For the third year running, Churchill College is offering a number of ‘Summer Opportunities Bursaries’ to support Churchill undergraduates pursuing a summer project outside of their academic course. These sought-after bursaries cover a period of up to 8 weeks, during which bursary holders are also entitled to subsidised College Accommodation.

The scheme, which was first conceived and launched by the College’s Senior Tutor Dr Rita Monson, is open to any Churchill College undergraduate student who is not a finalist. Project ideas can span any area of interest, from working in a historical archive or exploring an artist’s catalogue to developing robotics in an engineering lab or working on comparative bioinformatics in a research group. The only requirements are projects must be unconnected to the applicant’s academic course, no other funding source should be available and students must be supported by an appropriate supervisor throughout the project.

With applications now open for this year’s bursaries, we met with some of last year’s bursary holders to find out more. In our first profile we hear from third year NatSci Jake Rees whose Summer Opportunity Bursary funded a summer internship with the Wellcome Foundation in the Sanger labs on the Genome Campus. Jake worked as part of the PaM (Parasites and Microbes) Core Team and the opportunity not only developed invaluable skills and cemented his career direction but also led to an exciting invitation to speak at a national academic conference!

Jake’s experience

Jake’s project title was ‘optimising methods for Oxford Nanopore sequencing of bacterial epigenetic modifications’. The project aims were to A) investigate possible links between antimicrobial resistance and the methylation state of bacterial DNA, specifically if methylation is necessary for antibiotic resistant phenotypes, and B) to define standard operating procedures for the characterisation of bacterial epigenetic information using ONT sequencing that can be scaled up to produce larger quantities of data.

What were the benefits of taking part in this project?

Completing this project has confirmed for me that a career in scientific research is something that I would very much enjoy and has further cemented my enthusiasm for the subject. I learnt a great deal about the way a laboratory functions, the realities surrounding certain techniques such as PCR (figure 1) including their pitfalls, and gained experience writing detailed reports in a publishable format and producing slides to present to my co-workers. I also significantly changed the way in which I think about science, how I ask questions inside and outside of the lab, and how to thoroughly convince myself through good experimental design that what I believe has happened has indeed happened.

My approach to reading papers also improved with the practice I had over the course of the project – particularly at the beginning where familiarising myself with the current literature became a key component to asking a meaningful and answerable question. Finally, my computational skills significantly improved, as previously I had never used any Unix based systems before and I am now capable of performing detailed and complicated analysis of nanopore traces using this language. Learning how to navigate this system and use in silico techniques to analyse my data will significantly improve my ability to answer increasingly challenging hypothesis going forward in my scientific career.

Figure 1: Successful PCR reaction amplifying two target sequences.

Has taking part in the internship led to any other opportunities?

I am delighted to have been accepted to present my work at the Microbiology Annual Conference in Edinburgh over the easter break. This opportunity has the potential to shift the entire trajectory of my future career and is extremely challenging to land. I have also applied to the Society to fund my travel and accommodation whilst I am there.

How has the experience impacted your future career plans?

This experience not only furthered my desire to continue with research but also gave me technical skills for working in a lab environment and provided me with several contacts who have expressed interest in staying connected for future projects. The conference I will be presenting at should have this same effect again – with more opportunities for academic networking as well as providing more practice at presenting a research project in the form of a poster (something I have not done before) and giving me a chance to experience what an academic conference is like for the first time.

Why is funding of this kind so important to have available for Churchill students?

Research projects of this nature can be expensive to carry through and living in Cambridge generally is not cheap. Research in Cambridge is a wonderful opportunity for the students at this College to have, but serious economic walls can present themselves and price a lot of very talented people out. Although there are other funding schemes available from within and outside of the university, these are often much more competitive and in many cases are more likely to be rejected than accepted due to the number of applicants they receive. The Summer Opportunities Bursary is an excellent way to alleviate this barrier and provide more opportunities to the students at this college.

What are your future plans?

After completing my undergraduate degree, I intend to stay on for a master’s degree and then potentially a PhD after this. My aspiration is to go into research and academia in cell biology, genetics, and/or biochemistry.

What would you say to someone considering applying for a Summer Opportunities Bursary?

Go for it! If you have a project you want to do over the summer period and you meet the criteria to apply, you absolutely should. If you do get on to the scheme it’s a chance you won’t regret.

Find out more: Undergraduate vacation opportunities – Churchill College (

Supporting our students

Summer Opportunities are crucial for undergraduates trying to ascertain which research route fascinates them or looking to advance their skills beyond undergraduate practicals. Being able to broaden their education, beyond the traditional term-time curriculum, by gaining real-world experience can be transformational for a student’s career trajectory.

The Summer Opportunities fund, launched during our first Giving Day in 2022, enables students to take up internships and placements over the long vacation and has already had a significant impact. For the programme to continue, we ask for your help so that more undergraduate students like Jake can be supported this summer and beyond. Thank you for your support!

Summer Opportunities Fund