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.