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!


  1. My degree isn't "dull" per se...well not all of it anyway.

    Endless scientific theory (i.e. molecular biology, etc) can send you to sleep, but things like pharmacology can be quite fun. Which is why it's quite important that I get a good placement!

  2. Hey, two cents..I graduated from biochemistry last year at QM and this was how I saw it: the practical projects are held in higher esteem and serve you well in the event that you need to get a science-y job/end up having to apply for a PhD.
    Project Skills, however, is EASY and A LOT of people ended up with getting two A grades from it, which doesn't hurt.
    I was really keen on getting a first, so I ended up choosing Project Skills.
    When I saw other people in my year stressing about not having access to equipment cos other people were using it (defo a problem) or experiments going wrong etc, I knew I'd made the right choice.
    Project Skills was actually ok. The dissertation is basically a reading exercise, you read loads of journal articles and then write your dissertation. You only have to edit/annotate one paper btw, so it's not too much. And you get to try photography, they give you a nice professional camera on loan, and you can make your own website. And I ended up with a first, which I'm pretty confident I wouldn't have gotten if I did a practical project.
    But yeah, if you may ever end up doing a PhD or a science job, a practical project is a big plus.
    Lol sorry for the essay, just thought I'd impart my wisdom :P

    Joey :)

  3. Hiya there, im going to support the research project idea (though joey is a QM grad so probably knows best from experience).

    Doing a research projects has its pros:

    - Lab-work and results may be used by the lab and be published in a journal(that will give you extra mtas point)

    -As a graduate, you're not allowed to intercalate, so if you don't do a research project now, you won't really get a chance to at med school. Well you will have some labs, but nothing as extensive as your own research project.

    - Employability. I have a friend who works part time at the labs for barts and the london, its something you can consider in the future. or simply if you take a gap year, by having experience in a lab you can apply to a wider range of jobs.

    - Phd - im one of those few people who applied for a phd whilst applying for medicine, and although i had an offer for a phd i obviously took medicine. However, if you were to change your mind, it leaves the possibility open.

  4. Joey:

    Now you're making me unsure :(

    I don't really want a career in science...and it's no secret that labs piss me off a lot...I just figured that an interesting (but difficult) lab might be better than an easier but boring project! Maybe I was wrong though...if the lab fucks up (practicals tend to do that with me), then I'll be screwed. Am I crazy?

    Argh, what a tough choice....and only 10 days to make up my mind! I should probably make a meeting with my adviser >___>

    Thanks for that useful comment, it's made me reconsider project skills :)

  5. Tofu:

    Damn you! I was just getting all excited about Project you're tempting me with the possibility of getting published in a journal!

    If I'm completely frank with you, this is how I see it:

    ****Project Skills pros****

    Shorter dissertation
    Sounds generally quite straightforward and easy
    I'm quite good at writing articles, especially when it involves "de-complicating" things
    Cameras :D

    ****Project Skills cons****

    Will probably be as boring as hell, I hate scientific journals
    Won't look impressive on the CV

    *****Research Project pros****

    Could be very interesting
    Would look damned good on the CV
    I'm good at public speaking so the seminar would go very well

    ****Research Project cons****

    Strong possibility that I will screw 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 crap project and a crap supervisor

    Also, I will NEVER miss my labs, that's what I like about medical doesn't revolve around labs :P

  6. Good luck getting one you want, I agree with above, I would be tempted to do the project, possibility of getting your name published would look awesome whatever career you go onto (and earns extra points in the scoring system for F1 applications currently) - assuming you are not planning on intercalating as you have already done that - this is your best time (and likely only option) to get published!

    Good luck and I hope you get a good one, one you can enjoy! :)