Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Interview #2

Currently listening to: Torn Blue Foam Couch - Grand Archives

Wow, the past five days have been so sweet, it finally feels like everything is falling into place. Got an email this morning saying that at the Warwick Selection Centre I will also be considered for Barts and The London GEP...which is my first choice! I'm so happy and relieved that my nightmare didn't become a reality! The selection centres are joint, but the decisions are separate, you can get accepted by both, accepted by one or rejected by both. An offer from either would suit me very well! I can't believe this time last year I was despairing over whether I'd even be able to apply for medicine...and now I've got two interviews! This is just so amazing, the minute my exams finish (in the first week of January), I will be able to devote a whole five weeks to getting totally prepared for these interviews.

On such a high right now that even this lab report which is due tomorrow doesn't feel totally awful and horrible!

What an amazing finish to the final week of term.

Friday, 9 December 2011


Currently listening to: Light My Fire - The Doors

After the unpleasant nerve wracking experiences of the past few weeks, I'd been feeling pretty desperate for contact from the medical schools, any contact, even a curt email telling me to stop calling them several times a week asking when they're sending out interview invitations...but Warwick went one better today and emailed me an invitation to their Selection Centre in February for interview!

I'm still feeling slightly speechless from it all, but at the same time ecstatically happy because I was worried I wouldn't get any interviews before Christmas meaning that I'd be stressing all through the holidays when I'm supposed to be revising for exams...luckily now I can breathe a little easier knowing that I have at least one...and it's two months away giving me plenty of time to prepare for it.

I'm telling you, if getting an offer for medical school feels half as good as getting an interview, I can't wait to experience it...the true definition of a natural high! The past few days have been pretty tough, I had two essays and a presentation to hand in yesterday, and I'd had very little sleep...but this has made it all better!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Unreal rejections

Currently listening to: My Body is a Cage - Peter Gabriel

So today began like any other Tuesday. Being one of my "days off" I wasn't obliged to get up for a 9AM start like I will be tomorrow. So I awoke comfortably from my golden slumber rather than to the harsh sounds of my mobile's alarm. Wake up. Brush teeth. Wash. Open curtains. Stare out across the mid morning London skyline. Turn on computer.

That's been the daily morning ritual for a fair few years now, though since October when I sent off my medicine application, after turning on the computer I immediately check the Holy Trinity: email, UCAS Track and New Media Medicine. Like any other morning for these past six weeks, I log on. Two new emails from Barts and The London. Heart stops for a minute. Open them:

"Dear Grumpy Biomed

We regret to inform you that your application to our A100 and A101 programmes for MBBS medicine will not be considered any further at this stage. Thank you for considering Barts and The London SMD and we wish you every success with your future applications.

Yours sincerely,


Numb. Shocked. Crushed. Hopeless. Some of the words to describe how I felt reading those cold, unfeeling words in that email. This was my first choice and it had rejected me after only 6 weeks. But something doesn't feel right. My mind is telling me that this can't make sense, and that I can escape from this nightmare.

I jolt awake. Daylight is streaming through my curtains. My radiator is on full blast as I forgot to turn it off last night before I fell asleep. I feel sluggish and stupid but I start my computer immediately. No new emails. No Track updates. I haven't been rejected.

I don't usually have nightmares. I tend to have a lot of lucid dreams so I usually manage to transform any dream which feels nightmare-ish into a happy one. I couldn't do that last night, so in a strange way I've just experienced the feeling of a first rejection...but luckily it wasn't real.

I suppose I'm a bit surprised that it's taken 6 weeks for the first symptoms of stress to manifest...but lately I have been having sleep problems, incessant thoughts about interviews, rejections, acceptance etc. I just hope that I don't have to experience any more mock rejections in my sleep, because in that split second when I awoke and opened my eyes, I felt totally panicked.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Currently listening to: Carry That Weight - The Beatles

So it's November...which is apparently when the first letters from Barts and The London are sent out for interviews for the 5 yr degree.

Things just got slightly more real. An email from Warwick Medical School a few days ago informed me that they would pick who to interview and who to reject by the end of December, so just under two months to go now. Again, things got more real. But after three weeks my overwhelming feeling is...


I can't believe there's still another five months left of this waiting game. Christ.

Also, I swear I didn't deliberately pick the song...it just came on shuffle on my iTunes, but it's very appropriate, isn't it? Only a minute and a half long but that chorus sums everything up. This whole application is one goddamn weight on my mind...and I just can't wait for it to be lifted.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The god's honest truth about being a scientist

Currently listening to: Charmless Man - Blur

By night I may be a med school applicant obsessively scouring NMM for new info (nyet), but by day I'm just another lowly postgrad trying to make it through my MSc.

Earlier today I stumbled upon this image which I think sums up life and relationships in science and academia very well indeed...current and ex science students will probably appreciate just how true it is:

I'll give you three guesses to work out which of the above images is how I see myself!

Hints: It's not Einstein or Chuck Norris.

So far nothing to report from the med schools except for those three acknowledgements. Birmingham and BSMS have apparently started interviewing people, but no word from any of my choices so far...my MSc may be difficult and tiring, but at least it's a distraction. Hope you're all well.

Monday, 17 October 2011


Currently listening to: Don't Look Away - Joshua Radin

Like I said a few weeks ago, lately it feels like life is moving at a really fast pace. In the three days since I've applied I've figured out my Track details and received acknowledgements from Barts and The London for my applications to their A100 and A101 programmes. Very quick! The downside to knowing my Track details is that I'm checking the damn thing twice an hour...even though I know there is ZERO chance of receiving an offer, or even a rejection, at this early stage. In the space of about 24 hours I've become a full fledged Track addict, and things haven't been helped by the initial high of receiving those acknowledgements either!

Whilst on my way to Whitechapel Library earlier, I walked past the Garrod Building (the administrative hub of Barts and The London SMD)...it felt so weird knowing that inside that building which I've walked past several times a week for over three years now and had classes in, someone could potentially be looking through my application and deciding my future. So, so, so weird.

Anyway, this is what my Track screen looks like...I'm just hoping I see one "unconditional" there by September 2012, please!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

And so begins the most stressful six months of my life

Currently listening to: Corporal Clegg - Pink Floyd

During my time at QMUL, I had only one thought going through my mind whilst attempting to get to grips with my Biomedical Sciences degree: "it will all be worth it when I apply for medical school". Having wanted to study medicine since the age of about 9 or 10 (I wanted to be a forensic pathologist back then - I was an odd child), but not having had the grades to apply during school, my degree seemed like an opportunity to atone for my rubbish chemistry marks during sixth form. Happily, it paid off, I graduated in July and sent off my UCAS application for medical school two days ago. It feels like all those plans which I made back when I first started university are slowly being realised, which is a pretty good feeling indeed.

So...after all the indecision surrounding my final choice over the past few weeks (see earlier posts), where did I pick? The results are in, and the following choices made it onto the UCAS form:

Barts and The London A101 GEP
Warwick University A101 GEP
Barts and The London A100 5 yr degree


Southampton University A101 GEP

Surprising no? I seemed dead set against it didn't I? So what made me change my mind? Given that Newcastle's UKCAT cut off last year was 702.5, and this year it will almost certainly rise, I would have had a 100% chance of rejection had I applied there. I still have an overwhelming chance of rejection with Southampton, but it's less than 100%, at any rate. And without wanting to sound completely arrogant, by the time I finished writing my personal statement, I thought I'd actually made quite a good job of it. I'm not trying to say that I'll definitely meet Southampton's standards, but I do think I've given myself a decent shot so I don't feel totally hopeless for applying there.

