Annika Lea Schulz

What is your favourite memory of Malvern College?

I couldn’t possibly pick just one – so here are my top three!

1. Interhouse cross country league: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

2. Walking up the hill to No. 8 at sunrise after early morning swim sessions

3. Performing a surprise comedy-sketch at Leaver’s supper with my best friend for life!

What attracted you to your particular career and what do you enjoy most about it?

I have always been enthralled by science. For me, a career in medicine presents a world of opportunities. It’s exploring bench-to-bedside research, helping and listening to patients, working as part of a determined team and lifelong learning with and from one another.

UCL is a big centre for biomedical research, which is why medical students have the chance to participate and help out with cutting edge research right from the beginning of the course. It is also one of the few universities that still offers full-body cadaveric dissections, which is a tremendously valuable learning experience. In my first three years at medical school, I have particularly enjoyed this multifaceted teaching ranging from basic science lab work to clinical practice.

What part did Malvern College play in giving you the necessary skills for your chosen path?

In my opinion, the most important skill I learned at Malvern College was how to find the right work-life balance. Adjusting to the workload at medical school after leaving the College was a challenge but I felt well equipped to handle things!

What are your ambitions?

This spring (2021) I will complete my third year of medical school, which includes an intercalated BSc in physiology. However, after the summer I will not continue with my medical degree. Instead, it will be put on hold while I embark on a two-year MSc in Microbiology & Immunology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. This heavily research-based program presents a unique opportunity for me to explore my curiosity in the field of virology!

It all started in 2019, when I first travelled to Vancouver to take part in a summer research program at UBC. This entailed an internship in a lab exploring exercise, stress and ageing. During this time, I also had the chance to explore the wider Vancouver area including numerous beaches, endless parks and the highest mountains (even the Rocky Mountains!). At the time, I began reading the books “Hot Zone” and the 2019 published “Crisis in the Red Zone” by Richard Preston. These books have often been described as non-fiction thrillers and indeed they had just that effect on me! Taking advantage of the incredible libraries at UBC I set out to learn more about viruses in the scientific literature. That summer there was an essay competition I was hoping to take part in. Thus, I decided to choose a topic in the field of virology, which was being researched at UBC. This way I could contact labs and gain insight into the research by talking to someone actively involved in the field. This is how I came across one particular lab investigating the potential of indirect-acting antivirals, which may have exciting potential as broad-spectrum antivirals. The professor running the lab invited me to a meeting and helped me extensively with the essay. It was very exciting and at the end of the summer we had made plans for me to return the next year to complete an internship at the virology lab.

During my second year of medical school, I already marvelled at some of the details of the research I would be helping out with in summer 2020. Enter SARS-CoV-2…. the virus we would all become specialists in!

Those first months of the pandemic not only provided challenges but also time for reflection. It soon became clear that it would be impossible to cross the Atlantic again in 2020 to join the lab at UBC. However, I was keen to gain more experience in basic-science research. The virology lab I was hoping to join specialises in RNA viruses, which is why they quickly began working on the novel SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, I knew that there was no place like Vancouver for me. Therefore, I started a conversation with the lab’s principal investigator about potentially being involved in a more extensive research project. To cut a long story short – UCL medical school agreed to let me put my studies on hold and this September I will start the Master of Science at UBC, whereby I will be involved in the investigation of the lifecycle of SARS-CoV-2!

What comes next? After those two years at UBC I will return to complete my medical degree at UCL. Then, I might decide to return to Canada (which will definitely be the case, if I enjoy those two years as much as I did the summer of 2019)!

What advice would you give to current pupils contemplating entering your field?

Try to gain work-experience in the different settings that medicine has to offer. Talking to current university students studying medicine can be very eye-opening as well and will definitely help you decide whether this degree is right for you.

What advice would you give to current pupils about making the most of their time at the school?

I don’t think it can be said too often – work hard, play hard! Take advantage of the multitude of societies on offer. Also, you must race up the Malvern hills every now and then! Most importantly, take out time to enjoy the wonderful Malvern community – nothing will ever be like it again.