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Sun, sea and parasitology: Thomas’s journey to studying abroad, becoming a first author and going on to study a MSc in tropical disease biology

Posted by cc576 at Jul 31, 2020 12:00 PM |
“To live in another country and experience their culture, whilst also studying as a student, is a once in a life time opportunity.

Thomas Arme, a Class of 2020 University of Leicester graduate, has many great achievements under his belt. Like many of our graduates this year, Thomas has felt the impact of COVID-19 affect his final few months of his university experience. Despite this, he has gone on to graduate, having become a first author for a research paper, and will be continuing his studies with a MSc in Tropical Disease Biology in Liverpool.

Thomas’s journey began with his desire to study abroad. Studying abroad for many students is a sure-fire way to gain experience, independence, and an understanding of a different culture, and Thomas had the opportunity to do so before moving into his final year of study. Thomas explains: “When I started my second year of university, I knew I didn’t want to move straight into my final year. I spoke to my grandad, a retired professor from Keele University, and asked if he knew anyone looking to take on a student for a placement year. He gave me several emails and the only one to reply with an offer was Prof. Domenico Otranto, a leading researcher in the field of veterinary parasitology”.

An opportunity such as this for many students is one that would be difficult to pass. Thomas commented: “I really liked the idea of working a year in industry and the valuable skills I would gain from that experience. However, I knew in my heart I wanted to spend a year living in another country. So, when the offer for a work placement abroad was made by the Italian professor, I couldn’t think of a better option”. After spending a year in the southern Italian city of Bari, in the region of Puglia; ( the heel of the boot of Italy), his initial nine months of his time abroad was spent working as an Erasmus research student for the parasitology department at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Bari.

“Although I had no prior formal education in parasitology, my supervising professor allowed me to study some of the areas of research their lab conducted. Subsequently, with the guidance of the PhD students and research associates of the lab, I was allowed to conduct a project of my choosing”.

“I was invited to come on a field collection for another project studying the epidemiology of the parasitic eye worm Thelazia callipaeda and its vector, the fruit fly Phortica variegata. For this, we went to the mountains of a neighbouring region called Basilicata. I loved the field work aspect of this trip, so I decided to focus my study of the year on these two organisms.”

After gaining practical skills such as molecular methodology (PCR, DNA extraction and purification) or field collections and more general skills, such as writing, experimental design and study, Thomas continued to develop personally, in his Italian proficiency, creating meaningful bonds and friendships with those coming from all across Europe, and even commenting that working and studying in this year in comparison to his previous years of education, really impacted him positively in regards to his final year.

Aside from having a year abroad of studying and development, Thomas wrote and became a first author of a published paper. No small feat, and quite rare for a student in their second year. Thomas commented, “I’m very lucky to have been given the opportunity to conduct my own project. I was involved in all aspects of the project, such as experimental design, field collections, lab work and writing. I enjoyed working in the research group because everyone collaborated with each other”.

Thomas recalls: “A highlight from my work would be the time I assisted on a project which involved the blood sampling of tigers for diagnosis of Leishmaniasis. This was one of many lab and field activities I was involved with during the year”.

He also gained the opportunity to design a poster to present his results at the next conference for the World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology (WAAVP) in Madison, Wisconsin. He comments: “This was a great experience because I got to meet lots of researchers in the field and learn more about parasitology”.

With COVID-19 having an impact on his last few months at university, Thomas reflects, stating: “I really enjoyed my time here at Leicester. Unfortunately, the final months of being a student at Leicester have been taken away, but this does not take away from the memories and experiences I got from studying at this university”.

For students wondering whether or not studying abroad is worth it, Thomas suggests: “To live in another country and experience their culture, whilst also studying as a student, is a once in a life time opportunity. I experienced great development on a personal and academic level. As well as the paper, I got to travel all across Italy during this year, and was awarded a £1,000 scholarship from the university that I will do my masters at, which was based on the merit of experience I gained on my year away”.

As for next steps, Thomas plans continuing his studying with a MSc in Tropical Disease Biology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, where he has been accepted to. “As I have no formal education in parasitology, I wanted to apply for a masters that would teach me about it and related topics, and my Italian professor said he would be happy to have me back to his lab to complete the PhD. So, my goal is to work there in two years from now.”

We wish Thomas all the success for the future and look forward to hearing about both his research and future endeavours.

Studying abroad is part of the get experience stage of My Student Journey. Find about more about the options available to you.

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