Nicola Rutherford: BSc Biochemistry

Industrial placement at The Mayo Clinic, Florida

How did you spend your time?

I was based in a newly formed genetics lab in the Neuroscience Department, investigating new causes or risk factors for frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

I spent the first few weeks getting acquainted with new techniques e.g.PCRsequencing and genotyping, which I would need to use daily in the lab.

I had two substantial projects; 'fine-mapping the region on chromosome 9 linked to families with a history of FTLD, ALS and FTLD-ALS' and 'identifying mutations in the TARDBP gene' - encoding a DNA/RNA binding protein, which were found in familial ALS patients, and resulted in a first author publication!


When I wasn’t working on my projects I was carrying out routine lab work, including the screening of new samples. The lab I worked in was very small; only 5 people in total. I found them very welcoming and was able to settle in quickly. The primary investigator was young and enthusiastic and worked with me extensively, greatly increasing my understanding of the projects. She even let me co-write the publication!

I presented my data both internally, at 'The Mayo', and externally at the South East Nerve Net conference in Atlanta, GA, which was a greatly rewarding experience.

How has your degree programme helped your placement?

The knowledge I learned in the first two years of my degree, especially the genetics modules, provided a good basis for understanding the work I carried out. My primary investigator and other members of the lab explained new things to me, and reading papers does help a lot.

What did you enjoy most?

I loved working at 'The Mayo', but living in Florida was an amazing experience too. The house we rented was only 3 blocks from the beach where, if you’re lucky enough, you can see dolphins. Jacksonville is just over two hours drive from exciting Orlando and there are places where you can swim with manatees (incredible!). It was a fantastic experience, living in a different culture for a year with plenty of chances for road tripping

Have you any advice you would offer to other students considering a placement?

The year is a great experience and gives you so much more confidence, especially in practical, organisational and IT skills. It has solidified my career plans to work in the genetics area of science, and will look great on my CV when I come to apply for jobs or further education in the near future.