts.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Stephen Goss for putting me in contact with Nick Haining, and Nick himself for organising so many varied academic and clinical opportunities for me whilst I was in Boston. I really appreciate the time taken by all those who I met with or shadowed in teaching me and chatting to me. Particularly, I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the Wadham Medical Society, as without the travel grant that was provided to me by the Society, I would not have been able to have this amazing experience."

  • Emma Jade Flint

Bertrand Nzabandora (2012, Law with Law studies in Europe) found that working with underprivileged students in New York was a rewarding experience.

“I had never been to America before this amazing opportunity fell into my email inbox. I had always dreamt of one day hopping across the pond to see what all the fuss was about, but there never seemed to be a reason for me to go that justified the not-insignificant cost of travel that I would incur in doing so. So you can imagine my delight when I received an email detailing an amazing opportunity to work with Project Rousseau. 

Project Rousseau is a social enterprise that offers underprivileged and underserved students tools of empowerment that allow them to reach their full potential and participate in higher education. These tools used to be focused solely on mentoring and education, but the organisation broadened its offering to include opportunities to participate in community service and cultural exchanges. This reflects the belief, which I share, that 'Academic problems rarely have academic causes'. This also reflects the fact that the admission process for higher education in America focuses more on the student as a person, rather than solely their academic profile.

With this in mind, Project Rousseau does not have eligibility criteria linked to academic achievement; it works with students across a range of abilities that come from underprivileged backgrounds. They typically come from families that earn less than $10,000. Needless to say, that is extremely low. To put that into perspective, we can look at the poverty guidelines, issued in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services poverty. Used to determine financial eligibility for certain federal programmes (amongst other things), they include a four-person family earning less than $24,300 in 2016. Therefore, there will be Project Rousseau students who come from families earning less than a third of the poverty guideline.  Frankly, I would have been already on board for any opportunity to visit America but learning about the great work that Project Rousseau did and the potential for me to contribute towards this made my application a certainty. Thanks to an interview process without too many mishaps and very generous bursaries from the Judge Burka and the Moritz-Heyman Internship Bursary funds, I found myself in New York City at the start of July. Navigating the subway to get to where I was temporarily staying was quite the challenge but I managed it! Not long after, I was meeting the team and some of the students.   

The team was full of very impressive people, not least Andrew, who is the founder and president of Project Rousseau. He founded the organisation during his time as an undergraduate at Columbia University, which is an amazing achievement and speaks volumes of his dedication. More impressive still is that he has managed to continue his direct involvement in Project Rousseau whilst completing his master’s degree at Oxford, tutoring at Oxford and beginning a medical degree at Columbia and a DPhil at Oxford. For example, he personally tutors SAT (scholastic assessment test) classes. I thought that I was a busy person until I heard about Andrew!

Meeting the students was an amazing and eye-opening experience. Given their circumstances, many could have easily given up on pursuing any real ambition and that would have been totally understandable. However, they recognised the amazing opportunity offered by Project Rousseau to give them a chance to open doors that had been closed to them and they took it with both hands. They would come to our drop-in sessions during their summer holidays and work on SAT practice, Regents practice (the high school tests in New York) or even my essay writing classes! They showed amazing maturity in investing their time and effort in order to benefit from the reward of a better life in the future: they really understood the value of delayed gratification!

However, unfortunately, my interactions with poverty were not limited to these great students. New York City is seen globally as a place of wealth but this is a massive oversimplification that fails to understand that inequality is rampant. For example, on my way to work, I would regularly see at least three homeless people. The frankly ridiculous level of homelessness in the city is perhaps the most obvious symptom of the problem of inequality and only serves to demonstrate the unfortunately essential nature of organisations such as Project Rousseau.

Navigating New York City in general was both a familiar and unfamiliar affair. Coming from London, I was used to the hustle and bustle in the morning on the London Tube, so I was unfazed by the same on the subway in New York City. However, the lack of British awkwardness and politeness made for a slightly different experience: people were a lot more willing to share with you their thoughts, both good and bad. My British sensibilities could sometimes not quite handle what was going on! Thankfully, my experience of New Yorkers subverted my expectation: despite the stereotype that they are all extremely rude, I found them to be largely very friendly, though my British accent may have helped proceedings (or so I was told by a Project Rousseau student)! What I did not enjoy was the haphazard subway system that routinely stopped functioning properly on weekends: I did not think of the Tube as ‘good’ until I spent some time on the 1 train on a Sunday. Anything is better than that 1 train! One aspect of New York City that was certainly positive was the diversity: there are people all creeds and colours. Furthermore, the city clearly has recognised the clearly significant Spanish-speaking community within the city, with much of the subway system and the advertising more generally in both English and Spanish. This approach extended to the many tourists of the city: for example, some of the ticket machines had the option of instructions being written in Mandarin.  

