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 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.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pre-exam advice

Currently listening to: Shadow - The Southland

So...what to do the day/night before your first exam of final year?

Also have a packet of Fizzers. Oh happy, stress-free childhood, where have you gone?

I've reached the stage where nervousness won't allow me to sleep, so I spend the time lying in bed, in the dark, reciting my notes out loud, from memory. Please, please, please let Friday's tomorrow's Cellular Pathology & Haematology exam be nice. Please, please, please let acute inflammation, cellular injury and haematopoiesis come up. Please, please, please don't let thrombophilia, cervical cancer or haemostasis come up. I actually have no idea who these requests are aimed at.

Now for bed. (And by bed, I mean lying awake, talking to myself about chronic inflammation and metastasis).