Tuesday, 28 August 2012

You say goodbye...

Wow, who'd have thought I'd get writer's block over the final entry on this blog? I certainly didn't, I thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to write, but believe it or not I've been putting this post off for weeks now, and now that I'm actually writing it, it's only after four or five drafts and abandoned attempts!

Throughout my time writing on here I always imagined what writing the final entry would be like, when exactly it would be, whether anyone would still be reading my ramblings, etc (answers: surprisingly sentimental, a year later than originally planned and apparently yes!). One thing I definitely did know however was that I'd only stop updating this blog once I got into medical school...I knew that if and when this happened, I'd no longer be a biomedical sciences student (obviously) and that I'd no longer be grumpy. Well, no longer grumpy about my course anyway. So in a way, this entry is all that I've been aiming for and looking forward to for many years now. And as I now look back, I think this blog has been extremely helpful in allowing me to destress over the past few years. All throughout the bad times (end of second year), good times (third year) and unexpected times (leaving my masters), it's been a space where I can let it all out, both the positive and the negative and it has definitely helped me to unwind, which has been really great and just what I needed at times. I've also received some really sound advice and kind words over the years which is also something else I'm very grateful for!

I moved to Warwickshire 10 days ago and about a week ago I went back down to London for the day to visit some friends from undergrad. We were due to meet in the evening, but I arrived a few hours earlier because I needed to do something I'd been avoiding for a while: I needed to go round each of the campuses I'd lived and studied in over the past four years and have a final reminisce and look around. QMUL and Barts and The London, like most universities in London, have several campuses (in Mile End, Whitechapel and West Smithfield), but what makes QMUL/BL unique is that all of the facilities for each campus are hosted on-site. That means the library, halls, classes etc on each campus are all self-contained and not spread throughout the city. This was definitely one of the things I liked most about QMUL/BL...it was very easy to feel at home on each campus. And since I lived in halls throughout my time at both institutes, it really did feel like home and each campus and locality holds a lot of memories for me. It felt really good to wander around one last time and relive those memories before heading off to somewhere totally different. Warwick will be where I spend the next four years of my life, doing my dream course, which is something I'm very excited about but I'll always remember the good times I had at QMUL/BL too.

So if you're interested in following my journey through med school, please follow me HERE (and if I'm on your blogroll I'd be very grateful if you updated it to include this new page as this blog won't be updated any longer).

Grumpy Biomed (over and out!)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Grumpy Biomed's inspiration: a long overdue thank you

Currently listening to: The Universal - Blur

So, why did I get into blogging a few years back? There are plenty of other ways of stress relief: talking with friends, listening to good music, going out, walking scenic routes in London, etc. And yes, I've done and continue to do all all of these things, but none of them have been as effective as blogging. It is extremely therapeutic and cathartic to come on here, release my thoughts as a stream of consciousness and a few days, months or even years later to look back and see where I was, what I was going through and where I am now. It helps give me a real sense of perspective and clarity.

But that doesn't really explain why I blog. I could just as easily have kept a diary. But I chose to put this stuff on the internet. This was for two reasons, the first was because I really appreciate the help and advice given to me over the years by readers who leave comments. And I've said thank you for that at several points over the years, but you can never say it enough, so cheers again! But there is one other reason too.

When I was a first year (i.e. a year before I started writing here), I stumbled across a blog written by "MS", a third year biomedical sciences student at UEL and prospective medical student, and at the time applicant. "MS" was quite a different category of student to me: his grades were consistently excellent, he showed up to his classes, and generally seemed very together and organised. But he was not content with being a biomed, he wanted to do medicine. As a first year biomed faced with the seemingly infinite biomedical sciences degree in front of me, I found this anonymous third year's blog to be simultaneously comforting and inspirational in its own way...reading his old posts from the beginning of his course, leading onto his volunteering experiences, UKCAT scores, and finally the submission of his UCAS form provided me with something of a light at the end of the tunnel, a sign that in a few years time I too might end up doing what I truly wanted to do like he had.

As it happened, "MS" got a first and ended up studying medicine at Barts and The London where he is now (presumably) about to go into fourth year...but unfortunately he deleted all his old posts (which were here), however I do remember just how helpful they were to me. So even though he's not likely to ever read this: thank you. You really helped me to maintain some focus and persevere through first year. I hope medicine's just as fulfilling and enjoyable as you hoped it would be.

So, in the middle of second year when I ended up making a blog myself, I deliberately chose to put it in the public domain...so that in case there are any other annoyed and stressed out biomed students out there, they can see that the story can indeed have a happy ending. To that end, I do hope this blog has been as useful to someone else as MS' blog was to me.

(Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I'm moving blog sometime next week - just needed to say this final thank you before I ditch the Grumpy Biomed alias!).

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Acceptance Afternoon

Currently listening to: Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five - Paul McCartney & Wings

Wow okay, so, during the past few weeks I've been going through some minor administrative and financial crises. Firstly, there's the student finance issue which I detailed a few days ago, which means I will be penniless come September unless SFE sort themselves out, and also the fact that I still haven't found a flat to live in. Bear in mind I'm supposed to be moving in about 5 weeks. This is not due to lack of effort, indeed, a few weeks back I decided to go for a flat, only to be told that the agent had given it to someone else during a period when their office was supposedly closed. Lovely. Anyway, la lutte continue.

So in the spate of all of these incidents, it's been quite easy for me to forget I'm actually about to embark on what has been a dream since childhood for me, namely going to medical school and training to become a doctor. Fortunately, today I was allowed to forget about my lack of money and lack of housing for a while as I went off for the course acceptance afternoon: the first official event I've been to as a soon-to-be medical student at Warwick.

