Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Catching up with the courses

I generally take a break from the studying on Saturdays so with the bad weather today it was a bit of a catch-up day or rather more of a getting ahead day in practice.

As I’ve been spacing out the Infectious Disease assignment over the last couple of weeks, there’s only a tiny bit of that still to do. Well, in principle it’s a tiny bit but as it’s a research question it’s hard to say how long it will actually take. It’s to be in later this week so I’m going to try and get that completed this evening.

I’m well through the computer marked assignment for the course too. It’s a bit of a pain as they’ve several free format answers and, going by the forum, it’s marking many correct answers wrong so they may have to zero weight the affected questions.

I’m miles ahead with the history of maths course and got even further ahead today. It’s a peculiar mix of history and maths with the maths largely being in the books whilst the history bit is mainly in the videos. The computer marked questions are almost all based on the maths and cover a wide range from Egyptian counting through Newton and on to late 20th century maths. As it’s only a 10 point level 1 course everything is naturally at a fairly low level but I’m finding that working through such a vast time span is surprisingly interesting. The videos (the Story of Maths TV series) are a bit peculiar towards the end with the presenter turning up at the childhood homes of various mathematicians for no particularly good reason and skating over the maths along the way. That said, the combination of the videos for the story and the books for the maths works quite well and it’s a shame that they hadn’t applied a similar combination in other subjects.




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

Birkbeck Structural Molecular Biology

This is basically a distance learning version of the Queen’s molecular biology masters so similar amount of theory but no practical work and the project would be literature based too.

It’s structured as a choice of two out of three certificate courses and you can do it part-time over two or three years.

The first (effectively compulsory) certificate is Principles of protein structure. This covers “the structure of proteins, and how that structure is related to both a protein’s sequence and its function. It provides a background to the discipline of structural molecular biology. That is: how protein structures are built up, how the structure of proteins contributes to functions that are common to all living things, as well as differences between them, how knowledge of protein structure has led to the development of drugs against diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, how to use software to manipulate and explore 3D, models of protein structure, and to view models of molecules in motion.” ie pretty much as you’d expect from a molecular biology masters.

In theory, you have a choice of one from the remaining two programmes but Protein Crystallography is really a specialist course and in reality I suspect that most people actually do Techniques in Structural Molecular Biology which runs through the various techniques used including protein expression, purification and crystallisation, protein bioinformatics, X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, and electron microscopy.

You do two projects, one tied to each of the certificate programmes that you’ve done so I imagine that you could either do those following the certificate or leave them both to the end (hence two or three years to do the masters).

Cost-wise, the Birkbeck masters is £3975/year over two years or £2700/year over three years compared to the £4900 for the Queens molecular biology & biotechnology masters over one year and about £4600 for the Open University medicinal chemistry masters over about three years.

One thing that strikes me when I looked at the detailed course content that Birkbeck describe is that with doing both biology and chemistry, I’ve covered a lot of the ground eg protein structure, molecular modelling and a number of the analysis tools like NMR and microscopy. Whilst presumably the masters courses will cover such things in somewhat more detail, my pre-existing knowledge should make it an easier ride than it would have been otherwise. It also strikes me that at masters level, molecular biology seems to become a whole lot closer to chemistry which in turn is making the medicinal chemistry masters more attractive.


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

The medicinal chemistry option

As well as the molecular biology masters at Queen’s, there’s also the medicinal chemistry masters at the Open University to think about.

I’ve been toying with that off and on for the past couple of years as a possible next step. In practical terms, it’s just over the fence from molecular biology, looking at similar topics but from the chemistry angle.

As always, there’s a research skills module Developing research skills in science (S825) which is used by many of the OU science masters qualifications ie isn’t really directly related to medicinal chemistry.

Molecules in medicine (S807) is the main taught module and covers infectious diseases (bacterial and viral), cancer, heart disease, inflammation and neuropharmacology which reads like a biology module but presumably looks at things from the chemistry angle.

Concept to clinic (S827) is a smaller module which looks at the drug discovery and development process from a modern and historical perspective and introduces you to a range of issues in drug discovery. So it’s got some similarities to my current Drug Design (S346) module but with more of an emphasis on the design rather than synthesis.

Finally, there’s the MSc project module for MSc in Medicinal Chemistry (SXM810) which is based in the areas of the Molecules in Medicine and/or Concept to Clinic modules.

Plus points of the medicinal chemistry masters are that it’s going to be easy to fit around real life and it seems a lot simpler to get into (no need to gather together references etc.). On the downside, it doesn’t seem to offer quite such an easy route into the doctorate and has none of the lab work either.

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

More detail on the Queen’s molecular biology masters

A few weeks back when I was at the Queen’s open day the course director for the molecular biology masters kindly offered to send me the course calendar and research topics. I finally got around to dropping him a line yesterday and received a really rapid reply which is encouraging in itself and the content just as much.

The first semester has six hours a week starting with Protein structure & function in the first month and moving on to Advanced molecular biology (Nucleic Acid Structure and Function) in the second. Alongside that is a couple of hours a week of  Foundations for research in the biosciences (including literature review). The second semester has three hours a week of Biotechnology (a certificate course linked with the MSc) and four of Bio-entrepreneurship and Advanced Skills. That doesn’t include lab time or the project but seems almost doable full-time alongside work. Naturally, there’d also be additional study time required in addition to that ie it’s not just 12 hours a week work.

The final semester is taken up entirely with the research project of which the topics cover quite a range with some sounding quite fascinating (eg “Characterisation of macromolecular biosignatures for life detection in hostile environments such as those on Mars”) and others a big yuck (eg “Recovery and recycling of phosphorus from waste”) but with a “something for everyone” feel about the list.

Now “all” I need to do is to a) get a decent mark from my final life sciences course and b) work out how to fit the masters in with real life.

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

Drug design (S346) getting easier towards the end

The workload on S346 seems to be over the hump now with no more tutorials scheduled and only the end of module assessment (EMA) to be done.

For a change, the EMA is pretty much the same format as the normal assessments albeit with more, but shorter, questions. The nine questions cover pretty much all of the course in sequence so the first three questions are on the first, mainly biological, book, then there are several on the various chemical syntheses, one on retrosynthetic analysis and it finishes off with a question on a protein synthesis and one to get you to analyse a research paper.

The net effect of that is that some are more difficult than others. For me the first three biological questions and the research paper seem particularly easy so I’ve those completed. The fourth question seems to have been one that’s floored a number of people but, once the method is found, it seems relatively doable.

Easy doesn’t mean quick to do though. As usual for me, chemistry questions take me ages to do – for the EMA something like an hour or two seems about right for me.

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