Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Two weeks until the Infectious Disease (SK320) exam

Two weeks from today, I’ll be sitting down to do the SK320 exam which means that I’m well into phase one of the revision.

It’s a bit of a mountain of a course for a 30 pointer. In addition to the 1400 pages of text, there were numerous videos embedded in the course material, references to some massive tomes (e.g. HEAT weighs in at 3000 pages!) and oodles of tutorials.

At the moment, I’ve completed my run through the first two books and am getting into the third book which I should complete by this weekend. At 300 pages, it’s the shortest of the three books and as it’s on public health rather than the science, it’s not quite so heavy going. So, hopefully, I will have a full set of notes in a few days time and then it’s on to phase 2 of the revision.

Phase 2 will be a mix of going over the notes I’ve prepared, the past papers (only two plus the SEP), the FAQ which looks useful and, not to be forgotten, the research question for the final part of the question paper. That research question is a bit of a puzzler at the moment as I’m not sure if I need to research any more information at this point so it’s difficult to say how long it will take; my theory at the moment is that it shouldn’t take more than a day to look over but I plan to take a first run at it as soon as the main notes are completed.

More anon on the revision as I move onto phase 3 in the final couple of days before the exam.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

On the home run with the Infectious Disease (SK320) revision

Three weeks from today, it’ll be down to the final morning of the SK320 revision before the exam in the afternoon.

For a 30 point course, the volume of material is enormous with 1400 A4 pages. That’s roughly equivalent to 2000 normal Open University sized pages and doesn’t, of course, include the 20-odd tutorials with their associated notes. Some of the “read if you have time” references were even larger with HEAT running to around 3000 pages all by itself.

So what’s left to revise? Well, loads seeing as it’s been taking longer than expected to get my revision notes into shape.

I’m in the midst of phase one, in which I go through my copy of the learning outcomes and chapter summaries and add diagrams and notes from the text that seem to be missing from the summaries. Given the sheer volume of the original text, this is taking ages to do and I really need to get that done in the next two weeks before I move onto phase 2 of my revision. For S377, this took a while due to the diagrams but it’s mostly text this time around. The group this year has one very visual person who’s been plugging away running up diagrams for many of the major topics which look like they’ll be quite useful in that final week.

Phase two, which I do in the final week is reading through the enhanced summaries produced in phase one. For SK320, there are 30 pages which amounts to roughly ten pages per block – a fairly manageable amount of text to read through and, hopefully, memorise. Also in this phase I’ll be looking over the past papers and specimen exam paper. Since this is a fairly new course, there are only two past papers but in principle I could also look at the past papers of the predecessor course, S320.

One addition to phase two this time around is the part C topic which, this year, is on MERS. We’ve to research this and on the day will be asked to write a report on specific aspects of it. I’ve read over the initial research and given that it’s only a 500-600 word answer that they’re looking for, that’s probably enough to read over. What I’ve not, yet, done is sort out two potential tables or diagrams which they want in the answer.

Finally, there’s also the business of gathering together the things for the exam bag. This time, that’s fairly easy as it’s the same things that I needed for S377 which means the various coloured pencils, rulers, pens, pencils, Lucozade, wine gums and ID. Going by the quite strict timelimits on the parts of the exam, there won’t be time for a whole lot of “wine gum moments” but it’s hard to say at this point as I’ve not really looked at any past papers.

Last, but not least, is a bit of familiarisation with the exam format. As with most biology papers, this is divided into three distinct parts. The first is 10 from a choice of 12 short questions covering the whole course but not in a whole lot of detail. As always, these are a bit hit and miss but, usually, my revision notes get me through this section. The second part is the data handling question which can sometimes be done without knowing a whole lot about the course itself though it can throw you a bit if you know nothing about the topic covered. Finally, there’s the research question which this year is on MERS. I’m not really keen on that type of question as you could do loads of research and find that they asked something that you didn’t cover or you could do a very basic amount and find that it was on exactly what you’d read.

Marks-wise, if you’ve passed the assignments, the overall course mark is entirely dependent on the exam mark. That in turn is broken down with 50% on the short questions and 25% each for the data handling and research questions. The research question has a peculiar marking scheme: 1 mark for a title of up to 10 words, 2 for an abstract of up to 40 words, 2 each for your introduction and conclusion, 2 for each of two diagrams/tables, 2 for the style and 12 for the content. Given that the question they tend to ask you to address usually seems to have four parts, that’s three points per part so it’s not a total disaster if you can’t answer one or two of them. Thus far, I’ve done rather well with the marks on this course and a disctinction seems within striking distance but, of course, that could change dramatically on the day.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research

The presentation on Cancer Research: Advancing Patient Care was a quite fascinating overview of the kind of things that Queen’s get up to in the area of cancer research and treatment.