In terms of what I did within Project Rousseau, I was lucky to have a very multi-faceted role. Given my background in law, having studied Law with European Law, I was placed in charge of creating a two-year plan for exposing students with interest in law to legal thought, practice, and jurisprudence. This involved thinking about how to best prepare students for both applying to US law schools after their undergraduate degrees and directly to a law degree in the UK. Linked to this was the task of creating an international programme that involved sending students to The Hague and to summer programmes in European universities. This involved researching what kind of programmes already existed and asking about the possibility of extending them or creating new ones for Project Rousseau. Thirdly, I ran a weekly essay writing class that focussed on developing the student’s understanding of the structure and purpose of an essay. Fourthly, I developed bespoke plans for the most promising students, as they needed further stimulation to really achieve their potential. More generally, I would also help the students with their own revision as they came to our drop-in sessions. This was a very rewarding role as I was able to directly help students understand a problem and resolve it: it was very satisfying.  

‘Rewarding’ is possibly the most comprehensive single word that describes my experience with Project Rousseau. I learned so much and was able to experience even more. Going to America was great, but going with Project Rousseau made it an experience that I will never forget!”

  • New York City from the Staten Island Ferry

    New York City from the Staten Island Ferry

Margo Munro Kerr (Oriental Studies, 2014) spent her summer supporting women and children in the Calais ‘Jungle’

"I used the grant awarded to me by Wadham to support my work in the Calais ‘Jungle’ over the summer. I spent two months there, working for the unofficial women and children’s centre as a teacher and translator.

The centre is a double-decker bus that has been converted into a safe space for women and children. Downstairs is the women’s space, upstairs the children’s. We welcomed boys up to age ten, and girls of any age.


Most of the children were Afghan or Kurdish, as the centre was close to an Afghan/Kurdish community, although there were also some Sudanese and Ethiopian children. The children came at around twelve each day and stayed for at least two hours, but often up to five, some going away and coming back later. We usually stayed until around 8pm. We did not follow structured lesson plans but rather promoted learning through play. We were primarily a safe space, not an educational space, although we did integrate Maths, English, Science, French, Art, Music, and sports into our days.

The children were simply gorgeous, wonderful beings who deserve the best in life. These were not the unaccompanied minors who are eligible to be brought to the UK under the Dublin III laws and Dubs amendment, but children with families who were trying, some nightly, to get to the UK illegally. They would often come to the bus tired or angry, and we would try to support them in the best way possible. They loved structure and the regular times that we were open or closed. Children new to the space would sometimes break things or take things home, but anyone who knew the space had immense respect for it.

As a Farsi and French speaker, I also organised for the Afghan families to meet with French and British lawyers and translated for them. It was important for them to get reliable advice, as there were always false rumours and vague facts flying around. There was a legal shelter in the centre of the camp, but the women didn’t like going there, as it was an area full of single men. Our aim was to give them unbiased, objective advice on the asylum processes in France and the UK so they could make the decision to leave the Jungle and claim asylum in France, or continue ‘trying’ for the UK fully informed about what to do when they got there. Many were holding out with the hope that the UK would take pity on families and accept them as refugees. Sadly there was simply no legal process for them to get to the UK, and this was a shock to many.

One woman had lost two children on the journey from Afghanistan, when boarding the boat in Turkey headed for Greece. I organised for her to meet with the Red Cross Restoring Family Links team in Calais so that they could try to trace her daughters, and translated for the meeting. I also translated for doctors and psychologists who came to the centre on an ad hoc basis.

More generally, I spent time chatting to the women, many of whom simply wanted to talk. Even though I could not imagine what it is like to leave your home, put your trust and your money in the hands of smugglers, travel thousand of miles in unbearable hardship, only to reach your goal and find you are not wanted and you will be thwarted at the final stage – being able to speak their language, while not being a part of their community put me in a position of trust. The women knew I wouldn’t judge them or tell people their stories. I tried to listen to the problems, and to seek help in the appropriate place if it was possible. It was also good to just chat. Building up a relationship with the women meant that I was better able to explain specific problems to the lawyers, the Red Cross, and the other volunteers on the bus who were supporting them.

I think it was a life-changing experience for me and I will never be the same again."

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