I must say, there is nothing quite as nerve-wracking as walking into a room filled with a hundred strangers who are all chatting...and you're alone and looking flustered as your bus turned up later than you expected. Very nerve-wracking indeed...my initial thought was, "how do they all know eachother?!". Then I realised that if I'd turned up 20 minutes earlier, I'd have been able to get chatting in a less intense environment before the room became packed. I wasn't late by the way, I arrived at 11:20 and the day was kicking off at 11:30. But I was sufficiently late to walk in and look awkward. Anyway, I managed to talk to some people (not people - classmates now!) for a few minutes, before we all went to the lecture theatre. Anyway, the most amazing feeling ever when I went to register and there was my name. Me! As a medical student! On the list! Finally!

The first talk was an introduction to Phase I of our course (roughly: the mostly pre-clinical phase). All seems very interesting and a wide range of different modules, none of which include labs! Yay! The lecturers went through the timetable for our first three terms, which is 9-5, Monday to Friday. Feels less like university, and more like a job! Then again, I'm going to be doing a 5 year degree in 4 years, so I wasn't altogether surprised at the intensity of the timetable really. The molecules professor was very lively and animated indeed, and I think, succeeded in successfully scaring most of the class into actually committing to read the biochemistry reading list over the Summer. I'll be looking through my old notes for sure. I've covered all the topics on the syllabus during undergrad and postgrad, though I could do with some revision.

Lunch followed, more chatting with random people for five minutes at a time (felt like the interview day all over again), and then more talks. This time on less academic things and more practical affairs such as accommodation, student finance, the disability service, occupational health etc. Then a final talk by the MedSoc reps and a few words from the Phase II (wholly clinical part of the course) director. Again, very interesting. Can't believe in 18 months I'll be a clinical med student (you know, if I pass exams and all).

The next time I go back will be in the first week of September when I officially start the course. All I can say is bring it on, I really can't wait! Even the long talk on occupational health was more interesting than every biomed lab I've ever had simply because it's not irrelevant to who I am and what I want to do. To be honest with you, if I'm beginning to find occupational health talks interesting, then it's only a short period of time before I fully evolve into the Painfully Enthusiastic Medical Student:



Anyway, I'm sure I've said this a lot, and I will say it a lot more over the coming weeks and months, and you can call me a naive idealist all you like, but it feels truly amazing and fulfilling to be sat in a lecture theatre knowing that I'm happy and content exactly where I am and that the days of constantly yearning for something else are over. Very happy about that.

(PS: Given just how sickeningly positive and un-grumpy this post was, I'll also add that I'll be switching over to a new blog pretty soon-ish. As I'm no longer grumpy about my degree or a biomed student, it feels vaguely weird to be writing on here. It's a bit like wearing clothes from your childhood: they once served you well, but at a certain point you realise you've grown and you just have to get a new set of clothes, you know?)

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Student Finance, please do your job

Currently listening to: She's a Rainbow - The Rolling Stones

If you go on any medical student forum or graduate entry medicine Facebook group, there's one topic which is guaranteed to make every graduate medic roll their eyes in utter exasperation and annoyance. This being Student Finance England, which is, for those of you unfamiliar with the UK system, the branch of the government in charge of deciding who gets how much student loan and then paying this throughout the academic year.

Of course, the student loans people don't just annoy graduate medics, and indeed I've heard grumbles from students across the academic spectrum. However, as graduate medics we are already entitled to less funding than "ordinary" non-graduate students. We don't get any grants or university bursaries, just the maintenance loan and tuition fee loan. Not even the full tuition fee loan I might add. So bearing this in mind, you can understand why we're pissed off at constantly being screwed around by this particular government body which doesn't even deign to fund us well.

The problem is basically this: the average graduate wishing to go back to university to study for a second non-medical undergraduate degree (BA, BSc, BEng, etc) is not allowed any further funding in way of student loans as they've already been through the university system once. However, it has long been understood that graduate entry medicine (MB ChB or equiv) and dentistry (BDS) are exceptions to this rule, so we receive the tuition fee loan, maintenance loan and the NHS bursary from years 2-4. All good so far. The NHS knows this, the Department of Health knows this, the direct.gov.uk people know this, even the hallowed BMJ did a piece on it for crying out loud. Except it appears that no one bothered to tell the Student Finance people about this rule. Since they're the ones who control the metaphorical piggy bank, it would have been good to include them when it comes to executing these kind of policies. Talk about a total lack of joined-up government.

So, prior to sending off my form (well before the deadline), I decided to pre-empt any chance of Student Finance idiocy by double-checking with them that they know what I'm entitled to as a graduate medic. A bit of confusion at first as the nice man on the phone didn't know what I was talking about, but he went off to talk to his manager and when he came back he assured me that I would be entitled to the tuition fee loan and maintenance loan. All good. A month later, I get a letter informing me that I am entitled to the princely sum of...£0.00. No tuition fee loan or maintenance loan. Obviously their system isn't aware of the exception made for graduate entry medicine and dentistry students.

To say that I was not a happy bunny would be understating it. Because now I have to write a letter and make more phone calls to correct what should really be something very easy for a massive organisation to do. The fact that forums and Facebook groups are FILLED with graduate medics writing about how they've repeatedly had to call Student Finance to ask them to correct this issue (and they usually do - they just need a lot of reminding), should suggest to Student Finance that perhaps it would be more efficient and effective if they were simply to fix their damn system so it doesn't implode when a graduate medic's finances need to be assessed.

It's really quite worrying that year on year a government department manages to screw up by assessing people incorrectly or paying them late and nothing is done about it. Why does this happen? Because students are a minority and graduate medics even more so. So no one cares. If the tax system or pensions system was to balls up in such a monumental way constantly, there would be an outcry. But as it's students, no one's really that bothered.