So, what now? By the time my birthday rolls round (in March), I'll be one year older and also have a very good clue about what I'll be doing come September 2012. It's so strange to think that in just under six months everything will be clear...one way or another. At the end of the day, these past three years (and counting) have all been focused on one goal: getting into medical school. To that end, I really hope that my hard work during my degree, my UKCAT score and my personal statement will land me an interview or two, because words really cannot describe just how much I want to do medicine.

In the mean time, I know there will be a lot of nervous waiting, sleepless nights, and endless pessimism. So I'm glad that my masters degree will give me something else to think about during this time. Thanks to everyone who's commented these past few weeks, the advice has been much appreciated. Particular shout out to "A Fresher" for very succinctly summing up why Newcastle would have been a bad choice for me.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The curse of the fourth choice

Currently listening to: Songbird - Oasis

Getting into medical school as a graduate is all about hoop jumping. You spend three years (and £27K) doing a life sciences degree at which nothing is acceptable but a 2:1 or above. You kill yourself with stress over a subject which, let's face it, isn't even your first preference. Having got through the degree with a satisfactory grade, you then shell out £75 for the pleasure of taking the UKCAT exam, which pretty much takes up all Summer with preparation. If you've successfully negotiated that hurdle, you're then in a position to actually begin your application, which must, amongst other things, contain an excellent reference and a brilliant personal statement detailing why exactly the medical schools ought to be interested in you. And then you have to pick your choices.

But here's the catch, even after all this hoop jumping, endless exams and even doing a degree which wasn't your first choice, apparently it's still not enough as lots of GEP courses still have A-level requirements. So, for example, I can't apply to Bristol because as a 17 year old I screwed up my chemistry A level. Never mind that over the next three years I took FOUR university level biochemistry modules (one of them optional), nope, that still doesn't cut it, meaning that a fair few med schools are still out of my reach.

So back to the point, I'm feeling utterly screwed about my final choice. I'm very happy with my first three choices: Barts and The London 5 yr, Barts and The London 4 yr and Warwick 4 yr, but it seems like everytime I pick a fourth choice, something crops up which makes it seem like I'll get an automatic rejection.

First I wanted to go for Southampton GEP, but no-one knows exactly on what basis they make offers, since they don't interview. So basically your personal statement has to be amongst the top 10% or so, out of a total 1000 applicants. Very long odds.

Then there was Kings College London's 5 yr degree. No A level requirement, my UKCAT is probably high enough, really decent university in central London. Seems like a perfect choice right? Until they told me that if I were to gain an offer from them, it would be based on my MSc and not my BSc. I don't fancy another year of stressing over my grades, so that's KCL gone.

Finally I thought I'd made a breakthrough with Newcastle GEP. A brilliant university in a really cool city and the cherry on the cake was that I was told on the phone that their cut off last year was 690. I emailed them just to be sure and got a totally different reply that the cut off was 702.5. The cut-offs rarely go down, so with my 697.5 if I applied there I'm almost certain I'd be rejected.

In short, I'm completely stuck. I feel like I'm effectively throwing away one of my choices if I apply to either of these three but I genuinely have nowhere else to apply to (I've checked all the unis here). I probably will go ahead and risk it and apply to Newcastle GEP but I'd bet anything that they're going to reject me straight away.

I have just over two weeks to make up my mind, but it feels like I'm genuinely at a dead end. Any advice is much appreciated.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The dilemma

Currently listening to: Country House - Blur

Not much to report so far this academic year. MSc induction went well, I've met some cool new people and also several fellow QMUL biomed grads who are now studying a related course (Cancer Therapeutics) at Barts and The London which shares a module with my course. Also met a few of my old lecturers from my final year biomed cancer biology module, who'll be teaching me this year. In short, it's been fun but also very busy.

In addition to my MSc, I've also been thinking a lot about my application to medical school which is due in just over two weeks, and I've reached a bit of a dilemma regarding my final choice. I am now 99.9% certain I will be applying to Barts and The London for the 5 yr and 4 yr degrees, and also to Warwick's 4 yr degree. And I was happy to pick King's College's 5 yr degree as my fourth choice, until they informed me that if I were to get an offer from them it would be conditional upon getting a Merit for my MSc...even though I have a 2:1 for my BSc, which is what their prospectus says their requirement for graduates is! Very annoying!

Well there's no point arguing about it, that's their rule so I can either accept it or find somewhere else to apply to. I thought back to Southampton GEP but realised they're just too risky. I've been reading a lot of the old threads on New Media Medicine and other forums, and Southampton rejected a lot of promising applicants, and since they don't interview you have no chance to prove to them face to face how good you are. So I then began considering five year degrees outside of London, in Leicester for example, but realised it's just too damn expensive. Thank you Tories and Lib Dems for succesfully commercialising education and ensuring only rich public school kids can afford studying medicine as a graduate.

This brought me back to Newcastle GEP, which I'd toyed with earlier but rejected as I believed my UKCAT wouldn't be high enough (697.5). I rang them earlier today, and I was told that their GEP cut-offs for the past three years have been 690, 685 and 682.5. Which was surprising since I'd always thought their cut-offs were in the mid 700s. To be honest with you I'd love the chance to study in Newcastle, the city looks amazing!

So as it stands I'm now seriously considering Newcastle GEP instead of King's College London. I can't guarantee that I'll get a Merit for my MSc (even though, of course, I'm aiming for top marks)...and I also don't want to go through the stress I did during my BSc. I've already done my three years of killing myself with worry about getting the grades, I actually want to be able to enjoy my MSc, and get a nice unconditional offer for medicine (if I get an offer at all, that is). But on the other hand, my UKCAT score is only 7.5 higher than last year's cut-off...so if it rises drastically this year I'll have wasted one of my choices. Ahh, decisions, decisions.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A year - or more?

Currently listening to: A Whiter Shade of Pale - Procol Harum

I'm starting my MSc at Barts and The London in a few days. I've taken various modules at BL over the past three years, but this is the first time I'll be an actual student here and I'm really looking forward to it. Obviously being affiliated with QMUL (where I did my BSc), it's all very familiar. So familiar in fact that over the past few days I've bumped into some of my old classmates from biomed who are now doing medicine at BL.

Afterwards, thinking about it, I suppose it struck me that once again I'm stuck on the outside looking in. This is the second time in my life I've had to watch my classmates move onto medical school whilst I go off to do something else, the first time being after sixth form. And it really does suck. It's not that I dislike my current degree, or that I'm ashamed of what I do (anyone who knows me will know that I'm quite a proud person), but it is a bit frustrating to be constantly left behind as everyone else seems to progress to what they want to do. This isn't me being jealous or envious of my old classmates; they worked hard, and they deserve their places at medical school. It's not even anxiety or depression; I'm now closer to medicine than I've ever been before. I have a decent UKCAT mark, a good mark for my degree and my application is coming together. I suppose I'm just a bit annoyed that I have to wait nearly an entire year to get started with what I really want to do (if I get in that is), and I sometimes do wish things would just work out like they do for everyone else and not be such an uphill struggle. And if I was really honest with myself, I suppose there's a small worry that if I didn't get in this year, I'd be left behind again, which would be quite unbearable tbh. I'm just a little bit tired of doing things I like but don't love.

