This week, we’re welcoming more than 20 promising students from schools around the capital into Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London. These aspiring young scientists, selected from schools with historically low university attendance, will spend a week in our laboratories. Our researchers will guide them through the world of cutting-edge cancer research, breaking down perceived barriers and igniting their aspirations to pursue careers in science.
The STARS programme (Science Training for Aspiring Research Scientists programme) was made possible this year thanks to a new grant from Cancer Research UK’s City of London Centre. The funding recognises the importance of encouraging the next generation of students with a passion for science to pursue a career in the field, regardless of their background.
Professor John Marshall, a researcher at Barts Cancer Institute and the driving force behind STARS, first established the programme a decade ago thanks to initial funding from the QMUL Centre for Public Engagement. “I was educated in a state school similar to the ones these young people come from,” Professor Marshall explains. “I feel as scientists we have a responsibility to give back. That’s why I launched the STARS programme.”
The STARS programme offers students a unique opportunity to conduct experiments in a modern cancer research lab while learning about the pioneering advances happening at the institute. The students are mentored not only by senior researchers like Professor Marshall but also by PhD students. These mentors share stories of their own scientific journeys, demystifying academia and dispelling stereotypes about who can become a scientist. The researchers themselves gain valuable experience in science communication and teaching, helping them to see their research from a fresh perspective.
Professor Marshall has seen the many examples of the positive impact of the STARS programme first-hand with many students going to their first choice university, including medical schools. “At a cancer conference last year, a young researcher approached me and said: ‘You might not remember me, but I was one of your STARS students. Now I’m studying for my master’s degree.’ I thought that was great! She had gone from a school where the number of students attending university was relatively low to studying for a masters at a top London university – what a success story. It reminds us that in every secondary school, there are many young people who can achieve great things if just given a little help.”
Veronica Dominguez, Cancer Research UK City of London Centre Coordinator, commented: “STARS has made an extraordinary impact on the future of many children, and it is crucial that this continues. John’s dedication and love for teaching are much appreciated and the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre Executive board would like to thank him for it. Inspiring the new generations and volunteers through this high-quality programme every year is a wonderful accomplishment and Cancer Research UK City of London Centre is honoured to be able to support him.”
Looking ahead, the team aims to expand the STARS programme to other partners within the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre. This collaboration brings together cancer researchers from Barts Cancer Institute, University College London, King’s College London and The Francis Crick Institute.
We collect anonymous feedback from participating students to help us improve the course and meet our aims. Below is some feedback from the STARS 2022 students: