Medical students of the University of Tartu got research experience in Iceland

Tartu Ülikooli arstitudengid said Islandil teadustöö kogemuse

This autumn ended Tartu-Iceland research exchange programm. Medical students from the University of Tartu and the University of Iceland exchanged places in order to conduct a scientific mini-project within one month. On October 14, a partner from the University of Iceland, Professor Thor Eysteinsson, visited Biomedicum, with whom a summary of the project was made.

Project coordinator Miriam Hickey, University Of Tartus’ Associate Professor of Pharmacology said students benefit from international exchanges, but the vast majority of exchanges in medicine are aimed at clinical skill development. “In our program, we wanted to give medical undergraduates the experience of basic science, to learn new techniques and generate data on their own. By participating in our program, the students also improved transferable skills, such as teamwork and communication.”

Hickey added that student worked with real projects, so they could learn how challenging science can be, for example how to optimise protocols and prepare samples. “Students worked in our laboratories for 1 month, and despite this short time, they showed changes in white matter in the brain of models of Parkinson’s disease, changes in  brain volume in a model of Wolfram syndrome, they observed changes memory in a model of obesity, they examined visual function and saw degenerative changes in models of age-related macular degeneration.“

6th year medical student Ege Ergür said since the start of his medical school journey, he always believed that the high-quality patient care can only be achieved through advencements in medical research and translation of these findings. “I was always interested how advancements in reserach affect our clinical work, for example how new lab-markers allow us to diagnose diseases with high sensitivity and specificity, and how new and targeted drugs can efficiously control diseases.“ He added that as a young scholar with interest in pursuing medical reserach beside clinical careers, this one-of-a-kind exchange program allowed to gain a valuable experience of the process from laboratory to publishing.

3rd year medical student Marie Helen Tomberg said when she came to university, she already wanted to try her hand at scientific work. "The Tartu-Iceland exchange program was the first project I came across where previous experience in science was not necessary, and it gave me the courage to apply. I researched changes in the morphology of the eye pigment epithelium in a mouse with a specific gene mutation at the University of Iceland. Over the course of four weeks, it became clear how time-consuming scientific work, conducting experiments, and obtaining results can be. Unexpected situations always arise in science, experiments need to be repeated, and plans may need to be adjusted," Tomberg explained.

6th year medical student Effe Ergür said international collaboration between scientists are essential to succeed in science. “I was lucky to take part in all phases of a scientific project from conducting the experiment to statistical analysis and interpreting results. I realized that nothing would go as smooth as anticipated previously. Sometimes there would be problems with the method or the results, which would make me feel demotivated. However, accepting the fact and doing changes and repetitions indeed helped with obtaining meaningful results.”

11 students have traveled between Estonia and Iceland to conduct miniprojects. Miriam Hickey said the project has been a success. “We worked really well together and despite all of the challenges with COVID, volcanoes and the ongoing war, our students did great work and we made great friends. Students noted improvements in transferable skills, such as teamwork, presentation and time management skills. Critically for us, their science skills and ability to read science publications improved too. We are very happy to see this.”

Project was managed by Miriam Hickey, Monika Jürgenson and Anu Sarv from University of Tartu. Partners from University of Island’s were Thor Eysteinsson and Andrea García-Llorca.

Read more about project from here.

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