Gonville & Caius College’s David Posner (Immunology PhD 2020) is supporting two of his Mexican compatriots to enjoy summer internships and experience postgraduate student life at the University of Cambridge in what he anticipates will be a life-changing experience.
David, who is from Morelia in Mexico, is studying on a scholarship funded by the Mexico Government and Cambridge Trust. He has engaged in outreach initiatives, which included teaching immunology and medicine courses at Universidad Vasco de Quiroga (UVAQ) on Zoom during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was teaching on these courses which was the catalyst for David to approach his laboratory supervisor, Professor Menna Clatworthy in the Department of Medicine, and Caius College Senior Tutor Dr Andrew Spencer for support on an initiative which is now coming to life.
Tzanda Camarena and Ileana Duarte are medical students at UVAQ. They have never been abroad before and without financial support would be unable to take the opportunity to stay at Caius’ St Mary’s Court for eight weeks this summer. They will work in laboratories at the Biomedical Campus, adjacent to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and experience life as a postgraduate student at Cambridge.
“It seems quite normal to us, but it’s going to completely change their life,” David says.
“It opens a whole world to know these opportunities exist. It will set them up to apply to masters degrees and scholarships.
“It’s not like there’s an abundant number of Latin American people in higher education, especially postgraduate, and especially in elite institutions like Cambridge or Harvard or wherever.
“It will be challenging, because they’re undergraduate students in medicine and it is a very different way of thinking about things.
“Going into a lab and trying to understand the biology of things has many layers and takes years of practice. But if they like the eight weeks they can pursue this as a career.”
David, pictured, reflected on his own pathway to Cambridge, which followed post-16 education away from home in California.
He adds: “I worked in a clinical lab in Mexico for about a week, then in the States I did a summer internship as a high school student and that got the ball rolling. You only need one internship and that gets you experience to get the next one.
“These bright students deserve the opportunity. There’s a lot of raw talent in Mexico, just not many opportunities.
“Cambridge has 10 studentships for Mexicans each year. I was one of three in my year.”
He led typical research seminars for 15 Mexican students via Zoom – “for example, how to read articles, how to analyse data, how to interpret experiments,” he says – and identified those who could thrive in the Cambridge environment. The practical support followed, including from Caius, with David particularly grateful to Dr Spencer and Senior Bursar Robert Gardiner for offering accommodation, which will also be funded by Professor Clatworthy.
“There are people who care. It’s nice to have that support here,” David says.
David is determined to give them the full Cambridge experience, with bicycles, punting, formal Hall at Caius, and possibly even rowing – David is a keen rower with Caius Boat Club. Weekend excursions around the UK and to continental Europe are also a possibility.
David hopes these could be the first summer students, with others to follow in future years.
He says: “Just being here for them will be magical. I’m really excited for them. If I could re-experience Cambridge for the first time I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Tzanda and Ileana are pictured in their university uniforms.