Friday, 9 September 2011

And so to EC1

Currently listening to: True Faith - New Order

I used to live in London when I was little. When I was about 10 we moved. I won't say exactly where to, but it was close enough to London for commuting for my parents, but far away enough to not have any of London's charm and attractions. So when I was 17 and filling out my UCAS form, the University of London was the obvious choice and I firmed Imperial, expecting to live in South Kensington for a few years. A few badly done exams and a missed offer later, I ended up at Queen Mary, and Stepney where I lived for a year, and then two years in Mile End. I slowly grew to love the convenience and close knitness of a campus university and E1 on the whole. It was grim, urban and yet lovely in its own way. And I don't mean that the way those pretentious hipster kids do, I genuinely did like living there, warts and all.

But since all good things come to an end, so my time in E1 seems to have as well. My classes start on the 28th of this month and will nearly all be in Barts and The London's West Smithfield campus in Charterhouse Square. So I moved to EC1 yesterday which is very different to E1. This is central London in the truest meaning of the word and it's taking some getting used to, even though it's completely amazing living in the thick of it all. As weird as it sounds when I first moved into my room yesterday I felt a bit nervous about it all...moving in, paying the deposit for my MSc, etc, it seemed like things suddenly got real. I've got my timetable (all day classes on Wednesday and Thursday - two 9AM starts!) and I get the feeling that the antics I used to pull during undergrad, e.g. sleeping til noon, probably won't be acceptable during postgrad, the same way that when I started my BSc it just no longer seemed appropriate to skip assignments the way I "forgot" to do my homework during A-levels. I know that no-one's holding a gun to my head, and I am excited about starting something new, but it also feels like I've somehow committed to something really big and significant, and completely different to anything I've ever done before. I really hope I'm not rambling here, so I hope you understand what I mean.

It feels like life is moving really, really fast and everything from my room to my course seem really unfamiliar. So I suppose a feeling of disquiet is natural, so I'm trying to keep busy, not least by starting to get through the preliminary reading list for my MSc and also by attempting to write my personal statement for medical school. I've written quite a detailed plan, but the first paragraph has stumped me a bit, I can't quite explain exactly why I want to do medicine even though I do actually know in my head. It feels like a lot of my motivation to do medicine is just too personal to put into writing to a faceless stranger...and I don't want to resort to writing clich├ęs either. But I'll obviously have to get over this and, like my MSc, commit, even if it feels quite daunting. But so far in my life, things have nearly always worked out in the end, so I feel no reason to be worried or stressed.

Hope all of you are well, and if any freshers are reading this, good luck for the coming days and weeks!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The inevitable "where the hell should I apply?" post

Currently listening to: Ocean Drive - Lighthouse Family

Warning: long post!

As forecasted by Tofu two months ago when I got my degree results, "the 'where should i apply' post is inevitable". Well she was right, so here it is, if rather late in the day. The reason for the late appearance of this post was that I didn't want to get really keen on my choices, only to do really badly in the UKCAT and have to bitterly give them up. My attitude towards my application (and life on general) is probably best summed up by Harold Macmillan: I'm an optimist, but an optimist who carries a raincoat”. Which probably means I'm a pessimistic optimist and therefore not really an optimist at all. But no matter since I got 697.5 in my UKCAT which would have been above last years cut-offs for most places, so now I finally feel like I can make this post without it just being pointless talk.

Where to begin? Probably some history about me: I didn't get amazing A-levels: ABCBC (A in biology, C in chemistry) and a lot of places expect BBB with a decent grade in chemistry. So that excludes the likes of Bristol, Liverpool, etc for me. I have done three shadowing placements and spent this summer volunteering as a teaching assistant at a learning centre for brain damaged adults, but two months isn't really major or long-term...so that excludes Leicester. My UKCAT is good, but it's not outstanding, so that would exclude Newcastle and KCL. When all is said and done, the only 4 year GEPs I stand a reasonable chance with are Barts and The London, Southampton and Warwick. Which are fine, but that's three choices out of four.

Originally I had planned to pick three GEPs and one standard degree. The GEPs would obviously be Barts and The London, Warwick and Southampton and the final choice most likely Kings College London (my UKCAT would be good enough for their 5 year programme I think). But the more I think about it, the less sure I am about Southampton. In fact, I really want to replace it with Barts and The London's five year degree.

The reason for this is simple: Southampton's admissions process is a total enigma. They don't interview so it's only judged on the contents of your personal statement (UKCAT has a very insignificant role for them). And judging a personal statement is such an arbitrary thing, I might think I've written what they're looking for, but how do I really know? Looking through last year's Southampton threads on New Media Medicine, an unbelievable number of well qualified applicants were rejected and they were completely perplexed by this. But at the end of the day, Southampton have to pick 40 top personal statements from over 1000 to make offers to so many people will end up disappointed...and I'm not confident enough to say mine will be that outstanding.

I don't want to be one of the many rejected, I'd rather be cautious even if it means going for another five year degree. I don't want to be writing in August 2012 without an offer and kicking myself for not applying to Barts and The London (getting an interview for A100 is based on UKCAT score and mine is reasonably good. Last year's cut off was 642.5.). I'm trying to be prudent and pragmatic, because this time next year I don't want to be starting a forced gap year, a PhD, or a job I dislike.

But applying to two five year degrees has its own drawbacks as theoretically it means you have a half chance of ending up with no tuition fee loan (assuming you get the offer in the first place). My plan for this is a) hoping I get a GEP offer and b) if I do end up with a five year offer, using my maintenance loan (£~7600 p.a in London) to pay for the fees...and moving in with my grandparents (they live in Zone 2, reasonably close to both BL and KCL) to eliminate living costs.

Not the coolest thing for a 22 year old to do, but medicine requires sacrifices. I guess this would be my one. Luckily my grandparents are really nice and let me do my own thing, so moving in with them wouldn't be bad at all. But it's either that, or working as a rentboy, which I did consider briefly, but on the whole I've concluded it's not really the right student job for me.

Some people have told me it would be a "waste" if I apply to or study for a five year degree. That my BSc and (by 2012) MSc would have all been in vain and I'd be back to square one studying in a class filled with 18 year old freshers. I don't see it that way. Medicine is what I'd love to do and I won't deliberately reduce my chances of gaining an offer because of misplaced pride. Not to mention, the skills I've gained in my BSc and MSc would prove just as useful in a five year degree as a four year one. Would I prefer to be a doctor in four years instead of five? Of course. Would I reject a five year offer if it were a choice between that and nothing? Not a chance in hell.

So I guess as things stand, currently I'm seriously considering the following choices:

Barts and The London 4 year degree
Warwick 4 year degree
Barts and The London 5 year degree
Kings College London 5 year degree

That said, being the pessimistic optimist that I am, most days I feel like I have a greater chance of getting into Katy Perry than of getting into medical school. So in reality even after all this strategising I could still end up with no offer come this time next year. But I really, really hope that doesn't happen!

All advice and words of wisdom are very much appreciated :)

Friday, 26 August 2011

UKCAT Results

Currently listening to: What You Know - Two Door Cinema Club

Just got back from my UKCAT. Anyone who's familiar with med school in the UK will know that this exam is yet another hoop the universities make you jump through, and one which I was quite anxious about. I last sat this exam in 2007 when I got 625 (later increased to 640 due to exclusion of one of the sections). Four years on and a degree later, here's how things look:

Verbal Reasoning: 550
Quantitative Reasoning: 720
Abstract Reasoning 670
Decision Analysis: 850

Total: 2790 - Average: 697.5

I'm very happy with this score, considering the average is supposed to be 600. I'm a tiny bit miffed that I didn't breach the 700 barrier (generally held to be an outstanding score), but I was very close. Something curious however is the decrease - by over 200 points - in my verbal reasoning score, which in 2007 was 760. Either I've become progressively less articulate and literate as I've gotten older, (unlikely seeing as I keep up a blog and was a student journalist) or the UKCAT is really just a totally arbitrary and pointless measure of "ability". I'm leaning towards the latter, but at the end of the day I've got a good score and I'm very happy with it, the rest is irrelevant...bit hard to be grumpy today!