You might have expected that it would have become quickly very apparent that the various speakers came from different outfits within the university but in fact it wasn’t clear at all. Their work is so intertwined that the speaker from the School of Pharmacy could easily have been thought of as from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and for that matter the clinical talk could easily have fallen into the realm of the research talks.

As they pointed out, that’s just how it should be. Cancer isn’t defeated yet and so patient treatment is driven by the research done in the centre and in related centres of expertise in the university. Related centres even includes the physics and engineering departments as they provide input into the design of the various scanners and radiation therapy devices.

The line blurs even between the university, the hospital and the health trust with each needing to work closely with the others. It was good to see that InvestNI was putting money into a project that not only should help the local economy but which will also help those who need cancer treatments.

Much as I’d prefer not to be needing their help, it is reassuring that they pull together so many experts for every case coming along at their joint meeting. Actually, it was quite a surprise to see just how many people would be there to discuss possible treatments for each case that comes to them. I know that some people would feel a bit intiminated by having so many people discussing their medical condition but, given the stage of cancer treatment, it seemed like a very practical way to ensure that each patient gets the most appropriate treatment. It was also good to see that in the Q&A at the end that it seemed very much that any of them could have answered any of the questions ie they have a good knowledge of each others fields.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Lots of opportunities if you look

I’m debating with myself what to do education-wise as from October next year at the moment. Yes, I know, it seems a long time off, but some of the things I’m looking at take a lot of preparation time.

What I’m doing this year is fine: first I’m finishing off my life sciences degree, then I’m going to top-up my other degree to the point where I’d be able to claim it. That means the Infectious Disease and Public Health course now, Childhood studies and child psychology next October and Chemical change and environmental applications May next year. After that, the second degree can be parked as it will have enough points to let me claim it but I don’t need to and can add to it later.

If I could find a way of funding it (and the family), I’d probably go for the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology masters full-time at Queen’s but, so far, the funding of the family has knocked that on the head. Other options in that line are possible part-time, or rather distance learning, such as the Structural Molecular Biology at Birkbeck but I’d really like to do the Queen’s one if I can. Related to that there’s the Medicinal Chemistry masters at the OU which is just over the fence from molecular biology though I’d like to have a look at the course texts before committing to that.

Option 2 is to carry on and complete the psychology degree which would take three or four years at a sensible pace.

What I’ve been doing for both the biology and psychology options in the meantime is to go along to all the free presentations that I can find. So far, that’s largely been in the psychology line as they seem to have heaps of essentially day schools as well as standalone lectures. The day schools are largely psychology careers events, each looking at a field in psychology. The clinical psychology one a few months back put me right off that as it would take at least 10 years full-time to get anywhere but the health psychology one this week seemed to offer the possibility of getting somewhere interesting in a much shorter time and with an interesting journey along the way too.

For the biology, there aren’t nearly so many around, basically because there aren’t so many biologists. That said, they run day trips on a biology theme every month or two locally and Queen’s do what are essentially molecular biology seminars now and again too. Molecular biology is a bit of a peculiar subject lying close to but different from medicinal chemistry so you can find talks being done by biology people, medical people and the cancer group who seem to lay in the middle.


Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Mid-way with Infectious Disease and Public Health (SK320)


This is around the mid-point of the infectious disease (SK320) course so it seems a good time to do a review of the course so far.

It’s one of the new-style online courses so there are no books with it, or rather there are are no formally printed and bound books. What you get is a DVD about a month ahead of the course start which contains PDFs of all the texts from the course, which you can download in PDF, ePub and Word formats when the course officially starts in February. The videos embedded in the ePub files are also recorded on the DVD but as separate FLV and MP4 files.

When it gets going, there are quite a number of online tutorials (none face to face) with getting on for one a week initially. All reasonably short at one hour and easy enough to follow. Recordings of these are made available as MP4 with the presentations usually as PDFs but sometimes as Powerpoint files as well. You can order a printed copy of the course materials which runs to around 1400 A4 pages and costs about £110 for colour.

Block 1 starts off very easy but quickly gets into a range of different diseases with block 2 looking at how the immune system deals with them and block 3 considering public health aspects. There seems to be a massive amount of different processes to learn but I’ve not started the revision yet.

Assessment is via four TMAs, 2 iCMAs and an exam. As is usual these days, you just need to pass the assignments and your grade is solely dependent on the exam. The first TMA is a totally trivial one that most people could expect to get close to 100% with, the next two are structured like the exam with the final one being a research based topic. As usual, the iCMAs seem to be very detailed and you need to refer to the texts to answer the questions; they count for 12% and 10% respectively.

It’s quite an interesting course to follow along, so far anyway, but sometimes gets into long stretches of pathways as S377 did.

At one stage I was running nearly 6 weeks ahead of the course so it’s an easy one to get ahead with but equally it’s easy to drop behind with as the units are very variable in length so it’s difficult to judge just how much reading you have to do.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.