Transition into second year – BMS at NUMed
I can’t remember the last time I even attempted to write a blog post. I’ve been so caught up with starting second year and completing my first semester exams, which were all very overwhelming. You’ll find more details in this post, as I delve into the transition into second year, and how the first semester was for me. This post will focus mainly on the differences in the two years, how I adjusted and some tips on how to transition smoothly. Enjoy!
In the first semester we had 4 modules which were Cell biology and Disease, Practical skills, Eukaryotic Transcription and Translation, and Immunology.
These are the new things we did in second year:
We did more essays in second year, compared to only one practice essay in first year (update: current first years have to write one extended essay which accounts to 10% of a particular module, I’m not too sure of which one). Writing an essay requires lecture knowledge and external knowledge, usually by reading research papers. I found it daunting to have to write out long essays, knowing that my marks counted on them. That being said, the university provides sufficient practice sessions and tips in order to answer well, which really helps. Generally, we do two types of essays in BMS, which are extended essays and timed essays.
Extended essays are where you’re given the actual topic and a timeframe of about 2 weeks to complete and submit, so it isn’t done under exam conditions. These are usually easier to score in as you know the topic and have the time to fully research and write it. Timed essays, on the other hand, are done under exam conditions. You are given the topic outline/area 2 weeks before hand, and only given the actual title on the exam day itself, with 40 minutes to write the essay.
Needless to say, timed essays are much more challenging because of the time constraint and not knowing what you’re required to write about. An example of this is, we were given the area “extracellular matrix structure and function” to study, and the actual title was “Describe the structure of the ECM in cartilage and how the destruction of these structures leads to diseases”, requiring you to mention osteoarthritis and the mechanism of ECM breakdown in the disease. Most of your knowledge will definitely be from lectures and the textbook, but additional marks are given to any points made that come from external sources, i.e. research papers. No proper referencing is required in these essays. I’m planning on writing a dedicated post on my strategies when preparing for and writing a timed essay, because the key to scoring in these essays is all in their preparation.
As you progress further in this degree, the end result is almost always geared towards research. I remember reading a few papers when preparing for a formative essay in first year, which was a good exposure. The university provides seminars dedicated to teaching us how to read a paper and how to analyze results, but to be honest, I found I learnt best by simply reading more! I was hugely fearful of reading research papers, given their length and the amount of words on them. But with time, and if you’re reading a relevant paper, you’ll find that their extremely powerful sources of knowledge. I actually started to enjoy reading them, especially since they helped me understand topics better, and knowing the progress in research in those topics was interesting. Or maybe I’m a nerd.
My tip would to overcome this fear is to read more papers. You don’t, however, start googling random papers to try to read up on them. You need to read with purpose. Unlike flicking through a magazine, aimlessly reading papers will only confuse you and increase that fear of not understanding the content, which leads to panicking about the degree and worrying about the future. Not healthy. Read papers relevant to an essay title, or a very specific research area. You may not have decided on a particular field of interest, but I’m sure there are general themes you lean towards. And if not, read up on papers based on your lectures! Many lecturers attach relevant papers in lectures for students to read up more on.
Staying interested and having a purpose is extremely important when reading papers, so don’t worry if you can’t seem to enjoy reading them just yet.
Reading papers is required for you to learn more about a disease or a field, and importantly analyse data. A lot of questions are data-analysis type, really gauging your ability to interpret graphs and tables scientifically. Do the numbers support a statement, or not? Can you identify a trend in the data? Do you even have enough data to make these conclusions? Many times, the data you interpret come from research or tests that you are not necessarily familiar with.
If all of this sounds scary, that’s fine, because it is. But once you’ve gone through the first semester, your focus will sharpen and you’ll obtain the skills necessary to help you move forward. We’re all learning, all the time.
Another new addition to the way we were assessed is through designing a poster. This was very interesting, and very new to me. We were required to design an academic poster based on a test we did in the lab, so although the topic is set, the specific focuses of the poster were entirely up to the individual. We were given a seminar on the basics, another one on the many areas we could choose to focus on, and additional help in the form of a feedback session with our lecturers before submission.
Learning to write an essay and designing a poster in the same timeframe can be confusing because they’re almost two opposing methods of presenting an idea. Essays are filled with facts, knowledge, a lot of words and, very rarely, diagrams. Posters, on the other hand, need to be short, concise, with only relevant and important ideas presented. Use of diagrams and flow charts are important in posters, as well as attention to the aesthetics and design of the posters. But you are made aware of what is expected in the poster, so although it was new, it wasn’t impossible. I had a very hard time keeping the amount of information I present minimum, because it was tricky for me to decide on which fact to leave out.
The important part of creating an academic poster, personally, is to do a little bit everyday. We were given almost a month to complete the poster, and doing a little bit everyday is much more effective at producing a good poster than cramming everything last minute. Then again, that’s the case with everything (almost). You’ll find that you constantly need to edit the poster, and over time the small changes become huge! Creating an academic poster is like creating art, and one has to be patient with the process. It contributes a lot to your grade, so it’s very much worth taking care of!
The essays and other in-course assessments we had meant that there was much more to do throughout the semester. Learning to cope with the additional workload while keeping up with lectures was exhausting. Focusing on completing assignments before their deadlines, and doing a good job at them, meant that I couldn’t spend more time making my own notes and keeping up with lectures. One way I tried to cope was by switching to taking notes on my laptop, rather than scribbling them on my copy of the slides. This way I don’t have to redo or re-organize my notes once I’ve studied them (which I always have to do), and my notes for the lecture is prepared as soon as the lecture ends.
My technique was to copy and paste the contents of slides onto a blank Word document, including any diagrams or charts. I’d then type in additional notes or annotate the diagrams in class while the lecturer explains. Having to copy the contents of the slides before the lecture forced me to go through the lecture beforehand, so I was indirectly prepped for it. All I had to do later was organize the flow, correct any mistakes, and voila, I had my notes! I’ve always been more of a hands-on person though, so I printed all those notes before exams to highlight/further annotate and basically study them. This method has honestly changed the way I study, enabling me to focus better during lectures and it saved me a lot of time. This may not work for everyone, so make sure to be flexible, and always try new, small techniques to improve your study and time management skills.
Honestly, the experience I had when dealing with these new scientific stuff (essays, posters, papers) has really made me appreciate the learning environment here. The staff are extremely helpful and always ready to provide advice in terms of academics, careers, improving skills etc. We had a lot more sessions on careers, using our degree and our options in the future, which are all support the university provides.
I’ll end this post here. I plan on writing more on BMS (essays, studying papers etc) and hopefully more fashion/lifestyle posts too, since I’m on summer break now.
Thank you for reading!