So, to get away from the rant, I am including some links below which may be of some use to graduate medics and dentsists in need of evidence of our entitlement to funding:

Official Dept of Health letter:

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_127923.pdf

direct.gov.uk (scroll to the bottom):

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Typesoffinance/DG_171537

Warwick Medical School:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/funding/undergraduate/mbchb

NHS Careers:

http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/default.aspx?id=557

BMJ article:

http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20003584

Know your rights, the law is definitely on our side. It's very irritating that so many students are having to waste their time educating a government body on what it should already know, but if the alternative is being left without funding, it's definitely worth taking the time to sort this out.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Just in case you're reading this

(This post will be meaningless to all but one person)

How are you? Happy birthday! I can't believe a whole year's passed since I last saw you. A lot's gone on which I wish I could have told you about. I especially wish I could have told you about getting into medicine, as I think you - more than anyone else - understood just how much that means to me. I have no idea if you ever looked at that scrap of paper upon which I scrawled this blog's address, or indeed, managed to decipher my rubbish handwriting, but if you did, and on the off chance you're reading this, I hope wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you're happy and well. You know I don't believe in fate, but I do hope some day our paths cross again by some fortunate coincidence or another.

Thank you and all the best!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Olive branch

Currently listening to: Sea of Heartbreak - Johnny Cash

I generally have a very good relationship with my parents. This wasn't always the case. Until the age of 18 I didn't really feel that close to them. Of course, I always loved them and they me but it wasn't a great relationship. This was mostly because I used to get in trouble a lot at school (why and whether or not it was justified is a whole other story) which didn't really impress them. But after moving schools at 16 (had a great time at my new school) and eventually moving out at 18 to QMUL, my parents and I gave eachother the necessary space for a proper grown--up relationship to develop. As such, our relationship nowadays is great and I can talk to them about nearly anything.

However, all through uni as our relationship was improving and maturing, there was one subject which was always guaranteed to cause an argument...and that was my desire to do medicine. I, of course, was set on medicine since childhood, had been denied it at 18 and embarked on my biomed degree with "med school" as my only plan for after graduation. My parents weren't happy with this. They considered it a waste for me to do one degree then chuck it all in and do something else. They were convinced that I'd be too old if I qualified as a doctor at 25 or more. That medicine was too stressful, demanding and emotionally draining for me anyway. That I wouldn't be able to afford it. That it was just too damn competitive and I would be one of the unlucky many not to get a place. Ignoring my constant reminders about how I hated the lab, they would repeatedly tell me about how I would do better at a career in biomedical research anyway.

Needless to say, I largely tried to avoid the subject of post-degree options with them throughout my BSc, especially since during years 1 and 2 when my grades didn't seem good enough for medicine anyway, as I didn't want to constantly be reminded about how I was indulging a pipe dream and how I could do great with a 2:2 and a masters followed by a PhD (I was given this particular piece of advice a lot). I'm fairly certain they would tell me this stuff out of a desire to not see me get upset about not getting into medicine and because they wanted me to feel more confident in my other abilities rather than get hung up on medicine. They're certainly not spiteful or discouraging, so because of the fact that they were doing it out of love, I didn't really feel angry at them, just slightly weary everytime the subject was brought up.

However, fortunately, this time last year I got a 2:1 for my degree, and then two months later did well in my UKCAT. Last summer, my parents realised that I was good enough to apply to medical school, and maybe even get a place. So they began taking an interest in my med school choices, giving me advice, and even better, listening to me and trusting me when I would tell them that I'd done my research and it doesn't matter if I qualify at 26, that there would be loans available, and that I would be able to handle the course. It was really great to see them taking an interest and not stubbornly continuing to tell me I should do a PhD.

So, credit where it's due, this past year they've been very helpful and supportive indeed and were really happy when I got my offer in March. They still do occasionally tell me that I must be mad for wanting to go into a career which can be very depressing/exhausting at times, but again, I think that's said out of concern rather than actually thinking that I'm not going to be good enough for it. And to top it all off, they got me a stethoscope as a "well done on getting in" present:


I had originally planned to buy my own stethoscope at the start of term (had heard discounts would be available)...but it was really nice of them to surprise me like that, and I suppose, it's an olive branch of sorts. Hopefully no more arguments, it's a bit too late now anyway because with less than three months before I begin my MB ChB, I'm super-excited and can't wait to get started!

Hope you're all doing great and everyone's exams/results have gone well!

Monday, 19 March 2012

To Warwick

Currently listening to: Touch Me - The Doors

Short version: I'm amazingly happy, it's slowly beginning to sink in that come September I'm going to be a medical student at Warwick!

Long version: It would be pretty fair to say that in the weeks between having my interviews and getting my Warwick offer, I felt progressively more and more disillusioned about the whole UCAS process. My bemusement continued when I (with justification) got rejected from the Barts and The London A100 course after that awful interview. I say with justification, but that didn't make the rejection any nicer to deal with, so for nearly three days I was in the most depressed, mopey, anxious mood I've ever been in, even worse than during the darkest days of my biomed degree. The irony of the matter is that I shouldn't have been depressed over this rejection at all. This is because a few days ago Barts and The London emailed me to say that whilst I haven't been successful for their GEP, as a consolation they'd like to make me an offer for...their A100 degree! My precise reaction to this..?

Because quite frankly, it meant that I put myself through three days of pure hell for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Admittedly, my anxiety isn't BL's "fault", but all the same I do wish they could have made up their mind properly instead of jerking me around for a week. Ah well. So with that, UCAS 2012 is over for me, and I finish with two offers: Warwick GEP and BL A100 and two rejections: Southampton GEP and BL GEP. A brilliant result, and what I'd been hoping for since October.

The decision as to where I'm headed next September is therefore very easy to make. Because of the fact that GEPs are shorter and come with tuition fee loans and A100 degrees don't, I'm off to Warwick.

I think a large part of me will be very sad to leave BL, QMUL and the East End. I came here when I was 18 and I lived in QMUL halls for all four years so I feel a pretty deep attachment to the university and the campus. I had a lot of unique life experiences, experiences I'll never forget here, made many good friends both amongst students and staff, and for that BL and QMUL will always retain a special place in my heart. Whilst I have got into BL and can choose to stay on here, the fact that fees are now £9K a year instead of £3K makes it a largely worthless offer, especially without a tuition fees loan, since I just don't have that kind of money lying around. So it's time to close the QMUL/BL chapter in my life and start the Warwick chapter.