My DA score is frankly quite unexpected, I'd been doing well in the mocks but certainly not that well. Unlike the revision books QR was a very, very pleasant surprise, there weren't pages and pages of text to decipher before you could even attempt the question. Some of the questions were as simple as locating a value in a table. Pure bliss and relief. AR was also very nice, considering I only got the hang of how to do this section last week, up until then I'd been scoring in the 500s, which shows that with practice you can definitely improve your score in anything.

I'm really shattered now, but I'll make the inevitable "where shall I apply with my score?" post some time in the next few days. Thanks for the good luck comments/messages of reassurance in the previous post!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Perpetual uncertainty: Is this life?

Currently listening to: Time - Pink Floyd

Sometimes I like to treat this blog like a sofa in a psychiatrist's office. I use it to reflect, debate, analyse and go over things in my mind to do with my future. I swear I'm not drunk when I make these posts, I just need somewhere to contemplate freely I guess.

Ten weeks have passed since I completed my BSc exams, got my grades, graduated, got accepted onto a masters degree and sorted out my accommodation for next year. The one thing that has constantly been on the back of my mind through all of this has been the UKCAT, which I have been preparing for. I have completed two revision books, a Kaplan pdf test, several free online tests, and hundreds of (paid for) online UPO questions, and now I've started them all again. I see patterns everywhere, I work out percentages whilst on the bus, and analyse newspaper articles for inferences and relationships.

Up til now I've been pretty laid back about the UKCAT, and I still am...after getting through the hell that is a biomed degree, I think few things will ever make me feel as nervous as my second year Immunology exam. But it would be silly to deny that - 12 days before the test - I'm getting nervous. I suppose it's because today it finally hit me just how important this test is. I was browsing some student forums (as you do) and stumbled on this post about the exam. The graduate in question had got 630 in his UKCAT and was wondering what he should do with this rather average score. The harsh, but honest, response?

"To be honest, that is quite a low score on the UKCAT for entry onto a 4 year program. I think you would struggle to get interviews for a 5 year program too. Your best bet will be to look at applying to unis that do not use an entrance exam ( Cambridge or Birmingham) or that use the GAMSAT. It does not matter how qualified you feel you are, the entrance exam plays a very large part in shortlisting for interview and with that UKCAT score I'm sorry to say you will be below the cut off for the majority (if not all) the UKCAT unis."

Of course I know that the UKCAT is important, I've never treated it less than seriously, but seeing this very honest advice 12 days before the exam finally crystallised what had been in the back of my mind for a long time: this exam is very, very significant and I really, really do not want to do badly, but what if after all this preparation I do?

Since getting my results, I've had nearly 8 weeks of un-nervousness. And now it's back. Is this life for me, forever? Stressing about my degree, stressing about my UKCAT, stressing about interviews, stressing about offers, stressing about rejections, stressing about med school yrs 1-4, stressing about MRCP 1, 2, 2A, stressing about registrar interviews...do I need to continue?

Sometimes I wonder whether it's all worth it. Whether it's even healthy. I'm not looking for sympathy in this post, I'm just hoping that all this uncertainty and edginess is a temporary part of my life, not permanent. Then again maybe everyone feels like this...

Friday, 15 July 2011


Currently listening to: She's Electric - Oasis

As briefly mentioned in my last post, I've recently started as a volunteer at a small local charity near my parents' house where I'm staying for the Summer. The charity is a learning centre for adults with brain damage, the majority of whom have become disabled after a stroke or an accident. I was assigned to the Friday morning computer class as a teaching assistant.

Last time I applied for medical school (2007), I didn't have much in the way of work experience or at least, volunteering in a caring environment. I'd done several days of shadowing, and whilst it was very fun to wear scrubs. watch a mastoidectomy and help the anaesthetist with her sudoku, I didn't write much in my personal statement as to WHY it had strengthened my desire to study medicine and particularly, why I wished to work with people day in and day out for the rest of my professional life. Looking over my 2007 application, I have to say, it was a bit rubbish. I had the predicted grades, but my gained AS levels weren't very good. My personal statement was lackluster (I'd volunteered at Oxfam, but for the life of me now I can't work out why as it's not really relevant to the caring professions), and my UKCAT was average. No surprises, I got rejected a few months later.

So this time I'm determined to put together a faultless application. I have the grades, I shall hopefully have a good UKCAT score, and now I'm concentrating on gaining the relevant experience for my personal statement.

It was actually quite fun. Designing a poster on Powerpoint for a pretend hotel may be boring or too easy for most people, these basic computer skills can really make a difference to the clients in terms of their personal development. Simple things like copying and pasting or searching for images on Google need to be explained and taken step by step, but it's very satisfying when the students see the finished product. In short, patience is of utmost importance, it can take a while for the easiest task to be accomplished.

Today was my first session so for the final hour and a half I had to go through an induction which was basically a talk on health and safety, administration, etc. Boring, but necessary I suppose. I'll be going back next Friday, and so far it's been an enjoyable experience.

I'm also trying to get a rather distant relative (in terms of family, not location!), who works in the Immunology department of the Royal Free to arrange a period of shadowing for me in the hospital setting, so fingers crossed that works out too. In terms of UKCAT preparation, I've finished the practice questions so I've started the book again. So far I've identified several things:

  • Quantitative reasoning is simple, but I take a long time getting each problem done.

  • Abstract reasoning is mostly guesswork. Very hit and miss. But I've heard that it's just the questions in this book which are outrageously difficult, and the real exam is much nicer.

  • Verbal reasoning is fine. Get most of the questions right, and within the time limit.

  • Decision analysis is also fine. No problems with understanding or timing.

So in short I have to work on my timing for QR. If I can get a good score for the UKCAT, my chance of getting an interview at Barts and The London (my first choice for medicine) will be high, considering I already have my 2:1. The UKCAT is the final pre-interview hurdle to jump, so I absolutely have to do well in it.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Summer daze

Currently listening to: Days - The Kinks

Having spent the last few posts being either super-pleased with myself for getting a 2:1 (yes, I mentioned it again *smug face*) or writing about the funding (or lack therof) for graduate entry medicine, today's entry will be returning to the regularly scheduled programme of grumbling. I'm a bit strange. I know that bloggers often attempt to be "quirky" or "strange" or any of that attention seeking claptrap, so that's not what I'm getting at, but the fact of the matter is that five weeks after finishing my exams I'm going mad with boredom, or more precisely, mad without any work to do. That's pretty odd, or so my family tell me. I made a very similar post last year, so this isn't exactly unusual for me.

At various points in my life people have described me as a "workaholic". That's not to say that I lack social skills or I don't know how to have a good time, indeed, the many posts I've made on here about being hungover show that sometimes I have too good a time. So I'm more of a workaholic in the sense that studying challenges, stimulates my mind and interests me. Twelve weeks of holidays do not, and I feel it acutely. The voice in the back of my head occasionally chides me for being so easily bored. The voice is a mixture of all the different authority figures currently featuring in my life: my parents, my third year microbiology lecturer, Mr Hanssen off Holby City, etc. Here's what the voice is telling me, and my responses:

Why do you think people are interested in hearing you moan about having too much free time? Get the hell off of this fine establishment.

I know. My bad.

How can you be bored, you've sweated blood for three years to get a degree, why can't you just relax and take it easy?

