INSPIRE National Intercalators' Conference and ‘The Recipe for Success’

Updated: May 27, 2020

INSPIRE National Intercalators' Conference and ‘The Recipe for Success’ by Sadaf Farooqi

INSPIRE is a national initiative coordinated by the Academy of Medical Sciences and supported by the Wellcome Trust. It is designed to engage undergraduates with research by offering funding to medical, dental and veterinary schools across the country, to deliver locally designed activities to inform students about the benefits and potential of a career in research. Aside from the activities run throughout the year, INSPIRE hold an annual National Intercalators' Conference, which provides undergraduates with a platform for to present and be awarded for research projects they have participated in. I have attended this conference for the past two years, and will be sharing some of my personal reflections from the event this year!

The conference took place on Saturday 17th November and was held in the Wills Memorial Building at the University of Bristol. Having been a student ambassador for INSPIRE over the past three years, I also had the privilege of being part of the organising committee, in addition to volunteering on the day. The day consisted of a series of talks from keynote speaker Sadaf Farooqi and a range of other academics, in addition to several poster and oral presentations covering themes such as neurology, infection and immunity, cardiology, obstetrics and population health. It was great to see the diversity and quality of research outputs that students had been at the forefront of, and to observe how students both appraised and learnt from the work of their peers. One of my responsibilities on the day involved, moderating poster presentations alongside Professor Colin Dayan. We awarded marks based on the quality of research presented, the presentation itself and responses to follow up questions. This was particularly useful for my own insight, as I will be completing my intercalated BSc in Clinical Sciences next year and hope to present my findings at relevant conferences in future.

My personal highlight from the day was the talk from our keynote speaker, a ‘BME’ woman known as Professor. Sadaf Farooqi. Amongst other roles, she is a professor of Metabolism and Medicine at the University of Cambridge and a consultant physician at Addenbrooke's Hospital. I coincidentally first encountered her work during my year two Student Selected Component (SSC) which involved researching the genetic underpinnings of obesity. Her work continually cropped up in my research findings, and it became evident to me that whoever Sadaf Farooqi was, they were leading in this field of study. Unbeknown to me, I’d have the privilege of meeting her in person later that year!

Interestingly, she spoke about how her journey into academia wasn't one that was planned or 'calculated' as such. In fact, she didn't have a particularly strong interest in research during her time at the University of Birmingham, where she studied Medicine. Despite this, during medical school, she remained open-minded and 'gave research a go'. This unexpectedly resulted in publishing her first scientific paper on how ethnic differences in infant care practices impacted on the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in Birmingham - an area of intense scientific intense at the time. Since, her research has contributed to reforming practice and guidelines.

As a ‘BME’ woman myself, it was heart-warming and inspiring to hear the success stories of a 'BME' woman that has made notable strides in a field that was, and still is, dominated by a demographic she doesn't 'fit in to' - one that is 'very white' and 'very male'. To date, her work has been pivotal in our current understanding obesity, and has involved identifying patients with mutations in genes encoding leptin, leptin receptor and targets of leptin action. She has demonstrated the central role of leptin-melanocortin axis in the regulation of human food intake. Her speech, entitled ‘The recipe for success’ was incredibly inspiring and I thought it would be useful if I shared a few of her nuggets of wisdom!

Here is a short summary of my take home messages from ‘The recipe for success’ by Prof. Sadaf Farooqi:

The menu:

  • What is your research vision? What are you trying to solve? What do you want to understand? It’s often easy for researchers to lose sight of what you’re actually trying to figure out, so it’s important that time is taken to clarify your research vision and assess whether the work you’re doing is getting any closer to achieving it.

  • Articulating your research vision - ‘If you can’t explain it simply enough, you don’t know it well enough’

  • Do research that is important to you and can make a difference.

  • Find your passion – the questions should drive, excite and challenge you. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, so it should be something you enjoy.

  • The research you’re doing should be timely, and hence intend to answer crucial questions for the field.

The ingredients:

This is about YOUR personal qualities and skills and not solely dependent on how ‘smart’ you are:

  • Are you curious and do you want to figure something out?

  • Are you careful, critical, intuitive?

  • Do you have the tenacity to deliver and get stuff done?

This is also about learning to make the most of your raw ingredients:

  • Train in the best kitchens with the best chefs – It doesn’t have to be the nearest person. Aim to work with the best people. This can be difficult for undergraduate students who are keen about research and feel pressured to say yes to any opportunity that avails itself. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. High-quality research opportunities emerge frequently – take time to choose the one(s) that suit your interests and but also you the opportunity to build and refine your skills.

  • Be open to learning new things

  • Be humble

The method:

Continue to develop and refine your methods

  • Don’t just follow the usual recipe: learn from others, travel, innovate, collaborate

  • Progress can be incremental and often frustrating. Remain resilient and motivated!

  • It’s normal for things to go wrong along the way! There may be times where you feel set back and demoralised, but focus on making small continuous improvements and be driven to see things through to the end!


We need people who are committed to answering the questions and problems that remain unsolved. With new tools and technologies to make advancements in the coming years, the recipe is simple…


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