And I'm very much looking forward to Warwick. At the moment it seems new and unfamiliar, a bit like when you leave a primary school you feel safe and warm in and go to a massive, mysterious secondary school. But very soon you settle into it and have a good time. I'm sure Warwick will be exactly the same. The interview was lovely, the staff and current students were incredibly friendly and the medical school looked really nice, and I did say last month that I could definitely see myself there. So whilst I feel sad that my time at QMUL came to an end last year and my time at BL will come to an end shortly, I feel very happy because where I'm headed next seems just as nice. Roll on September 3rd!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The beginning of the end of the Grumpy Biomed

Currently listening to: Let It Be - The Beatles

I was in a bad place when I wrote the previous post, I felt like everything I'd been working towards since the beginning of my BSc was slowly crumbling away at the final hurdle. Matters were not improved when I logged onto Track this morning and saw I had a rejection from Southampton. But as they say the darkest hour is before the dawn...and in that dark hour yet again I saw my future as either continuing as a bored Grumpy Biomed...or taking a year out and reapplying which would mean having to redo my personal statement, resit the UKCAT, go through interviews all over again...the very thought made me feel exhausted. I just wanted it to finish.

Real life pulled me away from these thoughts however, as I went into uni to meet a potential project supervisor. I went through all the motions, but in reality my mind was elsewhere. Got on the bus, went back home, logged on, not expecting anything else except perhaps another rejection and saw the best email subject in the world: "Warwick offer for Joint Degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery"!

Opened the email and read: "We are delighted to inform you that the Course Selector for WMS, Education & Development has considered your application and recommended that you be made an unconditional offer of a place on our Joint Degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery programme"...but in reality all I saw was the words "unconditional offer". In that split second my heart stopped and then the adrenaline rush began as I began to fully comprehend exactly what this means. It means no more sleepless nights from UCAS stress, no more faffing around with Western blots, no more doing what I dislike, and most importantly: no more being a Grumpy Biomed. It means that all that obsessing over the UKCAT, pulling my finger out to get a 2:1, preparing for the interviews etc has paid off. And because it's a GEP it means I get a tuition fee loan and won't have to be totally destitute. It means I get to finally be totally contented and begin training towards something I've wanted to do since childhood. All I can say is roll on September!

I opened the email two hours ago, but I'm still grinning like an idiot. It hasn't quite sunk in that I'm going to be a doctor. I, the grumpy, incompetent, thoroughly pissed off and demotivated biomedical scientist will finally be able to hang up my lab coat and start doing what I want to do. To the best of my ability and with no resentment or dislike whatsoever. Of course, it will be difficult, it means four more years of uni, lots of debt and no doubt stress...but being stressed out or working hard has never been an issue for me...so long as it's for something I want to do. And this most certainly is something I want to do.

I've still to hear from Barts and The London's GEP, but in all honesty, if I got a rejection, I would still be totally ecstatic because tonight, for the first time in a very, very long time, I will be able to sleep with total contentment. And nothing can change that. Getting into medical school was the objective, and I've done that. That's all that matters.

This post wouldn't be complete without a thank you. I've said before that I blog for myself, and not my readers, and that's still true. But the very fact that I post on an open forum like Blogger means that I'd like to get a response and input from others. Over the years lots of people have left kind, encouraging comments and words of wisdom, both med students and fellow applicants. So for that I'm very grateful and would like to say thank you...it's always nice to rant and rave on here and know that in a few hours someone can write something that makes me feel a bit better. So cheers, you guys are amazing, and you won't have to put up with my grumpiness for much longer!

I still can't believe I'm free from biomed purgatory. Getting a 2:1 was an amazing feeling, now I've been able to use it to get my ticket out of here, so I'm totally elated. This feeling will take some getting used to...I can't believe this burden has been lifted all because of a simple email. So, so, so happy right now!

And if anyone's interested, a new blog has been registered for September!

Cheers again!

Grumpy Biomed (but only for few more months)

Monday, 5 March 2012

Rejection

Apparently it's not enough for me to have hated my BSc, immensely disliked my MSc and to have encountered several health problems over the past few months. A less resilient person might have thrown in the towel by now, but I get by by telling myself that compared to 99% of the world I have it very good indeed (which is still true), and of course, there was one thing which seemed to be going well and that was my medicine application. I got a UKCAT score on the 90th percentile and invites to all my interviews. I told myself that the hoop jumping, endless waiting and putting my future and career in the hands of the admissions tutors would all be worth it in the end.

Or not. After 5 months of umming, and ahhing, falling behind in my MSc due to interview preparation and of course, endless amounts of continued chronic stress and anxiety (which I've long been advised to cut down on), Barts and The London have rejected me for their 5 yr degree. To some extent, this is no great surprise since the interview did not go well at all, but all the same, I was secretly hoping that they would see beneath my nervousness and that in fact their grilling was some subliminal technique to see how I'd react to stress, and that maybe by some fluke, I'd land an offer. Clearly I was wrong. My nervousness got the better of me, and their grilling was just that, and I failed to live up to their expectations.

When I opened Track and saw "unsuccessful", there was a split second of physical pain in my chest, which quickly subsided, only to be replaced by a dull, heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach, which still hasn't gone away. So now my chances of getting into med school have now dropped quite significantly, I would do what I normally do which is to get roaring drunk and try and forget about it all, but of course, I have a massive pile of boring, pointless MSc group work still to do. Joy of joys, I get rejected from what I want to do, and forced to do what I hate. What a fantastic life the Grumpy Biomed has.

In my previous post I said "I can't keep up the Grumpy Biomed gig for much longer without a glimmer of hope, a sign that possibly things might be improve soon"...well it looks like the light at the end of the tunnel is getting fainter, leading me ever closer to going off the rails at my complete frustration at life and how utterly crap it's becoming again.

I really do hope that the next few days bring better news, but let's be realistic, if I get rejected from Warwick, I'll almost certainly be rejected from the BL GEP too (interviews were joint and BL has less places), and my personal statement is hardly Pulitzer Prize winning material so that's probably Southampton out too. And that's the lot. One rejection isn't the end of the world, but when two of your other choices are linked together, and the other has a highly arbitrary selection procedure, it's a bit hard to feel optimistic. In short: I'm screwed.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Endgame: What do I want?

