Choosing your vocational modules

Choosing your vocational modules

Hello there! This is a special post for second year BMS students deciding on their third year modules now. I’m currently moving on to the second semester (aka, my final semester as an undergraduate student!), and after speaking to some friends, I decided this post was necessary. 

The vocational module choices you will be given are very new to you, and most likely nothing you’ve studied before. Even though it’s only a 10 credit module, I feel it is important to be aware of the decision you’re making. Let’s face it, the module study guide can only do so much. So I’ve spoken to a few friends of mine, and compiled the following information for your vocational module choices. The only module I couldn’t find someone for was the Healthcare Organisation and Practice one, forgive me for that.

Nonetheless, here’s some additional information on the vocational modules for third year, coming from current students. I hope this helps!

Business for the Bioscientist
Outline of your course: 9 lectures. Most/ almost all of the lectures were from guest speakers, speaking about different areas of business and their experience. We don’t have seminars but we had an expert session, which is your teams chance to talk to various experts in business, about your business idea. The experts will give their thoughts and feedback on it.

Topics you touched on: Finance, intellectual property, Bench Science Commercialization, Market research, pricing your project, the future of diagnostics

Would recommend this module to: Anyone interested in business or science related business stuff. Get to know more about the business sector in science. 

Assessments: Oral presentation and a business plan. You’re given enough time for both assignments. Not a lot of guidance is given on the exact details given though, but you’re required to do your own research on some aspects.

What did you learn from the module? Things to think about when starting your own business. The business opportunities out there in the science sector.

Research in Biomedical Sciences
Outline of your course: We didn’t have lectures, other than the introduction where the module leader introduced us to the module overall, & he will let us know which groups we’re in. Each group is allocated a paper and a supervisor. 

Onto seminars, we have one seminar for each group. Prior to the seminar, we are required to read through the allocated paper first. If you don’t understand the paper, don’t worry. During the seminar, the lecturer will explain everything to you in detail. The lecturer will let you know the limitations/strength of the paper. So, do pay attention during the seminar! Because all of the information given is relevant for your assessments, ie the presentation and essay.

Topics you touched on: We didn’t learn anything specific, it depends on the paper you are given. So, no new topics, but new techniques on analyzing scientific articles.

Would recommend this module to: Anyone! If you don’t enjoy lectures and exams, this is the module for you. It really isn’t heavy, since you do everything on your own time. But this might help you prepare for your final year projects in second semester, since we had presentation sessions for this module.

Assessments: 1.5 months after the seminar, we had to prepare for the group presentation. That’s plenty of time! We were given 12 minutes to present & 3 minutes for a QnA session, which is crucial, so try your best not to exceed the 12 minutes for your presentation.

The presentation was all about our paper; the main findings, anything we critiques, suggestions for future research etc. It is assessed by all the lecturers under the module, roughly 7-8 of them, and they will all try to ask you questions! Of course, while preparing, you are more than welcome to meet your lecturers and discuss any confusions you may have. 

We also had to write a thousand-word critical appraisal essay, due after the Christmas break, so again, you have ample time to complete it. This is an individual assessment. The lecturers will explain how to approach this essay, since each one of them has a different style and expectation. In essence though, it’s a critical analysis of a paper.

What did you learn from this module? Time management for sure. You think you have plenty of free time, but the assessments really need you to use that time wisely. I also got the chance to enhance my presentation skills, and preparing for the questions after.

Bioethics
Outline of your course: There were six lectures, and two seminars, but the seminars were basically our presentation sessions, so they don’t count as actual seminars. The lectures were very much open since we always had discussions among ourselves and with the lecturer. This made the class very exciting!

Topics you touched on: We touched a lot about ethical principles, especially how subjective they are. We were given a few case studies and ethical dilemmas to think on and discuss. Some of these were very interesting, and they get you thinking in ways you never would have thought!

