The BCI has partnered with the charity Access Work Placements to create a course for local A level students that allows them to experience cancer research first-hand.




Our Science Training for Aspiring Research Scientists programme offers pupils with an interest in science - whether they're thinking of medical research, dentistry, or are generally curious about lab work - to perform experiments, learn techniques and discover the research environment.

Importantly, we also focus on the opportunity for our postgraduate students and senior researchers (we call them STARS Facilitators) to engage with the students to reinforce their science communication and teaching skills.DSC01779

We believe the interaction is beneficial for everyone involved; both inspiring young people to pursue careers in scientific subjects and renewing the enthusiasm of early career and established researchers.

Student feedback has shown that the course also tackles negative stereotypes of scientists and science, showing young people that science can be fun and that scientists are like them; making such a career seem more appealing and achievable.

The pilot course was made possible by generous funding from the QMUL Centre for Public Engagement.


Open other tabs to find out about upcoming BCI STARS programmes and for more information.

Updates and Contact


Upcoming STARS courses

2018 TBC
BCI John Marshall
2018 TBC
Blizard Institute Cleo Bishop
2018 TBC
KCL Maddy Parsons

Previous STARS courses:

10-14 July 2017

12-22 July 2016

13-17 July 2015

16-20 September 2013

17-21 February 2014

BCI John Marshall
18-22 July 2016 Blizard Institute Cleo Bishop
July 2016 KCL Maddy Parsons


  • July 2016: This year's STARS courses have been completed successfully! We've now set up a STARS Alumni Facebook group (request to join) and more reviews will be available soon.
  • Feburary 2016: the STARS constellation is forming! QMUL's Blizard Institute and King's College London will run their first STARS programmes this year.
  • October 2015: our STARS 2015 review, plus Prof Marshall reviews STARS 2015 for the QMUL Centre for Public Engagement Blog
  • September 2015: Prof Marshall and Access invited to Downing Street a third time!
  • August 2014: Congratulations to all of our 2014 students for receiving their first choice university offers! Two have secured places to study Medicine; one is heading to Exeter University to study Engineering; one to Veterinary medicine and one to the University of Bristol to study physics!
  • 29/05/2014: Our application for a Biochemical Society outreach grant was successful; it will fund the 2015 course.
  • 26/02/2014: See our Storify of the 2014 BCI STARS course, with student comments, useful links and images.
  • 13/02/2014: Queen Mary University of London shares BCI STARS press release
  • 24/01/2014: Downing Street welcomes STARS organisers; covered by the The Telegraph!
  • 04/10/2013: STARS 2013 - an introduction to STARS and review of our first ever course.



fc-webicon-twitter-s Everyone is welcome to contact us, share STARS information and ask questions via Twitter - use #BCISTARS!

Please contact Prof John Marshall with any further questions or comments.

Course Details

Students start the day with a brief introduction to the day's research theme. This is followed by practical sessions in our teaching laboratory. Students work in groups of 3-4 with a Facilitator to carry out the experiments timetabled. Each day closes with a debrief session where students and Facilitators can discusswhat they liked, what they would change and follow up any questions that they feel were not answered previously.

There is also the opportunity to tour the Institute's facilities and see cancer researchers at work. The week closes with an awards ceremony and refreshments on Friday afternoon.

DSC01781smallExamples of what visiting students learn during the STARS course:

  • How to accurately prepare solutions and dilutions
  • Examining cancer cells under the microscope
  • Basic tissue culture techniques (growing cells in the lab)
  • DNA extraction
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Agarose gel electrophoresis (detecting and visualising DNA)
  • How to clone a gene using the bacterial blue-white screen
  • Separating proteins using Polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE)
  • Detecting specific proteins after SDS PAGE using Western blotting
  • Detecting specific proteins in tissue samples of cancer using immunohistochemistry
  • Comparison of normal and cancer tissues by microscopy
  • Successful completion of the UCAS form and financing for university

You can view an example STARS timetable here.


A selection of our favourite STARS photographs so far; more are available on Flickr and Facebook. [We are currently having technical difficulty with our website's photo galleries]




Photos may be reproduced with attribution to the photographer (Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike by-nc-sa/3.0)

Please contact our Communications Manager if you require hi-res images.

Student Experiences

We collect anonymous feedback from the students who participate to help us improve the course and find out whether we are meeting our aims:

"The scientists' instructions encouraged and guided me really well"


"The STARS programme showed me how much there is to learn and discover in science"


"At first I thought working in a laboratory may be boring but I found that actually it's really fun"


"I previously didn't have a great idea of what science researchers do especially in cancer research because it is always in the news. It's good to know that the research they are doing is for the benefit of cancer patients."