I haven't been feeling too good lately. This is surprisingly not due to my medicine application (though of course that has its role to play); the medicine application is a symptom of the broader underlying problem which I've been dealing with for quite a while now. Put simply, my masters degree is the problem. My bachelors degree was the problem. Being a Grumpy Biomed is the ongoing problem I'm dealing with.

These thoughts have been going through my head for a while now, but yesterday they finally crystallised. As part of my course, we have to complete a project. The projects are 12 weeks long and start in May after Term 2 exams. Once you finish the project you get the MSc. Yesterday the list of MSc projects was released. Five minutes after looking through the list I had a moment when I saw things in total clarity.

Five minutes before, I was looking through that list of available titles, supervised by some of the most brilliant minds in medical science at a world renowned medical school, and I was actively seeking the least boring one to put as my first choice.

I'll repeat that: I was looking for the least boring project to put as my first choice. Not the most interesting. The least boring. This is what my life feels like at the moment...one big quest to try and be as unbored as possible. The use of Newspeak is entirely appropriate here as I've never really been interested in what I've been doing during the past 4 years. Sure, there's the odd module which is really interesting, the occasional coursework which I can manipulate to become palatable, and of course, through my own hard work eventually everything becomes slightly interesting...but its no longer enough. I'm reaching my saturation point of completing tasks I have very little interest in. Getting good marks isn't even enough anymore...the satisfaction it brings is just not long term or deep enough. It is no longer enough for me to simply be unbored: I want to be interested.

But I can't be. From now until the end of term (three weeks or so), I have nine assignments to do. Each more boring, long-winded and pointless as the last. I had 11 to begin with, but I completed two last week. I felt utterly spent and exhausted. And then I remember I still have 9 more to go, and it's all I can do to stop myself screaming with frustration at how much I hate working towards something I couldn't care less about. Always during these past 4 years I am left with the feeling that this not what uni is supposed to be like. In an odd way, the only thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you're exhausted and yet you're still running and functioning on caffeine. You're getting things done and going through the motions, but you constantly feel that this is just not genuine. Lately, I find myself fantasising about dropping out on a near daily basis, sometimes even several times a day. To just cut ties abruptly, leave it forever, forget about it all, never go into a lab again, or hear about PCR or Western blotting or mass spectrometry...frankly it sounds amazing. But simply leaving something doesn't solve anything, there needs to be a more fundamental change to how things are done.

So I find myself fantasising about a time in the future when I don't skip most of my lectures because I just end up falling asleep in them out of boredom. When I'm not up at 4AM writing on a blog, but I'm sound asleep, having been totally satisfied during the day. When I can turn up for all my classes, be enthusiastic, maybe even ask the odd question or two. Get to know my lecturers and what they teach rather than seeing them as taskmasters inflicting boredom on me.

Of course, no one held a gun to my head and forced me to do an MSc. I chose to do it of my own volition BUT, only because the alternative i.e. being unemployed in my parents' town, checking Track fifty times a day seemed even worse. In short, I'm screwed whatever I do, it seems. I do the MSc and I'm constantly under pressure with work I don't care for, and if I didn't do it I'd be posting here daily about how bored I am with nothing to keep me busy and how I wish Track would just update already.

The solution is obvious: I need to get into medical school and start studying what I like and am interested in. Though this is not something which is within my control, at least not anymore. I've done everything I can: prepared for the UKCAT, tried to write a good personal statement, tried my best in all my interviews but my "fate" is now in someone else's hands and I'll be finding out if I've got in within the next week or so. It's not just about being good, it's about being a lot better than the competition...which is what makes it so hard and I just don't know if I am that good. But all I do know is that I can't keep up the Grumpy Biomed gig for much longer without a glimmer of hope, a sign that possibly things might be improve soon.

If you couldn't be bothered with reading all of the above, this is all I wanted to say: I want to stop being The Grumpy Biomed and start being The Contented Medic.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Diary of an interviewee: Part 2

Currently listening to: The Way Love Used To Be - The Kinks

The story so far: I came back home from my Barts and The London A100 interview feeling deflated, disappointed and sensing a real grump coming on. Luckily my mother came to visit and she brought some cake with her so things didn't seem that awful and we went out and talked, or rather I moaned about how much I hated the applications process and she very kindly listened. Slowly I began to feel that the interview wasn't that terrible and that even if it was, there was nothing I could do about it except use it as a learning experience and move on.

Wednesday 15th Feb 2012 - Joint interview at Warwick Medical School for WMS and BL GEPs.

00:00: I go to bed, telling myself that however bad yesterday had been today is a new day and a chance to make up for previous mistakes.

01:00: The clock in the hallway chimes and I realise I've been awake for an hour thinking about random rubbish. Shut eyes and tell self to sleep.

02:00: Clock chimes again. For god's sake man, if you carry on like this you're going to feel like a wreck tomorrow. Go to sleep!

03:00: Still awake. Thinking thoughts you do not want to think the night before an interview: What if I balls this one up too? What if interviews are my fatal flaw? What if I'm stuck being a grumpy biomed forever? Why can't I sleep?!?!

04:00: The clock's chimes now begin to feel as welcome as a death knell. I realise that as it stands I'm going to get a maximum of five hours sleep. Feel utterly hopeless.

04:30ish: I presume that I finally fall asleep.

09:00: I jolt awake after less than five hours sleep. Words can't describe how annoyed and pissed off I feel at the fact that when I needed my sleep most, I couldn't get it. I am not a happy bunny.

10:23: The train leaves from Euston. I listen to some music and thankfully the adrenaline has kicked in so I don't feel particularly tired.

11:45: I arrive at Warwick Medical School courtesy of a taxi from the station. Meet with some other applicants in the school canteen and begin chatting. Slowly feel less tense and relax as I realise everyone else here is in the same boat as me.

12:15: The selection centre officially begins with document and ID checks in the medical school common room. I must say, I really like this campus. It's very new, but it has character and a very friendly vibe. The staff are all very nice and friendly too. The selection centre has three parts: an interview, a writing exercise and a group exercise.

The Interview

Wow is all I can say. If for no other reason, I love Warwick Medical School because their interviewer was so affable and easy to talk to. That and the fact that I'd already had a hellish interview the day before meant that I'd adopted a resigned attitude of "whatever it is, it can't be worse than what I've just had".

Then the most amazing thing happened...when he asked me the first question, everything came flooding back. All my experiences, all the things I'd reflected on, and the points I wanted to cover. I felt like a blindfold had been lifted from my eyes and I could see clearly again. So I began speaking and very soon it felt like I was having a chat with one of my lecturers from uni. Of course, I was still treating it very seriously, but what I'm trying to say is that it didn't feel like an awful grilling. By the end of the interview the interviewer and I were talking about The Kinks and that whilst they're no longer a band, Ray Davies still does the occasional concert. The interview finished, I shook the interviewer's hand, gave him a big (and very genuine) smile and headed off for the next part.

The Writing Exercise

I can't give away specifics here, but the point of the writing exercise was to get you to justify what you were writing. I felt I managed to do this but (and this is ever so annoying), the final section at the end was a reflection on the task completed and I ran out of time on it. Very irritating! But I finished the main bulk of the exercise so I hope they'll take that into consideration. Again, it didn't feel like an awful experience, but like completing any other assignment at uni.

The Group Exercise

Again, I can't give away specifics but I can say that I'm very glad all my team mates were nice, friendly and I feel we all managed to work well together. I was very surprised about this part of the selection centre. Going in I had been very skeptical, I assumed that we would be parading around like the knobheads on The Apprentice, completing pointless tasks for the amusement of the invigilators and being really fake and cut-throat with eachother. But it was nothing like that at all, and pretty soon I settled into it and treated it like any other group task which I'd completed at uni.


So with that the day finished and the admissions tutor returned to answer any questions we had. She informed us that 430 people had been invited to the various selection centre sessions and Warwick would be making 230 offers. The offers will be given out towards the beginning of March. The selection centre then ended and I headed off to the main campus to join a certain Graduate Medic for a few drinks.

I have taken several things away from this whole experience. Firstly, I really like the selection centre idea now. Whether or not I get an offer, I think grading people on their overall performance throughout the day is more representative than an intensive 20 minute Q&A. Secondly, Warwick is really nice. The campus, the current students, the staff, everything really. Up til now Barts and The London GEP was my first choice...in the unlikely situation I have more than one offer (assuming I get any at all), it's going to be quite hard choosing between Warwick and BL!

And with that, the admissions process ends as far as I'm concerned. I've done all my interviews (Southampton don't do interviews) so all I can do now is wait, hope, and see if I get any offers. The maxim "you only need one offer", is something I have repeated to myself many a time. I am not picky or choosy, I just want the chance to study medicine. I really hope my efforts over the past few months will pay off and help me realise that ambition.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Diary of an interviewee: Part 1

Currently listening to: Why - Elefant

Wow, what a hectic 48 hours it's been, quite possibly the most significant 48 hours of my life actually.

As I've written before, I blog to release stress and feelings. I don't feel like I can cover both the A100 interview and the Warwick/BL selection centre in one post. So Part 2 will come tomorrow once I've had more time to reflect on the experience.

Tuesday 14th Feb 2012 - Interview at Barts and The London for the A100 5 year degree.

09:30: Roused awake by the harsh sounds of my mobile's alarm. Surprisingly I'd had a very good night's sleep. Went to bed at 12, woke up once in the middle of the night and promptly fell asleep again. Feel refreshed, confident and ready to go.

10:30: Wearing my suit and feeling ever so slightly uncomfortable, I leave my flat and begin walking to the Tube station. Listen to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the way to the station.

10:40: Yay, the Tube arrives within a minute and what's more it's on the right branch of the Northern line. Get on and check self in carriage windows. Looking suave and debonair. In my mind anyway. Listening to Coldplay, Eno to the max for epicness.

11:15: Arrive at Whitechapel, breathe in the scent of fried chicken. Feel slightly nauseous. Go to the Garrod Building where I had my Nutrition & Metabolism classes during second year of biomed. Listening to Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets.

11:20: iPod switched off. Taken upstairs to the old London Hospital Medical College senior common room by a smiley fourth year medical student. Everyone else is there with their parents. Begin wondering if I've done something wrong by turning up by myself. Have a glass of water.

11:35: Taken back down to the Old Library by the same medical student. Sit down on a row of seats with four other applicants, all of whom look worryingly young. Or perhaps I'm just worryingly old.

11:40: I'm the first to be called up. The interview begins. Butterflies in my stomach doesn't even begin to cover it. My interviewers are a clinician and one of the tutors from the med school. And so the questions begin, starting with some fairly obvious ones (I'm not allowed to reveal details - but use your imagination, it can only be about work experience, why you want to do medicine etc, the usual stuff found in guidebooks and so on).

11:43ish: Realise that I'm fumbling my words and being awkward. Interviewers stare at me impassively as I try my best to explain what I'm talking about. Butterflies in stomach are replaced by a vague sense of foreboding and panic. Desperately hope we'll move on.

11:45: We move on, thank Christ. We turn to the article (can now reveal) and I begin discussing it at length. Again, impassiveness from the panel. I conclude my thoughts and the questions begin. Interview slowly begins to turn into an intensive Q&A on my views on public health.

11:50: This is now a full blown debate on public health. Feel seriously out of my depth but continue to attempt to express myself eloquently and clearly. Not sure if attempt is working. Still have the sense I'm coming across as fumbling.

11:55: We move on again onto questions about the medical school. I feel I managed to answer this part well. To be honest it would be pretty disgraceful if I didn't, I was at QMUL for three years and I'm a current Barts and The London student. Interviewers still don't appear impressed. Either this is all part of their interview strategy or I've managed to talk utter cack for the past 15 minutes (more than likely).

