As a high school graduate exploring the courses in Life sciences offered here at the University of Dundee, I had many questions regarding the degree. I am sure now as you plan to explore this University for a course in life sciences, you might have a few of these questions too!
I believe that getting a broad outline of what university life expects of you while getting a better insight about the course can give you the clarity you need before applying or as you start with your first week at the University.
I sincerely thank Dr. Graham Christie (Programme Lead in the School of Life Sciences for Levels 1 and 2 and the Joint Degree Programme with National University Singapore) for taking the time to answer a few of the questions that could help you make your decision and plan your approach as the semester begins.
- What is the overall structure of a degree in life science during the first two years?
All students enrolled on undergraduate degree routes offered by the School of Life Sciences (SLS) study the same core (compulsory) modules, theory and practical, in the first two years, Levels 1 and 2. We accept entrants from a variety of backgrounds, so our core curriculum brings all students to the same level of background knowledge and practical skills by the end of Level. In addition to core theory and practical modules, students can choose which optional module they study in each of the first three semesters, depending on the degree route. One significant advantage of a core curriculum is that our students are not fixed on any single degree route on entry and can change the route they wish to follow up until the start of Level 3. For example, a student could enrol on a Biochemistry degree route, but by the end of Level 2 decide they wish to switch to study Pharmacology. Our core curriculum allows this flexibility.
- What should be the overall approach towards academics during the first two years?
There is a significant transition for all new entrants to University, regardless of which route or subject they study. The most significant change from being a pupil at school to studying as an undergraduate student is learning to adapt to independent, self-directed study and managing your time and workload accordingly. Unlike school, your timetable will not be filled each day. Instead, you must spend time between scheduled classes working through the learning material provided for you. At University, try and view the content covered in class as a framework that you must build upon through self-directed study.
- Before coming for the practical, what should the students do (to be prepared)?
Being prepared before you attend each lab-based practical class means you get the best learning experience. Ensure you know the aim of the practical and read and understand all steps in the protocol you will be following. Attempt all numerical calculations in advance, understand the theory that underlies each practical technique you will apply, and plan ahead on how you will record that session in your lab notebook. This preparation should not take much time but can mean you start the class best prepared to work through the practical confidently and efficiently.
- How should we approach the tests and graded assignments?
Treat your studies like a full-time job, structuring your timetabled classes, and workload around the things you like to do in your free time. You will know the submission dates for each module assessment at the start of the semester, so plan ahead to manage your preparation. Applying a consistent work ethic every week can help make life a little bit easier in the long run. Students tend to panic when too many things are left to the last minute and start to build-up. It is important you revisit and revise your notes throughout each semester, so when assessments are scheduled, you are best prepared to attempt these. As for practical classes, being as best prepared as possible will help make completing assessments a bit less stressful. Good note-taking and time management skills are most important to try and master as soon as possible. Finally, material covered in any particular module or level of study does form the basis of module content and assessment in later years, so make sure you retain and build on the knowledge and skills you gain as you progress.
- Performing at your best can be difficult sometimes, considering homesickness and other added responsibilities; in such a case, what do you think the student can do to regain motivation?
If you find you have little motivation, try not to panic or pretend matters will resolve themselves. Talk things through with a friend or your Adviser of Studies. Prioritise tasks you need to complete, then break each of these into smaller, manageable chunks. Start with the task you know you will enjoy least or fear the most. From my experience, students spend too much of their time devoted to modules or topics they enjoy, rather than focussing their attention on things that will require more effort and dedication. Organise study groups with friends and collectively tackle module topics you find initially challenging to understand. Furthermore, please do not be afraid to ask for help.
- What are the kinds of opportunities that the student can grasp in the first two years? (internships/summer projects/exposure to working in the lab during Christmas break)
There are so many opportunities available to all students, any of which will add to your experience and provide a useful addition to your CV. Lab-based and research opportunities do tend to be directed towards students from the end of Level 2 onwards, as, by that stage, you have more background knowledge and a good grounding in practical skills. However, students have several fantastic opportunities to study abroad during Level 2. Think about participating in events organized by the Centre for Entrepreneurship, act as a volunteer, or get actively involved with a club or society. Any experience that adds to your CV to make you stand out will stand you in good stead when the time does come for applying for internships etc.
- What all should be considered before choosing the optional module?
If you get the opportunity to choose an optional module, try and find out as much as you can about each module available to you, e.g., what topics are covered and how the module is delivered and assessed. Take advice from your Adviser of Studies, and seek informal feedback from students in a year or two ahead of you. Try and select a subject area you will enjoy, but at the same time, do not be afraid to try something quite different from your other core modules. After semester 1 of Level 2, you do not have the option to study a module offered by another school, so make the most of any choice you do have.
- Are there any resources that can help the students identify the type of projects available with the professors? (This might help them shortlist their prospective projects and approach the faculty)
During semester 2 of Level 3, in advance of your final year project, you will get lots of guidance on the types of Level 4 project available to you and how to apply for these. In the meantime, you can learn all about the research interests of staff based in the Schools of Life Sciences and Medicine by visiting the web pages for each research division or unit. Each principal investigator will have an online summary of their research, including links to key publications, all of which can help inform your decision about the type of project you would like to apply for, as well as potential supervisors. Do not be afraid to contact staff to express an interest. Many final year projects are organized each year due to students taking the initiative and contacting staff directly.
- Are there any workshops that can help you train for the internships in the upcoming years (concerning the basic etiquettes, the type of lab work)?
There are no dedicated workshops, but when it does come to applying for internships, show enthusiasm, professionalism, and demonstrate that you have done your homework. Research the topics and findings of recent studies led by principal investigators offering projects of interest to you. Think about what you hope to gain from the experience should your application prove successful, know the basis of any experimental techniques you will be required to learn, and explain how you hope to benefit personally and professionally in the future. Do not forget to highlight the practical and data analysis skills you have gained during your studies, as well as the ‘added extras’ you have on your CV (covered in a previous answer).
I hope that these answers helped you expand your understanding of the Life Sciences courses here at the University of Dundee.
Taking this decision can be difficult, but once you have the information you need, the path you want to choose becomes clear as crystal!