Anatomy of the Student Week

Well, bloggies, here we went again. I’ve been a horrible blogger and quite neglected to share the sordid details of my March so far… let’s fix that. And if you’re in the (un?)enviable position of having to choose a uni, and Imperial is one of them, and for some strange, unusual reason you’re not already convinced Imperial is the best place on the planet, then you can read about my last week and see if it’s your thing.

[Author’s note: This was hell week. This was the lowest point. Work out the wazoo, serious lack of free afternoons, and mind-twisting lectures…usually uni is way better. It was still one of the best weeks of the year so far :)]
For the actual Anatomy of a Biochemist’s Week I alluded to in the title, here ya go:

Monday: The most difficult morning of the week, somehow even worse than whatever ends up passing for your morning on Saturday…but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sitting in the lecture theatre at 9am knowing you’ve made it, that the week is go. This particular Monday was enzymology lectures three and four… or basically Double Potions with the Slytherins. Where in first term we had a pleasant and logical 1:1 ratio of module per day, the second term has seen the schedule spiralling uncontrollably into double lectures and even entire straight weeks of a single module. When this module is Molecular Biology with the godly Prof. Dave Hartley, your week will be perfect. When this module is Proteins and Enzymes and you spend every morning wondering if you’ve stumbled into a maths course lecture by accident, your week will not be perfect. This particular Monday was 120 minutes of being slapped around by constants and plots and manipulations with seemingly innocuous names like “Lineweaver-Burke” and “Michaelis-Menten” and “Hanes-Woolf” and “Hofstede-Eadie”. Biochemistry is a partner science… shape up!
Tuesday: Tuesday was… surprise, more maths! At this point, most of us have considered switching to biology, another university, or emigrating to somewhere warm and beachy and pursuing a whirlwind Spanish Literature degree. Our exam’s at the end of June, so almost unfathomably distant in Uni terms, and yet we have a closed-book (CLOSED-BOOK!) multiple-choise quiz at the end of this week, so we actually have to figure everything out in good time. The struggle is real.
Tuesday also has Horizons, which is a beautiful and amazing idea in theory (free high-level auxiliary pass-fail courses scheduled outside course time) but the actual worst thing every time 4pm rolls around on Tuesday. I’m taking Arabic, which looks really smooth and nice and is probably the most difficult and senseless language I’ve ever studied. It’s just the little things, right? Right to left reading, non-Latin letters, ten groups of verb conjugations, and about a dozen plural forms (…seriously. Where every other language has the tried-and-true “just add an ‘s'” approach to plurals, Arabic insists you push every word through a formulaic meat grinder which follows zero pattern: film–>aflam, tabaq–>atbaq, shamaa–>shumuaa). Exam next week, starting to strain the plausible deniability bubble of ignorant bliss…

Buuuuut, on the experimental side of things (and making everything worth it!) are the practicals we sacrifice our afternoons for. Last week, on both Monday and Tuesday, 1-4pm, we prepared for sequencing our mitochondrial DNA and analysed our D1S80 variable-number-tandem-repeat loci. Variable Number Tandem Repeats are sequences in the genetic code that consist of a variable number of repetitions of the same genetic sequence; this particular sequence has 16 alleles, so inheriting the same number of repeats in this sequence from both parents (e.g. eight repeats of the same sequence) is quite rare. Needless to say my experimentally-determined (boom) homozygosity conferred upon me an entirely unfounded smugness for the rest of the afternoon.
In real life (these labs are just fantasyyyy) this procedure is used in forensic trials to match suspect DNA to DNA samples found on the victim and/or crime scene. Because there are so many alleles and thus phenotypes, a quite accurate match can be made. If I can accurately analyse my own DNA after a botched cheek swab, two days’ worth of practical protocol insecurity, and using less than a thousandth of a millilitre of dilute DNA… imagine those swanky government labs 😉 No biochemist will ever commit a crime after this practical. Demonstrators: 1, C700: 0.

Wednesday: A lovely, peaceful day. Nothing happens Wednesday morning; you’ll have one or two lectures, possibly a personal tutorial every few months, and then you’re off by noon for the day. This is uni-wide: Wednesday is sports day. For those not sports-inclined, Wednesday is holiday. Zero complaints, 10/10, would recommend. Every Wednesday night is Sports Night at the union, ostensibly for the exhausted sports teams to grab a hard-earned team-building pint after practice and instead an opportunity for a horde of unfit leeches (code:me) to descend on the union for the unbeatable London prices and the rustic charm that is Metric at “Metric-full”. You will understand Metric-full when you come to Imperial. It will grow on you.

Thursday: Generally and understandably a bit rough (^) to begin with, but it’s the first part of the pre-weekend (though some would argue for Wednesday or even by the second Monday lecture. Academics disagree.) More enzymes, here, and a problem class in the afternoon. Problem classes are one of our non-assessed ways to test our knowledge; as a course group of up to 70 or so, you work through a sheet of problems with the help of the lecturer. It’s a more convivial way of realizing how much you don’t know than crying alone in your room with a textbook.

Friday: Friday is Friday! TGIF! The last push before you can catch up on sleep and partying (pick one, though). Lectures have proceeded from new material to summary, which is a worrying indicator of the times… we’ve never needed summary lectures before, let alone three full days of them… but oh well, we can’t be too fussed, it’s Friday. Friday is for surviving until Friday night. That is the purpose of Friday. To this end, we went out and bought animal onesies at Primark for the big Hall Disney party on Saturday. Jack Sparrow costume at fancy dress shop: 60 quid. Nondenominational tiger onesie at Primark: 12 quid. McDonald’s after: 3 quid. Student life? Priceless. Er, ful. Priceful. So priceful. Living in London on a student budget is quite a stretch. Word of fair warning.

Saturday: Your carte blanche for leisure, catching up with friends, exploring London, going out, and generally getting all the week’s pent-up stress out of your system. I headed to Hyde Park with Hugo to enjoy the wonderful weather we’ve been basking in lately. The weather turned out to be solely aesthetically nice, near freezing our faces off, but at least I got something done before the Disney party. I’ll probably write more about that soonish, once I figure out what actually happened. Was epic.

Sunday: You pledge yourself to your studies, sobriety, and the nearest monastery, as long as you get to sleep in. Sometimes Sunday evening features tearful regret of weekendus finitus. Sometimes Sunday doesn’t happen.

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