I've relaxed for five weeks. I've had enough. There was a time (i.e. during primary school) when the summer holidays seemed too short..."only six weeks?!". Now they're too long, and I'm feeling it. I get bored after three weeks of holidays.

Do something totally random!

I gave my blog a makeover.

Get a job then, you wasteman!

My parents town is small and job opportunities are very limited. I scour the local paper for vacancies each week, but apparently you're unemployable in this town unless you're a HGV driver, teacher or accountant.

Go on holiday?

Can't afford it. This is not helped by the employment problem (above). I'm starting my MSc in September which means I get no student loan, so I can't afford to waste any money. I wanted to escape to Paris for a bit, but even that's looking too expensive.

Visit London more often then, you love London:

This isn't actually a bad idea and I do go to London once a week or so, but that's more of a distraction rather than an actual solution. That said, going to the top of Primrose Hill, taking in the view and listening to The Kinks is the definition of relaxation. I suggest you all try it.


Done. Starting on Tuesday, but that's only a few hours a week. I'll be a teaching assistant at a learning centre for adults with brain damage. That at least sounds interesting.

Prepare for your UKCAT, aren't you supposed to be a medical school applicant or something?

Doing it. I've finished three quarters of the 600 questions book, but I can hardly spend nine hours a day for two months doing that, can I? I spent less time revising for my degree!

Get a hobby, I can't believe at the age of 21 you still have to be told this stuff. Sort your life out, mate!

Well I bought two new songbooks today, Oasis and The Beatles to play on my keyboard. I have no doubt that these will keep me busy for a while, but I still miss the academic challenge that came with my degree.

Perhaps I've said too much. Perhaps now anyone reading this blog will conclude I'm a saddo with nothing of interest or excitement in my life apart from my work. That's not true at all. I just like a healthy balance. I like having fun and taking it easy, but I also miss uni life. I'm sure I can't be the only student out there who feels this way. Finally, I hope everyone else is enjoying their Summer!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Funding for graduates: a last minute reprieve?

Currently listening to: Velvet Morning - The Verve

Apologies for the length of this post!

The cost of studying medicine as a graduate has been on the back of my mind a lot since I got my results and realised that I actually will be applying for 2012 entry medicine, and therefore I have a chance of gaining an offer, and subsequently having to deal with £9K p.a fees.

It's no secret that I have nothing but contempt for the government, not least due to their short-sighted and damaging plans for higher education and the NHS. The New Labour lot before them weren't much better, and indeed they were the ones who commissioned the Browne Report to begin with, but the Coalition has been a complete shambles, not least because it's an unholy marriage between a group of supposedly liberal and progressive individuals (the Lib Dems, believe it or not) and the firmly pro-business and pro-profit Conservative party. I am not a Lib Dem, though in between feeling cynically amused at their plight, I actually feel sorry for them, as they're acting as the Tory's human shields and the opinion polls prove it. Is Clegg the most hated man in Britain or what? But then again they brought this on themselves, which is a lesson to all would-be political opportunists...

Until 2012, if a graduate started medical school, they would pay the tuition fees for their first year (£3000~) themselves. Graduates would not be entitled to a tution fee loan, but instead their fees for years 2-4 would be paid for by a NHS bursary. The graduate would also be able to get student loans to cover their cost of living for their four years at university. However, since the Coalition pushed through their "reforms" in 2010 at breakneck speed, they forgot to take into account the situation of post-2011 graduate entry medics. What happened next was over six months of pure uncertainty and misinformation, as it was suggested that the government wouldn't help GEM students, and that the NHS bursary would not be increased to cover the difference between the new £9K fees and the old £3K fees and no tuition fee loan would be provided.

As you can imagine this lead to a lot of panic amongst many students about where they would be able to find £9K x 4, and that's just the tuition fees. With the living expenses of going to a central London medical school, I had figured that if I got an offer, I would need about £76K to actually get through the course. Since my parents aren't oil tycoons, I couldn't rely on them, and I was very reluctant to get a commercial bank loan. The Times Higher Education Supplement covered this story last week, the comments at the bottom of the article are an indication of how graduates felt about being shafted by the government, simply for wanting to study medicine.

I don't really fancy doing an in depth dissection of the entire White Paper, though suffice to say that I laughed with some derision at the notion of students being "consumers". We are not consumers, we are students. University education is not a consumable commodity, and universities are not profit machines, or rather, they shouldn't be, though with this lot in power, I have no doubt that both the university and the health systems are now venture capital enterprises.

Fortunately however, the government appears to be willing to keep the NHS bursary for 2012 and provide a tuition fee loan to cover the increase in fees, something I am relieved about, if indeed they follow through with it:

"And I can announce today that my Rt Hon friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have agreed that, for undergraduate medical and dentistry students starting their course in autumn 2012, the NHS bursary will be increased in years 5 and 6 to cover the full costs of tuition. For graduate entrants starting in autumn 2012, access to student loans will be made available so that there are no additional up-front tuition costs. We will consider arrangements for subsequent years. More information is being placed in the libraries of both Houses." - David Willetts

I have bolded the penultimate sentence as it's quite ominous, it seems to suggest that safeguarding the bursary is only a temporary measure, until they can find another way of doing things, which will no doubt involve transferring the cost from the NHS onto the students. So this makes it extremely important that I get in for 2012 entry, though I won't be the only graduate heaving a sigh of relief at this news, thousands of others will be, and so the competition will no doubt be very, very tough this year as everyone clamours to get in whilst they're guaranteed tuition fee loans from years 2-4.

Am I relieved about the proposals? Yes, definitely, it's a real weight off my mind. Am I grateful to the government? Not really, I still reiterate my belief that education should be free for all. This is definitely better than leaving graduates to find their own funding, but it still doesn't change the fact that if I ever make it through medicial school, I (and all my classmates) will leave with A LOT of student debt, all for wanting to enter a profession which is as public-minded as it gets. I think the BMA sum up my thoughts perfectly:

“These experiences demonstrated that for many students the hope of becoming a doctor was at risk of being extinguished, despite their obvious talent. Graduate students, of which a substantial number come from low income backgrounds, were in particular danger of being priced out of medicine because of the unfair suggestion that they might have to pay the increased fees in their first year.

This was completely unacceptable, as was the months of indecision and delay from ministers on both of these important issues...

...We are therefore pleased that ministers have listened and given guarantees to applicants for the 2012 intake. These individuals can now get on with planning their applications.

However, despite this step forward the BMA believes that this announcement should not just be a short term fix, but a long term solution...".

I, and everyone else involved in the Save GEM Campaign are very relieved for now, because for next year's cohort at least, funding is to be provided. Getting an offer for 2012 is now more important than ever, so here's hoping I get in.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

UKCAT and U2

A lot of blogs tend to turn into soapboxes for their proprietors to become amateur art/music/fashion critics. I have tried to resist from doing this, but watching U2's performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday at Glastonbury a few hours ago has made me change my mind, just this once...it's simply amazing!!

Seriously, try and tell me that that does not blow you away! Coldplay are on tomorrow, quite frankly these two headliners guarantee that the festival will be brilliant, especially compared to last year when Muse (the mother of all overrated bands) was leading the show. Excellent stuff, I only wish I were there!

Back on topic, I've still not quite got over the miracle that is my getting a 2:1. Stressing about my grades has been a pretty big part of my life for the past two years, so it's kind of a habit now. I still find myself having the occasional panic about it. But then I remember that it's all over and I've got the grade. And then I relax. More than anything I feel very content and relieved, able to finally say I've had a results day that went well! I have no doubt that getting an offer from medical school will be very tough, since nearly everyone else will have excellent applications, but I can't help feeling a little bit hopeful now that I've surmounted the academic hurdle anyway.

Last week I ordered the 600 UKCAT Practice Questions book, and have been steadily working my way through it. It's a very thorough book and provides lots of tips and explanations. I last did the UKCAT in year 13, i.e. 2007. That was only the second cycle in which the UKCAT had been used, so there were no practice questions or guidebooks available. So I couldn't do any preparation for the exam and got 625, which is above average, but not by much. Actually I think 2007 was the year where one of the sections was discounted so my average went up to 650, but meh, it's still not an amazing score, especially for the GEP degrees.

This year I'm aiming for a score of 700 so I can be well above all the cut-offs. I'm hoping that all the extra preparation will help boost my score by 75 points! I've booked the exam for August 26th, so I've got two months to prepare for it. Once I finish the 600 questions book, I'll no doubt move onto another, does anyone have any suggestions? Or generally any UKCAT revision tips? Cheers!

Hope you're all well and enjoying the Summer (apparently the weather's going to turn nice this weekend)!

Friday, 17 June 2011

When is a 2:2 not a 2:2?

Currently listening to: Life In Technicolor ii - Coldplay

As detailed in my previous post, our marks were accidentally leaked online on Sunday night, and very quickly taken down on Monday morning. So I already knew my marks at the time of making my last post, though in the interests of confidentiality, I decided not to post them til today's SBCS examination board meeting had been concluded. The marks I received on MySIS on Sunday were as follows:

Cancer Biology - 80 - A
Project Skills in the Life Sciences - 76 - AA (double credit module)
Cellular Pathology & Haematology - 64 - B
Human Genetics & Genomics - 61 - B
Endocrine Physiology - 56 - C
PBL - 55 - C
Molecular Microbiology - 52 - C

AAABBCCC = Which gave me an overall degree mark of 59.5375%...a 2:2.

Very surprised about that Cancer Biology mark as I thought the exam was quite average, and also quite surprised about the Endocrine Physiology mark as I'd felt that the exam had gone very well. Clearly not!

It is impossible for me to describe how stressed and anxious I have been since Sunday night, wondering whether or not that mark would be rounded up to 60 to give me a 2:1. As I wrote in my previous post "I'll be absolutely and utterly gutted if I miss out on a 2:1 by say, 1.5%"...as it happens I was looking at losing out on a 2:1 by less than half a percentage point! On Sunday night I was reasonably confident that it would be rounded up, though as the days went by, I felt more and more pessimistic, to the point where this afternoon I was confident I would be picking up a degree valued at 59.5%.

Fortunately however, when I went in today to pick up my results, my adviser said with a huge smile on her face that I did indeed get a 2:1, and not a 2:2 as I'd feared. My precise reaction to this was "YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY". No exaggeration. Just to make sure I also checked my classification on the noticeboard in the SBCS building foyer, and there beside my student number was "2:1". Written proof. And I'm still on a high, because this means that the past three years have been worth it. Every boring lecture, every tricky assignment, every attended-with-a-killer-hangover-from-hell practical session has lead up to, and helped me achieve this classification which means that I can now apply for medicine. I'm finally where I want to be.

My adviser wasn't able to tell me my module scores or overall percentage, just my classification. The figures I'm using above are those which I saw on Sunday night on MySIS...which were provisional, not official. We receive our written transcript in July. But to be honest, I don't really care. I've made it. Made it, made it, made it. It still hasn't quite sunk in that with my 2:1 I fulfill the academic entry requirements for medical school. It's not just a prediction, a hope, aspiration or dream. It's a real mark, and one which I am very, very happy with. My adviser confirmed that it won't change.

So...what's next? UKCAT at some point during the summer (already ordered the 600 practice questions book :D), more voluntary work, a decent personal statement...and finally I'll be able to send off my UCAS application. I have to remember that the real journey has just begun. Even with a 2:1 there are no guarantees, and the competition will be fierce. But I would never be truly happy doing anything other than medicine, so I have to give it my best shot. One of the hurdles was successfully negotiated today.

Over the next few months I will be blogging about my experiences with the application process, and my masters degree (as yet TBC). Thanks to all of you who've commented over the months and years with your various kind messages, believe it or not, at times they have been very comforting when I've been surrounded by stacks of coursework, deadlines and distinctly average marks. My particular thanks to "Joey", if he's still reading this blog...your advice was instrumental in persuading me to pick Project Skills (I don't think I would have got AA for the Research Project!).

Grumpy Biomed BSc (because I can) ;)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Final thoughts Mk II

Currently listening to: Got Nuffin' - Spoon

Exactly a year ago (give or take a few hours), I was in this precise position. Perhaps even literally. Sitting at my old desk, in my parents' house, waiting for results the following day. Back then I was pessimistic, and now I'm marginally less pessimistic, but pessimistic all the same (this blog is called the Grumpy Biomed, not the Cheerful and Optimistic Biomed, so it's not altogether unexpected). The plot thickens however as this is a) a lot more important than last year as tomorrow I will be finding out my degree classification b) our marks were accidentally (and briefly) leaked online a few night ago.

In the interests of confidentiality I will not be saying anything until the SBCS Examination Board has concluded its meeting tomorrow afternoon and officially released the results. The plot does indeed thicken, but I am still very much uncertain myself regarding results. If I weren't I wouldn't be feeling pessimistic, I'd be feeling happy, sad, angry, ecstatic, or whatever, but not pessimistic...an emotion which carries with it uncertainty and an element of anticipation.

So...it all depends on tomorrow afternoon. I will again say that I genuinely have tried my best and that I do hope that my results will reflect this and allow me to get to where I want to get.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Currently listening to: Every Teardrop is a Waterfall - Coldplay

Is it pointless to speculate about my results? My brain, friends, and parents certainly think so. After all, the exams are done and dusted and the papers are probably now being given a final once over by SBCS in preparation for results day on Friday. I know that I've tried my best, completed my courseworks and dissertation faithfully, and tried my best to sort out the stress problem I had last year with regards to exams (with better organisation, a good sleeping pattern, earlier revision, etc). I know all of this, yet I can't stop thinking about the results all the same. It's so stupid when your own brain won't listen to the logic of which it is fully aware. Speculation is pointless, but I can't stop doing it. Even Coldplay's new song (above) can't distract me.

The main worry is and has always been "will I do well enough to get into medicine" i.e. can I get a 2:1. My current average is a fairly low 2:2, so I'd need 65% this year to get a 2:1 overall. It's a tall order for anyone, so in short I'm not overly hopeful. I can't accurately judge my performance this exam season, because I, (like most students), have no idea how the essays are graded and on what specific criteria. It's not like a MCQ where it's either right or wrong, it is in fact up to the examiner's personal judgement of whether or not you've written in a way to merit a particular grade. So I worry about whether I've included enough details, whether I've waffled too much or just plain not answered the question, any of which would lead to a mediocre mark. And I really can't afford that. I know that the Examination Board can use a certain amount of discretion when classifying degrees, i.e. it can bump 58s or above to a 60, but I don't think that's something to bank on, and the regulations specifically state that "...discretion shall not be used as an automatic response, as this would in effect lower QMUL’s requirements for award, including lowering the classification boundaries.". Which is fair enough really, but I'll be absolutely and utterly gutted if I miss out on a 2:1 by say, 1.5%.

I know that it's possible to get into medicine with a 2:2 as the lovely Bean has proven, but I'd like to avoid the GAMSAT if possible. Yes, if I had no other choice, of course I'd do it, but the UKCAT definitely seems much simpler and would allow me to apply to a wide range of courses rather than just the three medical schools which accept 2:2s. Of course if any medical school gave me an offer, I'd be over the moon, but at the end of the day I'm allowed to have my own preferences too...and I'd always liked the idea of going to medical school in London.

So I guess the dream of studying medicine wouldn't be over with a 2:2, but it would make it even more of an uphill struggle. And I'm kind of tired of that, for once I'd just like to be able to apply with the right entry requirements like everyone else.

But reality is reality, so I've been looking through Griffith's GAMSAT review and the GAMSAT past papers (found them online - £78 saved!). The exam has a writing section, a verbal reasoning section and a scientific reasoning section (which contains the dreaded chemistry A level content, which I got a C for, with difficulty, years go). So I don't think the GAMSAT would be a complete disaster if I can brush up on my chemistry...but all the same, it's a route that I'd like to avoid if possible.

So the tl;dr version of this entry is basically: I think I've got a 2:2, I'm mentally preparing myself to start GAMSAT revision later this Summer, and, er, that's it. There will probably possibly be more angsty posts up until Friday.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Why do I write?

People have asked me before "why do you blog?". To be honest, as selfish as it sounds, I write for myself. I realise that after a while it can get pretty tiring reading some guy's endless angst/grumpiness/fear surrounding his degree, his grades and ultimately whether he'll ever get into medical school, but I suppose I need to get this stuff off my chest...and the interweb is the best place to do this. So I write to vent, and not because what I write is particularly fascinating. It stops me driving the people around me insane, though having said that I visited my parents yesterday and I don't think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say that 90% of the conversation was me saying "if I don't get a 2:1 I'll be REALLY REALLY pissed off", over and over again. During this time of year, i.e. after exams, but before results, I become pretty intolerable and just keep thinking about results non-stop...at least nowadays my parents and friends only have to put up with three weeks of it, unlike during A levels when we had to wait til the end of August for results!

So in advance I apologise, over the next few weeks this blog will be filled with nervousness, anticipation, and pretty boring stress. And when the inevitable result finally comes through (trust me, it's coming like a freight train)...well...I don't think it's possible for me to describe just how much I want to do well this year but I have to make up for two years of mediocre grades, and that is a tall order for anyone...

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Currently listening to: Coffee and TV - Blur

It would have been nice to have a clean sweep of 6/6 exams being nice, but sadly it didn't happen. Yesterday's Molecular Clinical Microbiology exam was a pretty rubbish experience. I'm far too hungover right now to pretend I'm anything other than annoyed and pissed off about it. The problem was having Human Genetics and Genomics on Thursday, and Molecular Microbiology 24 hours later on Friday....there just wasn't enough time to prepare properly. The questions I wanted DID come up, but sadly the lack of preparation meant that by the time I reached Q7, I knew virtually nothing and could only muster three sides of A4 (usually I write at least five or six for a good essay).

Q2) Describe the basic principles behind PCR. Compare and contrast PCR and Real Time PCR.

Q5) Compare and contrast the different mechanisms of immune evasion and cellular invasion used by the causative agents of Leishmaniasis and Chagas' Disease.

Q7) Describe the biology of Human African Trypanosomiasis.

Pity really as I'd written an excellent set of notes with the answers to all of these questions, complete with extra reading and references, the problem was the lack of time to properly revise these notes! Q2 was definitely the best one, in fact it was rather good and I covered the points I wanted to make. Q5 was average at best, I felt like I was clutching at straws some of the time, and Q7 was pretty bad. Quite a lot of the class found the exam to be difficult, so I'm guessing everyone was feeling the pressure. I just hope that I got good marks for my other tests so that they can make up for this one.

Anyway that concludes BSc Biomedical Sciences. Now 20 days til results.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


Currently listening to: Teardrop - Massive Attack

Just got back from the Human Genetics and Genomics exam. Human Genetics revision = very interesting and straight-forward. Genomics revision = deeply boring. But I gritted my teeth and got on with it. Again, being short of time I wasn't able to revise everything I wanted, but I revised Trimethylaminuria and pharmacogenetics for the Human Genetics section very well. So well in fact that I didn't leave much time to revise Genomics. This was not helped by the aforementioned fact that Genomics is deeply, deeply boring, and the lectures are, er, somewhat light on content. I can only hope my frantic textbook scavenging and Wikipedia-ing of transposable elements will pay off. Sadly the effects of the past few weeks are getting to me and I'm a little sleep deprived, so I can't remember the exact phrasing of the questions, but here goes:

1) Flavin containing monoxygenases and TMAU. Essentially describe and discuss.

2) Pharmacogenomics will revolutionise modern medicine. Discuss.

6) Define an autonomous transposable element. Compare and contrast the P element of Drosophila melanogaster and the L1 element in humans.

Question 6 is the Genomics question. For the uninitiated, D melanogaster = a fruitfly. See what I mean about deeply boring? Well I tried my best for it, but this week was always going to be intense (three exams in five days), so I didn't revise Genomics as well as I wanted to...but on the whole I feel like I've done alright, especially in the first two questions which I'd revised a lot, done past papers on, etc. I'm worried Q6 might drag me down, though my exam post-mortem revealed no disasters or slip-ups. Which I can only hope means a decent mark. Please.

Anyway, one more to go.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Currently listening to: Lucky Man - The Verve

Cancer Biology was something I felt quite unprepared for. On the plus side, I had 83% for the coursework, which is worth 30% of the total module. On the downside, the coursework (an essay and presentation) was so time consuming that I barely had time to make any decent notes during last term. And with three exams before this I really only got round to making notes for it a week ago.

The exam was okay. I don't think it went spectactularly, but I don't think it went badly either. It was just okay. For once in my life the MCQ question went well (if I've calculated correctly I should get 19/25 minimum for that section). This was our only third year exam which had an MCQ section, so subsequently we had to answer only two essay questions, not three. Which was very good since I don't feel I could have written much of a decent answer for the others. So here are the questions:

2) Describe the processes of DNA damage and explain how malfunctioning DNA repair can cause cancer.

6) Describe metastasis and explain its importance in cancer.

Hmm. I made a plan including the bulk i.e. 90% of what was in my notes and wrote what I felt was a decent answer. But when I did my exam post-mortem this evening I realised that for question 2 I'd left out quite a few of the nitty-gritty little details relating to different forms of DNA damage. Question 6 was much better, though on the whole I felt last week's endocrinology exam, even though it was more challenging and difficult with a lot more content to remember, went better. That said, if I've calculated correctly with 83% in the coursework, I need 52% in the exam to get a 2:1 for this module...and I think (unless I've seriously misjudged), it went well enough for me to reach that target. I hope. Especially if I've done as well in the MCQs as I think.

On the whole I must say that none of my exams have felt as bad as last year's, they've all felt much better. I can only hope that means better grades.

Starting at midnight tonight, I have the most intense 66 hours of my life...two exams in three days, then freedom.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Currently listening to: Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2

After a ten day interval today was my third exam, Endocrine Physiology and Biochemistry. Traditionally a subject feared by biomeds, biochemists, pharmaceutical chemists and other life sciences students for its complicated chemical pathways, intricate physiological details and the sheer workload, I approached revision for this subject with some trepidation. Progress was slow and it soon became abundantly clear that much like my first exam, Cellular Pathology and Haematology, I wouldn't be able to learn everything. So I decided to concentrate particularly on learning the pancreas, cardiovascular hormones, the adrenal glands and steroidogenesis, and the associated signal transduction pathways. The thyroid, male and female reproductive systems took a back seat as I prioritised and hoped to god that these would not come up in the exam. Three essay questions to answer, though luckily for this exam there was free choice of questions (i.e. unlike CP&H). And even more luckily some decent questions came up:

1) "Peptide hormone synthesis is simple. One gene, one hormone". Discuss.

