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ONCONANO GROUP GIVES STUDENTS A “HEAD START"

The OncoNano Research Group was founded in 2018 by a small group of PhD students at Middlesex University. Their aim was to set up a platform for research students to share knowledge and news, and to encourage more students to undertake research. In August 2019, we sat down with them to discuss how they felt their first year had gone, and what they have planned for the year ahead. The interview was led by Fahim Hayat, one of the founding members of the group and a PhD student at the university, looking at antibiotics resistance research using nanoparticles. With him was Nakul Patel and Nirusha Weerasinghe, two more of the original members. The final member, Amrinder Singh, was not present.

Fahim was immeasurably proud when he introduced the group to us, and he passionately described the story of their founding. “There was no communication between students,” he explained, “so we thought it’d be a good idea to get together and do something that can set up a platform.” The platform was intended for newly graduated students, or undergraduates, who were considering future participation in research, or thinking about doing a PhD.

To create this platform, the group began publishing newsletters to send out to students. “The reason for newsletters was to put out news of whatever was happening within the department or within Middlesex University,” Fahim explained. “We were doing that for a year before we realised we were giving more information out than actual news, so we thought we would change it to a magazine.”

In May 2019, the group released the first issue of their magazine, Research Matters, which replaced their monthly newsletters. Students can access it by signing up to receive a PDF copy via email. Alternatively, all of the OncoNano Research Group’s newsletters and magazines are archived in print copy in the Sheppard Library (Hendon campus). The group were proud to boast of the magazine’s success so far. “Each magazine has been read by other 3,000 people,” Fahim explained, excitedly showing us this data on his computer. “This morning, looking at it, we’ve got 3,700 reads on our third magazine.” Inside each magazine is a wealth of information for students, including an insight into the life of a PhD student, details of what work a PhD might require, and much more. The group present it in a way “that even the school kids will be looking at it and reading it to see what it’s like to be a scientist or what it’s like to be an economist.”

The magazine also marks a significant change of audience for the group. Initially, the group aimed itself at science-related fields, which is why the name OncoNano was chosen, to reflect the members interests in oncology and nanotechnology. The decision to focus on these fields came from a collective fear of failure, as Fahim says that they “thought [they] might not get support from other people.” However, the support they’ve received has been “enormous”, leading them to want to rebrand the group entirely so that they “will read more students and hopefully cross disciplines as well.” This rebrand is planned for Christmas 2019, and will include a change of name and logo.

The group also hope to continue running their events alongside the magazine. Some of the events they have run in the past include My Research Story, which they are hoping to continue in the year ahead, and other workshops and seminars for undergraduates. They also hosted a talk at the STEM Festival this year.

They were particularly proud of the My Research Story series, claiming that “it helped a lot of people.” They bragged of a specific success story of a research student who spoke at one of the events, and at a following event claimed that it had helped her so much that she no longer needed mental health support. They also talk to students who are interested in finding out more about research or PhD studies, and invite anyone in this category to “come in for a coffee” and they will have an informal chat about the realistic expectations of a research student.

The success of the group, they explained, is down to their wide range of experience. “And also, I think,” Fahim said, “we are reaching a platform that’s never been done. As a group we create some amazing stuff that usually you would see as something that has been created by someone really professional.” In his opinion, at the core of the group is a knowledge that “as well as helping others, it’s very important to have skills in time management, leadership and development.”

The interview ended with their wishes for the future. “I think, working as a group, we have changed things for all PhD students,” they told us. “We’ve set up that standard, and we hope that standards will stay here after we leave.” In particular, they hope that the levels of communication and student engagement will continue to increase at the rate they have seen over the past year.

In an inspiring tone, Fahim drove through his message: “Look, it’s there. Take part in it, and it will make you look better, as well as developing your own skills.”

The associate members hope to be completing their PhDs in roughly a year. Following this, they aim to continue to try to set up a multi-disciplinary platform for information sharing between students.