Friday, 26 March 2010

Burst Water Main

Time for a proper grumble I think:

I woke up this morning, and turned on my tap. The water trickled out and eventually sputtered to a halt. Having washed my face with about a teaspoon's worth of water, I bemusedly walked to Whitechapel Library to do my Clinical Microbiology coursework, only to realise it was shut due to a "burst water main in the local area". My class was due to start at 2PM so I thought, what the hell, I'll just go to the Garrod Building a few minutes early, and try and use the IT room there. It was not to be, the entire building was evacuated, and a sign proclaimed that all classes were cancelled due to said burst water main. Still very bemused at having trekked down to Whitechapel for nothing I walked back to Mile End, and decided to see if the Library there was available for use. This was folly on my part, as the entire campus had been shut down. Seriously, people were being shepherded out of all the buildings, the main doors of the Queen's Building were locked and so on.

For many third year students this would have been their last day of lectures ever. For me it was meant to be my last Nutrition and Metabolism class. What a way for the module to end! All of this explains why I am now writing to you from Senate House Library in Bloomsbury. It was either that or going to West Smithfield Library in Charterhouse Square which closes at 8PM, a bit early for my liking. Once Senate House closes at 6:30PM I think I'll have to relocate to nearby Birkbeck College Library. Thank Christ for the University of London's Library Service! Anyway, back to that microbiology...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Exam timetables

Currently listening to: Don't Stop Me Now - Queen

Well it finally happened: exam timetables, i.e. the last of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, were released on Friday. Here's how mine reads:

4th May - Human Molecular Biology
6th May - Basic Immunology
11th May - Biomedical Pharmacology
14th May - Nutrition & Metabolism
18th May - Techniques in Biomedical Sciences
21st May - Biomedical Physiology II
25th May - Clinical Microbiology
27th May - Essential Biochemistry

My first thought upon reading it was immediately "thank god", since the subject from hell, aka Essential Biochemistry is scheduled for last. Most of the exams also start at 14:30, which is good since I'm not really a morning person. In short, I'm very pleased with this timetable. Human Molecular Biology isn't exactly my favourite module to revise for, but on the other hand it's quite straightforward and it would be nice to get it out of the way early. There's at least two days gap between each exam, and in some cases four or five, which will mean I can revise at a more laid-back pace. Last year exams started in April and we had the first three one after the other on 27/28/29, which was a terrifying rollercoaster of an ordeal. Hopefully this time around I can avoid such intense experiences.

The Easter holidays begin on 1st April, which means I have a month and a bit to do some proper hardcore revision. Until then I have one final biochem lab/write up and a microbiology poster to produce (1000-1500 words). I would have prefered to start revising now, or even several weeks ago, but the trouble with all these courseworks which they load on you during the term is that they make revision possible only during the holidays, which of course makes an anxious fellow like me even more anxious than usual!

Monday, 15 March 2010

You know exams are around the corner when...

...the library opens 24/7. Yep, that joyous time of year has rolled round once more, here I am sat in the QMUL Mile End branch Library, and if I wanted to I could carry on sitting here from now until the 4th of June. It's the College's gentle way of reminding us that it's time to stop screwing around, and start doing some work. I know that in about roughly six weeks time, I can walk into the library at any time of day or night and see people on their sixth can of Red Bull, feverishly revising. I've been there too; last year, staying up all night to revise for my Cell Biology exam. It was...not a fun experience, and definitely not a recommended route to passing an exam. This year, I've been more serious about my work, so fingers crossed, such drastic measures won't be necessary!

The only other (more obvious) sign of the looming end of year exams is when they start handing out the exam timetables, which should be any day now. That's when it starts feeling real.

In other news, QMUL Libraries have a blog, here. Who knew? Maybe if I add them to my blog list and comment sycophantically on all their posts they'll overlook that £9 fine currently hanging over my account? Whoops...

Friday, 12 March 2010

Bye Bye Project Selection Form

Currently listening to: See Emily Play - Pink Floyd

Back story: Here

March 12th: Time to chart the course of my third year and hand in my project selection form. Here's how I saw it:

Project Skills pros

  • No labs!!!!
  • Shorter dissertation - 4000 words
  • Sounds generally quite straightforward and easy
  • I'm quite good at writing articles, especially when it involves "de-complicating" things, I've written quite a bit for the university newspaper, etc
  • Cameras!

Project Skills cons

  • Will probably be quite tedious, I hate scientific journals
  • Won't look impressive on the CV
  • No bonus points when it comes to the Foundation School application, should I ever drag my sorry arse through medical school.

Research Project pros

  • Could be interesting
  • Would look damned good on the CV
  • I'm good at public speaking so the seminar would go well
  • Remote chance I could get published

Research Project cons

  • Very strong possibility that I will mess it up...practicals are not my forte
  • Lots of lab work required, either during the summer or third year
  • Will take many months to complete
  • 10,000 word dissertation
  • All the third years I know are dying under the stress of it
  • Could end up with a rubbish project and a rubbish supervisor

In the end I went with Project Skills. Am I a wuss? Perhaps, though I am a wuss who wants to stay on the safe side. Since this module is worth 30 credits, i.e. a quarter of third year, i.e. 15% of my entire degree, I'd rather stick to something I'm less likely to screw up. Signing up for an intense lab-based project given my track record with practicals is really tempting fate.

