Perez imaging with the confocal microscope

Jessica Perez is a master’s student in biomedical engineering here at the U of A. As part of a year abroad, she’s been given the opportunity to do research training at the Harefield Heart Science Centre, located in northwest London. Below, she reports on her experience:

My name is Jessica Perez, and I am currently a master’s student in the Biomedical Engineering Department with Dr. Kartik Balachandran as my graduate advisor. I had done undergraduate research with Dr. B when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering, and when I decided to do my master’s degree at the University of Arkansas, he took me on as one of his graduate students. However, this semester I have taken a break from schoolwork, and I am currently doing research training at Harefield Heart Science Centre in a little village in Northwest London.

Perez with the cone & plate machine

As an undergraduate, I participated in a year-long exchange program at the University of Essex in Colchester, which is about an hour east of London. Dr. B encouraged me to talk to one of his current colleagues, Dr. Adrian Chester, about the research done at the centre since it wasn’t too far from where I was studying. He had previously worked here, and thanks to his good name and recommendation, I was given this research opportunity, and also given funding from the Magdi Yacoub Institute to support my stay. My year abroad was something that I did because I needed a break from my degree program and wanted a gap year, but at the same time, I didn’t want to stop going to school. I was, however, scared to take a break (I was feeling that I would fall behind) but because of the encouragement from my family, friends, and Dr. B, I went ahead and did it. I would have never thought that this opportunity would follow.

Perez with the valve biology & tissue engineering research group at the Harefield Heart Science Centre

I have been here for almost a month now and the number of new research methods I have learned is unbelievable. I’m doing things that I had only discussed theoretically in classes or read about in journal articles. The members of the research group I am in have been doing what they do for a long time and are extremely experienced in their field. I’ve read some of their articles while doing my own projects back home, and I would have never imagined that I would be able to be trained by them first hand.  They are so willing to train me as much as they can. I am currently working on three different projects and will soon start to work on another. Not only am I able to do and learn so much during the weekdays, I am also able to see my friends that I made during my year abroad during the weekends. I felt at home almost right away thanks to such a welcoming team and my friends. I’m excited for what the next five months have in store for me and for all the newfound knowledge I will be able to apply to my graduate project back home.

—Jessica Perez