As I have completed all of my degree assessments I thought it would be nice to end my time at Imperial and role as a student blogger with an overview of how my degree went.
You touch on the basics of biochemistry and molecular biology, namely amino acids, DNA, and biology of cells. The science is towards the pure side and if you were good at chemistry there are enzyme mechanisms. What I think was interesting was bacteria and genetics in bacteria which wasn’t covered in most secondary school syllabuses at all. Don’t underestimate these little things they can be quite complex! We also had plants but that was cut out after 2015. So if you like plants, wait for the optional course in Year 2 or apply for Biological Sciences instead.
I really liked the first half of the second year. You were familiarised with the science in Year 1 but get to delve into it deeper, focusing on proteins and molecular biology. In the second half again we study proteins and cell biology. Proteins are very important and make up the majority of the field, I would argue that proteins are the only research area that truly can be studied biochemically by biochemists, biologists would not specialise in that, whereas they would for molecular and cell biology. In the final term, you get to pick an optional module. I picked Biotech and even though the field wasn’t for me, I enjoyed designing our own plasmids and simulating it using genetics software which is the main component of the coursework experiment.
I took two gap years to take care of my health with the recommendation of doctors from Imperial College Health Centre. In addition to preparing for the second year exams that I have yet to sit, I maintained a healthy work-life balance by attending volunteering at the histopathology department of a hospital and finishing a free online course on epigenetics. The break really helped identify how to manage my life better and added to the long term more stable progress since returning to College. For the summer I provided online listening to other individuals struggling with their mental health, did backlinking SEO research and blog post writing and editing at an online support site.
It is during this time that I’ve gained a brief understanding of machine learning, and an interest in the programming side of things. This is why for my final year I have picked the modules Integrative Systems Biology and Bioinformatics, both courses that make use of mathematical modelling and programming approaches to make sense out of biological data.
ISB is nothing like any other biochem module I’ve done. It’s maths. But with the biological application. It is a completely different skillset from what a mathematician or a biologist would have. The basis of Bioinformatics was covered in Years 1 and 2. Nevertheless, I definitely found it the most enjoyable of all my courses. It’s mostly coding so there’s no heavy focus on neither maths nor more biochemistry, but rather you learn about how all these software that analyse DNA and proteins work. It’s hands-on and the professors for it are all approachable.
For the dissertation, it can be daunting to start at first but the department makes sure you have weekly meetings with your supervisor to ask you anything. Each supervisor usually has one at most two tutees so their advice and attention is personalised for you. Since it is a lot more independent and different from the other courses there is only one assignment to hand in. You don’t have to worry about properly writing the dissertation until Summer Term starts. In hindsight, I think it is good to have some vague idea and narrowing the general topic you’re given and broader reading over the Easter holiday but it definitely doesn’t have to be intense.
It can be quite tricky and stressful to properly start writing so do lots of subheadings, diagrams and make sure it is well planned out. Like with exam answers examiners like conciseness. Don’t extend the word count just because the word limit is high they don’t like that (This is also true for exam answers in general). Diagrams are always visual and helpful because even though Imperial is full of expert professors they make it clearer for them. Send in a draft to your supervisor early on but don’t worry about seeming incomplete, it’s better to get some feedback than worry about their impression of you. That can always come later.
What sets Life Sciences at Imperial apart from other universities is that you get to experience not a boring dissertation but rather a learning experience and getting to innovate your own experiment, policies, or business pitch based on the science.