An Abertay University student is balancing motherhood with her passion for science after securing a financial award for a project analysing fat regulation in Scottish seals.
Sonia Cieplinska from Poland finished the third year of Abertay’s Biomedical Sciences degree in May, having enrolled straight from Dundee and Angus College.
While juggling full-time education with caring for her three-year-old son, Wojtek, can often prove difficult, Sonia, 26, is determined to follow the passion for science that has been with her for as long as she can remember.
“I always dreamed about studying and being a scientist and when I was young I watched documentary films on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel ,” said Sonia, who grew up in Bytom (Silesian Voivodeship).
“I have a lot of different things in my life, but it’s my passion to be a scientist that keeps a hold of me.
“I’m getting a lot of knowledge and experience condensed into just eight weeks, so I will try to work hard."
Thanks to a programme run in partnership between Abertay and Dundee and Angus College, there was no barrier to Sonia gaining a university place, but balancing childcare and studying can be a real challenge and often prevents women from entering or staying in science careers.
Sonia will use the £800 studentship from the Physiological Society to help towards Wojtek’s daily childcare costs.
Such was her drive to take part in the internship that she flew her in-laws over from Poland to babysit for a week while she took part in fieldwork in Islay, off the west coast of Scotland.
Now back in the lab, Sonia is analysing samples from the seals, gaining invaluable in-depth and fast-track knowledge about research methods in physiology.
“A lot of people have helped me to be here and I’m really glad I have these people around me, especially my husband Marek,” Sonia said.
“I worked as a bakery operative while I was at college and as a housekeeper while studying at Abertay University, but now I need to be here Monday to Friday and I need time to study."
Abertay lecturer Dr Kimberley Bennett is supervising the internship in the lab and accompanied Sonia on the field trip to Islay, run by the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews.
She said: “Sonia is seeing the full pipeline, from getting the samples in the field through to analysing them in the lab. There is lots to learn very quickly.
“The Physiological Society internship is intended for people part of the way through their degree to get a taster of what it’s like to work in a physiological lab, and it’s very difficult to be selected. We’re really thrilled that they picked our project and are supporting a great student like Sonia, who might not otherwise get such a unique experience.”