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What does it take to be a student of the year?

Ben Abbott, a faculty student of the year, hopes his PhD research will lead to new treatments for one of the deadliest forms of prostate cancer.

It was his invaluable experience as a volunteer that led him there. Like many Manchester students who volunteer in the community, Ben chose a route that complemented his studies and interests.

His placement, which involved spending several hours a week at the world-famous Christie Hospital, helping staff and keeping cancer patients company, led to him being named Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences Research Student of the Year when he graduated from his Master's degree in December.

"My university work was mostly lab-based," he says, "but what I really wanted to do was go out and meet some of the people who are affected by illnesses and treated with drugs that are developed in facilities similar to the one I'm working in.

"Quite often patients face the wait for chemotherapy alone," he adds. "Mostly my time was spent talking to these people. It's a valuable thing to do, as facing such a brutal treatment regime alone can be a terrifying prospect.

Now, as Ben starts his PhD in cancer research, his lab is just over the road in the gleaming, high-tech Manchester Cancer Research Centre, which opened its doors in 2015.

"Volunteering definitely influenced my decision to specialise in cancer. As a researcher it's possible to be isolated from the people who will benefit from your work but my experience brought me closer to the community and motivated me to make the choices I did."

Being brought up locally, in Oldham, Ben feels a real connection to the community, and thinks it's fantastic that the University and Students' Union offer these important opportunities for students to give back during their time in Manchester.

Not content with working at the hospital, Ben took on other volunteering roles – becoming chairperson of the Red Cross Society at the University, learning first aid and then organising training for over a hundred other students. He also fundraised for the Red Cross, getting students together and rattling collection buckets, doing a Santa dash and organising pub quizzes. At the same time, he joined other students in handing out food and clothes to homeless people in the city centre.

He says: "Right now the volunteering is on hold as I focus on starting my PhD. There's a long way to go with cancer research – my time at The Christie really drove that home – but once I'm settled into my lab, I might just see what else is out there. Since the hospital's only over the road I may well go back."

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