6) Discuss the role of the pancreas in glucose homeostasis.

7) Give an example of a vasoconstrictor and a vasodilator, giving details of their biosynthesis and mechanism of action. Describe the problems associated with damage to the endothelium.

A pretty good line up. Having conducted my exam post-mortem I covered the majority of my points for questions 1 and 7, and all my points for question 6. Question 6 was a dream come true, open ended, broad and straight-forward. I feel I did best in that, followed by 1, followed by 7. All in all I'm pleasantly surprised about how painless this exam was...let's hope the results reflect this!

I am now halfway through my finals, with three exams to go next week. Time to press on with Cancer Biology revision!

Monday, 9 May 2011


Currently listening to: Live Forever - Oasis

PBL (problem based learning) is a form of student-centred learning which is very popular in medical schools and engineering departments. Some medical schools (e.g. Peninsula) only use PBL, some use a mixture of PBL and lectures (e.g. Barts and the London) and some don't use it at all (e.g. Oxbridge). What QMUL biomeds do is take a PBL module during second and third year, which basically means having six assignments during eash year which you do in your own time, a tutorial, and a test three weeks later. The marks of the second year assignments count for 10% of the total module grade, the marks for third year assignments count for 40% and the final exam at the end of third year counts for 50%.

So off I went to do the exam today. Having concentrated solely on Cellular Pathology and Haematology until Friday, and being dead tired on Friday afternoon I only started my PBL revision on Saturday. Luckily we know which topics are coming up (the six assignments we did this year), and we had to answer three questions, so being short of time I decided to revise three topics (Cirrhosis, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Myeloma), knowing that they were guaranteed to come up.

Well come up they did, but I still can't shake off a feeling that this exam did not go so well. Each question had seven parts, A-G, with part A being a 30 mark essay question on the pathology of the disease in question. I think I managed to do these all well. There were also two parts per question which were a 10 mark EMQ and 20 mark MCQ question. Which again went well. So in short I think I made a good attempt at 60 marks out of the hundred. The remaining 40 are a mixed bag. For example, on Question 6 to do with multiple myeloma I ran out of time so wasn't able to do the question on antibody diversity (10 marks gone). Also on the question on cirrhosis I had missed some of the biochemistry in my notes so whilst I did attempt the question (also 10 marks), I think I've done it wrong. So as you can see I'm feeling a bit touch and go about this exam...I could have done alright...but then again I might not have. I can only hope (what I think was) an excellent 30 mark essay on multiple myeloma pathophysiology can make up for all the areas I did badly in. I'm certainly not expecting any As.

Given that the majority of biomeds want to eventually study medicine, SBCS decided to introduce the PBL module a few years ago so we would be familiar with medical school teaching styles. I quite like the thought of following a PBL based curriculum if I ever get into medical school, but I haven't enjoyed biomed PBL much. The difference is that when medical schools run PBL courses, they do it well, whereas SBCS...don't. The module is fairly disorganised, and the individual tutors often aren't familiar with the case studies (in one or two cases I suspect this might be because they haven't bothered to read them before the tutorial), and the exam marks and papers are always handed back really late. For example I did the multiple myeloma in-course assessment in March...I got the marks back last Friday, three days before the final exam. How on earth is that helpful? I would say PBL has been the one module at SBCS which I've disliked, not because of the content, but because it's badly run.

Anyway, it's all over now, and I have endocrinology to look forward to in 10 days, a nice traditional subject with powerpoints and textbooks. Time to go do some hardcore revision.

PS: Thank you for all your good luck messages in the previous post :)

Friday, 6 May 2011


Currently listening to: In The Waiting Line - Zero 7

Exam season kicked off today with Cellular Pathology & Haematology. QMUL's Great Hall is being refurbished so I guess they didn't have anywhere else large enough to accommodate us, so it was off to Stratford Town Hall which is one stop away on the Central Line. A word of advice to any non-Londoners considering moving here...the Tube is brilliant (if only it ran 24/7 eh?), but as soon as the temperature gets marginally warm, Tube carriages basically turn into mobile saunas. You have been warned.

I've done several past papers which has made me more familiar with the examination style and the phraseology of questions, which kind of removed the fear I've had in the past to do with exams. I made essay plans and did eight past paper questions for this module, so I sort of knew what to expect. So I felt a lot more prepared than I did this time last year.

I'll be honest with you though, CP&H is a pretty intensive course with some of the lectures being 120 slides long, and quite complicated too. Lots of growth factors, adhesion molecules, cytokines and cascades to remember, though I'd say I managed to revise about 75% of the course very well, or at least well enough to do an essay on. Areas I felt confident in were acute inflammation, tissue processing, haematopoiesis, cellular injury and cellular adaption. Areas I felt "okay" in were coagulation, chronic inflammation and metastasis. Areas I hoped to god wouldn't turn up in the exam were anaemia, thrombophilia and cancers. These final three are the 25% I was terrified about.

The CP&H exam is comprised of seven essay questions, and you needed to pick one from Section A, one from Section B and one from Section C. So you can imagine what would have happened if Section B had been, say, thrombophilia vs cervical cancer. I would have been absolutely screwed and I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. Quite worrying.

As it happened I needn't have worried, since the paper was very good. The questions I answered were as follows (obviously they were worded more formally):

1a) Describe the role of fixatives in tissue processing.
1b) Describe the role of other techniques involved in tissue processing.
1c) Describe the role of stains in tissue processing.

3) Give an account of haematopoiesis.

6a) Compare and contrast acute and chronic inflammation.
6b) Describe the role of leukocytes in acute inflammation.
6c) Describe a typical mycobacterial granuloma.

I breathed the biggest sigh of relief when I saw the questions as they were in the areas I'd revised the most and which I had completed past papers on. So I got to work. Unlike last year where I really struggled with completing one section of the three (usually the MCQ or SAQ which I was clueless about), for this exam I think all the questions were manageable and I think I made a decent attempt at all the essays.

That's not to say I think I've done perfectly. It's a pointless act of self-torture but exam-time tradition for me to go through my notes after the exam and conduct an exam post-mortem. I realised that for Q1b I forgot to mention the role of dehydration in processing (though I did get all the other steps). That's one mistake in 33% of 33% of the exam so it can't be that bad, can it? I did mention how ethanoic acid acts on tissue proteins but I didn't mention that it causes them to swell. These might all seem like little details, but I'm worried they'll add up and cause the examiner to think I don't know any extra details and give me a 2:2 :( Do any grads or anyone with knowledge about how lecturers mark exams have any advice to give me on how seriously little omissions like this affect your final essay grade?

I think Q3 was easily my best, I'd completed a past paper on haematopoiesis just the night before so I basically repeated that and when I checked my notes after the exam I was happy to see I'd included all the points on my essay plan. Q6 was good too though I ran out of time towards the end so Q6c was basically a diagram of a granuloma with labels and explanations, but not much by way of an essay. Still, they're always telling us "if you can simplify it with a diagram, do so", so I hope they remember their own words. But again, that worry in the back of my mind...

Anyway, I think for a first exam it went well, certainly much better than I expected. One down and five to go, with the next exam being PBL on Monday. I hope things continue on this note. I just really hope my good feelings regarding this exam aren't all just a massive misjudgement on my part and I've actually messed up the exam really badly...after last year's experience I'm kind of unsure about my judgement.