Would recommend this module to: I think it’s a plus if  if you’re interested in the ethical side of sciences. Obviously, research depends heavily on ethics and consent, so this is one way to delve into bioscience ethics. If you enjoy debating ideas or expressing views, this is the module for you as well.

Assessments: We had to write an essay based on an ethical dilemma of our choice, and this was 70% of the total module mark. The other 30% was a presentation on one of our classmates’ ethical dilemma, chosen at random. During the presentation, we had to try to resolve the dilemma. We had about two weeks to prepare for our essay and one week to prepare for our presentations. We ended up wrapping up the module early, so it didn’t clash with deadlines form other modules.

What did you learn from this module? To always consider the ethical principles behind a study or trial, and to think deeply enough about these. It is easy to turn your convictions around if you view any dilemma from a different angle.

Bioinformatics
Outline of your course: The bioinformatics vocational module aims to allow students to explore techniques and case examples of using computer software to derive meaningful information from large amounts of data such as RNA-Seq data. We had a total of 10 lectures for this module, with 4 of them being practical sessions to introduce us to the R Studio programme which we had to use to analyse data for our final report. We had two seminars for the module – one to discuss regarding the final report and a feedback/QnA session.

Topics you touched on:

  • Introductory practical sessions to R Studio
    • Data structures and subsetting
    • Flow control and conditional statements
    • Functions
    • Statistics with R Studio
  • ChIP-seq (analysing protein interactions with DNA)
  • Transcriptomics
  • Variant calling in genomes and exomes
  • Evolutionary genomics of parasites
  • Impact of bioinformatics

Would recommend this module to:

I took this module because I thought it’d be similar to what I did in BMN2000, but I was really surprised when I found out that I’d have to learn a new programming language that I was never exposed to before. It was unexpected and I found it quite difficult to grasp initially, but as with most things, practice makes perfect. 

Although bioinformatics is a little more complex (and arguably more difficult) compared to the other vocational modules, the skills that you get from it will be beneficial during your final year project as well as certain postgraduate courses. It’ll be easier for you to analyse and interpret large data sets and you’ll also be able to generate pretty graphs and heatmaps to visualise said data, making it easier for others to understand it – as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. 

I’d highly recommend this vocational module if you’re planning to take up a dry project for your FYP as you’ll most likely be dealing with lots of data and this module will undoubtedly help you. If you’re taking a wet project, it’ll still be beneficial as you’d be able to better visualise your data in your final report.

Assessments: Our final assessment was a 1,500-word report worth 100% of the module marks. We had to use the bioinformatics tools within R Studio to re-analyse data from a previously published paper and write a report on how we carried out the analysis. The goal was to present the same data set in a way that better emphasises the results that the authors found. I found the practical aspect of the assessment okay, but the written report was difficult because it’s hard finding a good way to present and explain the data and the steps it took to get the data.

What did you learn from this module?

  • Data analysis 
  • R programming language
  • R Studio
  • Genomics
  • Transcriptomics

Science communication:

Outline of your course: We had lectures, in which guest speakers from various parts of the science communication field would be invited to. Through these lectures the speakers would present their job scope briefly, and there would be a QnA session. These were very interesting to me, as I got a better idea of the different careers within science communication. We had a few seminars to guide us on our assessments. We were also given a tour of the Hancock Museum and the Centre for Life, which was fun!

Topics you touched on: Intellectual property and patents, communicating science without dumbing it down, scientific journalism, marketing for bio-science companies.

Would recommend this module to: If you have a passion for writing, and maybe you’re interested in a career outside the lab but still within science, this is the module for you! It’s also very relaxed compared to the other modules, but requires a lot of soft skills.

Assessments: The assessments were writing a press release, 3 blog posts, and a presentation. These were spread out across the entire semester, and even over Christmas break for the blog posts, so you definitely have more than enough time to complete them, without feeling stressed.

What did you learn from the module? I learnt about more careers in science, especially those outside the lab, and the importance of communicating science to the masses. 

I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post, and got some ideas from it! Thank you for your support.

Dania



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