I think I made my mind up last week when I spoke to Dr P (who taught us Techniques in Biomedical Sciences last semester)...he was very nice about it all, and even mentioned that he had got the feeling that I didn't really enjoy labs. I told him that this was true. He advised me to look more closely at Project Skills, and said that it had been specifically designed with people like me in mind. So I did, and the more I look at it, the more suited to me it seems. It's not as presitigious as the Research Project, though I'd rather have a non-prestigious 2:1 than a prestigious 2:2!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

In The Dark

Currently listening to: Number 1 -Tinchy Stryder ft. N-Dubz

In case you're wondering why I haven't updated this blog recently with marks, updates on my progress and so on, that's cause I have none, I am totally in the dark about how I'm doing in Semester B.

As week 9 draws to an end, I have completed six pieces of coursework....but had only one mark back, that being a rather dismal 54% in the first Essential Biochemistry coursework (aka the biggest disaster ever), frankly I'm quite lucky to have got a C for it given that I still have no idea what the Beer-Lambert law is on about.

Anyway, the final year project selection form is due in tomorrow. Having spoken to an assortment of friends, parents, siblings and even lecturers, the general consensus has been "you hate practicals, you would be miserable if you did an entire six week project in the lab, do project skills". Which is true I guess, deep down I know they're right, and having spoken to all the project supervisors I had an interest in, none of their projects seem that riveting. I guess I will go for Project Skills in the end, though there's still this little doubt in the back of my mind, maybe if I tried really hard I could make the research project work...but would it be worth all the extra stress?

Will update tomorrow to let you know my final decision :)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Final Year Project Preparation

Currently listening to: Mile End - Pulp

One of the things playing heavily on my mind at the moment, and removing all daydreams of medical school is the third year project, what every SBCS student must complete in their final year. This can take three forms:

A research project (worth 30 credits, i.e. two modules)
Project Skills in the life sciences (worth 30 credits, i.e. two modules)
An investigative project (worth 15 credits, i.e. one module)

To be eligible for the first two, you must have an average first year mark of above 55% (which thankfully I have). I'm definitely not doing the "investigative project", because it's worth only one module and I'd like as few exams as possible. I'm pretty good at coursework, not so good with exams.

So that leaves the "research project" or the "project skills"...which is really Sophie's Choice...the research project will require copious amounts of hands-on lab work, followed by a 10,000 word dissertation and presentation to a lecture theatre full of SBCS academics and students. Fun fun. On the other hand the "project skills" will involve less lab work and only a 4000 word dissertation, but instead has such riveting tasks as "learn[ing] about how science papers are published. You will referee a real (but anonymous) paper submitted to a journal"...the type of thing that I grumpily refer to as "scientific busywork" and which I hoped to god I'd never have to do. What a choice, eh?

The form is due in on the 12th and so far I'm leaning heavily towards the research project. I might despise lab work, but if the alternative is spending weeks reading and critiquing scientific papers (aka the dullest things ever written), the lab sounds positively fun.

Now the tricky part, which research project would I be interested in? Given that I have no great love for my degree, I'm very picky about what aspects I'd enjoy. I generally find I only do well in things I'm interested in, so it's important that I get do something I like. There are about 80 possible projects to choose from, however, I hate anything to do with cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, bioinformatics or immunology, so that's quite a lot of possible projects out of the way.

My first choice would have been something to do with pharmacology, though SBCS helpfully don't offer that. There is a tiny chance I might be able to do it at another university (UCL, please?), but that is a very remote possibility, so lets look at the more realistic alternatives:

Dr Holness: Insulin resistance
Dr Le Comber: Human skeletal morphology and disease
Professor Bignell: Food microbiology.
Dr R Cutler: Infectious Disease and Pathology
Dr Puddefoot: Novel mechanisms of action of antioestrogens

Even within these "realistic alternatives", I know the only ones I'm going to be properly interested in are Dr Holness' or Dr Le Comber's. Le Comber's one looks especially interesting, the description states "One or more projects may be available in collaboration with the Museum of London, looking at the pathology of different archaeological specimens", which would actually be quite good...London is filled with old burial sites, there's no doubt that many of the skeletons dug up will have evidence of ancient diseases, e.g. the plague, smallpox, cool would that be?

Dr Holness' project also looks good, I sent off my CV for it weeks ago. He's based in Whitechapel at Barts and the London SMD and he's a really good lecturer. His course (Nutrition and Metabolism) is quite intense and heavy going at times with all the biochemical theory, but all in all very interesting. I could see myself enjoying that as well. Diabetes might not be my favourite disease, but it sure beats peering down a microscope and fiddling with bacteria for eight weeks.

Sadly I know that "interesting" stuff tends to be very oversubscribed. I'm not a mega swot and my first year marks are "above average" at best, but certainly nothing outstanding, which makes me feel a bit fatalistic and overwhelmed when this type of thing comes up, (i.e. competition with several hundred other students). So fingers crossed that everyone else suddenly develops a fetish for cell biology and bioinformatics, leaving the interesting projects for me!