11:58ish: A final personal question. Feel like I manage to answer it well, but by this point feel that it won't make up for my earlier weak performance.

11:59: "Any further questions?"..."No, I don't think so, all of my questions have been answered by the prospectus and the current students. Thank you very much for considering me".

12:00: Interviewers smile (or grimace, perhaps, given how rubbish I feel my performance was) and say that that will be all. I shake hands, smile whilst weeping on the inside and leave.

So how did I feel afterwards? Pretty gutted to be honest. I had felt confident on the way to the interview though clearly it hadn't been as much of a pleasant experience as I hoped. I'm particularly disappointed in myself for fumbling the parts to do with my work experience etc, especially since I'd spent a long time reflecting on it. But in the heat of the moment it seemed like my brain just didn't want to cooperate.

I suppose to some extent this is totally natural since I've never had a med school interview before so it was completely new, unfamiliar and nerve wracking. At any rate, I felt glad that if I was to screw up something, I'd screwed up the A100 interview rather than the GEP selection centre (though in all honesty, I'd much rather not screw anything up). Offers/rejections will be given by the end of February (according to the information sheet we were given), though I'm not hopeful of an offer at all.

Tune in tomorrow for Diary of an interviewee: Part 2. I can give away some spoilers right now and reveal that the GEP selection centre was a much more pleasant (and downright fun) experience. So perhaps there's hope for me yet.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Term 1 results and "anxiety saturation"

Currently listening to: I Saved the World Today - Eurythmics

There's been a considerable shift in the ethos and content of this blog lately. When I started this blog just over two years ago, it was very much the grumbly grumbles of a grumpy second year biomed. Certainly this is no longer the case, the biomedical sciences degree, SBCS, QMUL and all that has been consigned to memory lane. This is a new era for my blog, charting the anxieties surrounding UCAS and medical school admissions, rather than being a life sciences student.

But I am a life sciences student, so I do still deal with much of the same things I dealt with last year: coursework, deadlines, the occasional skipped lecture and inappropriate hangovers. And of course, exams. The one difference being that as a postgrad I have the joy of experiencing exams in January and in April. So, results day were released today, and here's how things look. Pass mark's 50 by the way:

Research Skills and Sciences - 53
Basic Molecular and Cell Biology - 62.5
Basic Pathology - 72.5 (distinction)

Overall mark for Term 1: 60.3

Initial thoughts: relief that I passed, and passed well. Happy with getting a distinction in pathology (my favourite subject), slight annoyance at being so close to a merit for BMCB (needed 65) and indifference to the RSS mark. It was my least favourite subject, something I have zero talent for and zero interest in. There are those in my class who can run an amazing gel or use SPSS to perfection. I am not one of those people, I have never claimed to be. I am however someone who is genuinely interested in the intricacies of disease, healing and adaptation, hence my decent pathology mark. Apologies to all you scientists out there, I'm not snubbing your discipline, but at a certain point every man or woman needs to figure out exactly who and what he or she is. I am not lab scientist material, and in all honesty, that doesn't bother me either. Hence why I'm not grumpy about my RSS mark. I take solace in the fact that I will hopefully never have to care about Western blots again. So really, a good set of results which I'm pleased with. So that's the PGCert done, now for the PGDip and MSc, then, with any luck, I can hang up my white coat for good and finally don my stethoscope (please!).

Here's an interesting way of dealing with (nay - eliminating) exam anxiety. Simply replace it with anxiety over something else, say, for example, medical school interviews. Seriously, you would not believe it, I slept fine last night. Absolutely fine. This morning when I woke up, I didn't even think about results. This was most certainly not the case in June before my BSc results day. Why the change? Because I am currently undergoing something called anxiety saturation (a revolutionary new psychological concept thought up by myself). My mind is so filled up with thoughts about interviews, ethical scenarios, etc that I just don't have any more space for exam stress. Hence why I managed to sleep fine last night, and why I didn't feel a jot of nervousness today until right before I opened the results envelope. I'm pretty sure there's a Nobel prize winning psychological theory in here somewhere.

So with just over a week left til my interviews, I'm making little bullet point notecards. I am not someone who enjoys readily talking about their personal life with strangers (this blog is very much the exception), so I need to get used to hearing the sound of my own voice talking about why I want to do medicine, when I've displayed empathy, why I'm a decent team player or any of the other extremely relevant questions medical schools invariably ask. I try to be a fairly modest person, (though hopefully not in a Uriah Heep way), so whilst I'm fine with discussing ethical scenarios, current affairs etc, I don't like waving my "empathy", or what have you in people's faces. But ultimately, I do feel like I have a lot to offer, so I need to do myself a favour and just bloody well say it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Interview #3

Currently listening to: Celestial Voices - Pink Floyd

Being a medical school applicant basically means signing away a year of your life, mind and sanity to the medical schools in the hope that you can get an offer by the end of it all. During that year you are constantly preoccupied with thoughts regarding your application. This does not only affect those of an obsessive or neurotic disposition, but rather is a result of the entire applications process and how complicated it's become in recent years. It starts off during the summer with preparation for entrance exams then slowly but steadily builds up over the next few months until finally, nearly a year on, you reach the end of the applications cycle. You can't not think about it, it is constantly at the back of your mind (and as I've discovered - in your nightmares too), a perpetual source of stimulation and a sort of low level attrition warfare on the rest of your psyche.

Which is why when things go right you really have to cherish it, because when so much of your time is spent imagining the worst case scenario over and over again, getting good news is a sign that you're doing something right and may be inching ever closer to your ultimate aim. Hence why I'm very pleased to announce that I've just been invited to interview for the 5 yr degree at Barts and The London next month. I've been sent an article on an aspect of medical ethics which I will be asked questions on, as well as on my personal statement, so I shall be doing a lot of reading over the coming days and weeks. Online medicine forums indicate that the interviewers for the 5yr degree at BL are supposed to be friendly and nice, so let's hope that it goes well. The interview is on Feb 14th, which is the day before I go to Coventry for the Warwick Selection Centre. Needless to say, it's going to be a very busy two days!