"It made me realise just how important research science is! It gave me a better understanding and appreciation"


"...working in a Lab and in an area where science is always developing, who doesn't want to be there?"


"I already wanted to go to university, the course has helped me to confirm that that is what I want."


"[I have] more confidence to do a bio/chem course"


"I had hoped to gain experience in a real-world research lab and to improve my practical lab skills, and I feel that I have achieved this."


"I have no suggestions, I think this week was top quality"


"It was a great experience and I am sure anyone taking part next year will enjoy it as much as I did! :-)"



John_M_1 Prof John Marshall - Group Leader, STARS Organiser

The STARS week was enormously successful and great fun! I was delighted by the professional manner with which the young people treated the whole week and also very proud of the the PhD students for their skills in teaching and engaging their team for entire time.

Thanks also to volunteer senior facilitators for their valuable time. All the facilitators, including myself, really felt that we were doing something of value and that felt good. I hope other universities develop their own programmes or they are welcome to copy ours.

grose Dr Richard Grose - Group Leader

Did the STARS programme change your perception of A level students?

I was pleasantly surprised by how bright and engaged they were. You hear a lot in the media about dumbing down A levels, but these guys were really sharp, so based on this first-hand experience, I have to disagree!

169_566134551658_3217_n_copy Dr Louise ReynoldsSenior Research Scientist

What did you hope to gain from participating in the course?

I hoped to engage and inspire potential scientists of the future - it felt very rewarding. The students were so enthusiastic and seemed to genuinely enjoy working with us; it's encouraging to know that many of them are hoping to study medicine and similar subjects and that STARS helped confirm their decisions.

Claire_R_1 Claire Reader - PhD Student

What did you hope to gain from participating in the course?

I hoped to meet young people thinking about applying to universities and inspire them. Most were already interested in science, but I found the students really enjoyed being 'hands on', which is what I love most too!

It's a great chance to motivate and connect with young people who have so much potential. They taught me things too, so it's a rewarding learning curve for both students and facilitators.

Ami_D_1 Ami Desai - Research Assistant

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

Working with the STARS students is amazing because they're such bright and enthusiastic kids with loads of intelligent questions. They bring a fresh perspective that makes you question why we use techniques the way we do, which is really useful for us - it encourages you to focus and can really improve your day-to-day work.

Ed_W_1 Ed Wilkes - PhD Student

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

The programme managed to surpass even the highest of my expectations! It was an excellent opportunity to interact with a demographic that we’re rarely able to in our everyday work, and I thoroughly enjoyed using my scientific skills to inspire the next generation of young scientists.

A particular highlight was not only discussing science, but a whole range of topics with the students, from anthropology to philosophy!

Zareen_5 Zareen Khan - PhD Student

What did you hope to gain from participating in the course?

I hoped to gain experience in community outreach work, particularly by promoting higher education to young people and giving them the opportunity to ask questions and enable their understanding of how rewarding attending university and a career in scientific research could be.

Ktan1 Ketan Patel - PhD Student

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

Working with young students who were interested in a sciencedegree was a remarkable experience for me. The BCI STARS students were very bright and full of enthusiasm to learn about research life.

I think that we inspired them to engage more with research. I also learned things during the week, including how daunting it feels to decide your future career path at 16. I hope the week was as constructive, educational and most of all fun for them as it was for us!

Caroline_9 Caroline Sproat - PhD Student

All of these facilitators are (or were!) based in our Centre for Tumour Biology



Access is a new charity whose aim is to engage with academies and non-selective schools in England to deliver tailored and aspirational opportunities in relevant workplaces. Access focuses on schools where there is limited existing provision, and will work with every student in the sixth form to find a meaningful experience.

Access' aims:

  • Improve employability of 16-18 year olds
  • Increase social mobility
  • Remove barriers to access to both higher education and employment
  • Broaden young people's understanding of the workplace
  • To work with academy and non-selective schools in areas of deprivation
  • To work with academy and non-selective schools who are improving but not yet at national standards for GCSE or A level


STARS2014 Collage 

BCI STARS is one of Access' Case Studies:

Barts Cancer Institute took 11 students in 2013 who were interested in a Medical or science career to give them a very structured five day work experience in a cancer research laboratory with PhD students and Professors conducting real research.


QMUL_CPE Logo2017Wide2 Access_wide
This site uses cookies in order to function properly. By continuing to browse, you agree that we can save them on your device. Privacy Policy.