It's amazing really. All through sixth form and my BSc I would have killed for just one interview, now I've been invited to 3/3. It's really fantastic how things can (and do) sometimes change for the better. So on a similar note, what I want out of this process is just one offer. So as always...keep calm and carry on and let's see what happens.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

One month to go

Currently listening to: Maxwell's Silver Hammer - The Beatles

So here I am, nearly a week after finishing my first set of postgraduate exams, and still recovering. Sadly the SMD calendar is so tight that we finished exams on the 9th and we were back for our new modules on the 11th. I spent the whole of Christmas revising, the new year doing exams and only got one day off before starting all over again. Happily enough, I feel that the exams mostly went well with the notable exception of Research Skills and Sciences Paper 1 (I dislike practicals and I dislike exams about practicals even more), which can only be summed up by the term "FUBAR".

Aside from that paper however, RSS Paper 2 went as well as can be expected for a subject which I a) hate and b) have no talent for, so hopefully that and my coursework will make up for paper 1. The Molecular and Cell Biology and Basic Pathology papers went well, so here's hoping I managed to pass Part 1 of my MSc. Speaking of, some marks from last term have begun trickling in, and I am pleasantly surprised:

Basic Pathology - essay on mutliple myeloma: 90%
Molecular and Cell Biology - essay on angiogenesis: 70%
RSS - SDS PAGE and Western Blotting: 65%
RSS - Statistics viva: 62.5%

All in all a good set of marks which I'm very pleased with. The final two don't look particularly impressive, but when you bear in mind that I'm god-awful at labs AND maths, they become fairly decent. As always, it seems I do best in essays, because I like extended writing, especially when I can pick the topic according to my interests, and not have to feign a fascination for electrophoresis FFS. The essays are worth 25% of the total module mark, so I hope they'll make up for any booboos made during the exams. Results should be out by the end of the month.

Wow, such a long time since I made a "grade-whoring" (as one of my friends kindly puts it) post...it almost feels like I'm back at QMUL SBCS angsting over biomedical sciences. Though in actual fact I could bomb my MSc exams and still be okay for medicine, which is not something I could say last year!

Medicine...so in exactly a month (and a few hours), I will be boarding the train to Coventry for the Warwick Selection Centre (where I'll also be considered for the Barts and The London GEP). It hasn't quite hit me yet, perhaps because I'm still quite drained from exams, but I'm sure as it gets closer to the date, I'll start feeling the nerves more and more.

In the meantime, I've been preparing by reading the BBC's health news section, trying to get clued up on MMC and NHS politics and I've also bought two interview preparation books (this and this) which are proving to be good reads. Admittedly some of the advice is pretty common sense (like, erm, don't be an arrogant twat in your interview) but there's a lot of decent stuff in there about the NHS, ethics, etc. In all honesty, like most other things, the Selection Centre will probably be nothing like what I imagine it to be, and there's only so much books will be able to help. Ultimately, it's all down to how I perform on the day. So I guess all I can do is continue preparing, try to stay positive and just see what happens. Keep calm and carry on, which, now I think about it, has pretty much been my motto since last April.

Hope you're all well and enjoying the new year.

P.S. All interview tips and advice are very much appreciated.

P.P.S. No news from Southampton or Barts and The London (for the standard 5 year degree).

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011

Currently listening to: A Hopeful Transmission/Don't Let It Break Your Heart - Coldplay

How times change. When I compare New Year's Eve of 2010/11 to New Year's Eve of 2011/12, it really shows just how different life is now...or in some cases how much it's stayed the same.

Then: Quietly getting drunker and drunker on the champagne my aunt's husband had brought for the family gathering at my parent's house.
Now: Revising feverishly all evening in preparation for first set of exams, 20 minute break at 23:50, back up at 00:10 after watching the fireworks on TV.

Then: Anxious third year still recovering from awful set of second year exam results, trying not to think about finals.
Now: Stressed postgrad recovering from harrowing first term which was twice as much work as the whole of third year, trying not think about impending exams starting on Jan 3rd.

Then: Feeling hopeless about chances of getting into medicine.
Now: Feeling slightly less hopeless about chances of getting into medicine.

From reading that, you might assume that I'm not particularly happy...but that's not true at all, it's just the exam stress speaking. So let me explain. 2011 was without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, year of my life. It finally felt (and I'm fairly certain that I'm beginning to overuse this expression) like everything had finally fallen into place. I finally sorted out my grades, got my degree, got a good score for my UKCAT, started my pathology MSc and to top it all off, got some interviews for medical school. The latter was without a doubt the most amazing thing to have happened this year, as it has been something I've been aiming at for four years now...simply to have the chance to prove, face to face, just how much I want to do medicine. So that was definitely the cherry on top of the 2011 cake.

Like I mentioned, I am definitely tired and stressed. I've had two and a half weeks of holidays to revise for four postgraduate exams. Having never sat exams at this level before, I have no idea what it will be like and on what basis you get good or bad marks. But simply knowing that these exams will not affect my chances of being able to study medicine makes coping with the stress just that little bit easier because I know that should the worse happen, my ultimate ambition will not be endangered. But because I am also a workaholic type, I really have been trying my best to revise effectively so I can pass these exams. So here's hoping that they're not too awful!

Aside from anything else, 2012 is a year of massive potential for me. It has the potential to be the most amazing year ever. I could finish it a medical student with a MSc. Alternatively I could mess up my interviews, not get in and have to go through all of this again. I suppose only time will tell. It's literally only ten weeks from now really, and then everything will be clear, one way or another. And from this side of 2012 it seems a lot closer.

Last year I got my wish of finishing my BSc with a 2:1...this year I only have one wish...to get a med school offer to go with it.

Happy new year to you all, hope it's an amazing one for each and every one of you.