Blog posts

Guest Post: A Year in Industry, by Lee Sewell

Rather than spending three straight years slogging away at my BSc, I decided to trade in the pen for the pipette and take the opportunity to spend a year in industry. This was a 12-month placement at British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Hopefully this blog-post will make you consider a research-based placement year.

I get the feeling that many undergraduates question the idea of taking a year out altogether; after all you still only get a BSc for what is an extra year of your life. Well, simply put, I think you’d be making a mistake if you didn’t jump on the opportunity to explore research in the life sciences.

A new year

Welcome to all our freshers and to all students returning for their 2nd, 3rd and 4th years. A new term and a new year starts today.

In different ways, this is an important year for all of you. Freshers will be getting their first taste of university life and are no doubt wondering whether it will be to their liking — whether they will fit in or be able to cope with university life. Hopefully the staff and older students can help to allay those concerns. I’m sure you are all fit for the challenge.

The smiling faces of last years’ graduating classes in Biochemistry and Biology (and allied degrees), the vast majority of whom graduated with first class or upper second class degrees, will I hope reassure you — who are just like them — that the future is bright, however uncertain it might seem at the moment.

What I did on my Year in Industry/Research Placement

A guest post from Rui Gao sharing her impressions from a year out working at the Institute for Cancer Research

As part of my degree, I undertook a placement year between my second and final years. I thoroughly enjoyed my placement experience and highly recommend other students who are thinking seriously about pursuing postgraduate studies to do the same. My year at the Institute of Cancer Research allowed me to gain countless experiences and insights not necessarily attainable by just attending lectures and practicals.

As someone who had always been considering postgraduate studies, the year in industry/research programme was an excellent fit for me because in many ways, the placement was a “test run” which allowed me to determine if a postgraduate degree was the right choice for me.

How to read the scientific literature

What do you make of scientific papers?

First year students may yet to have read one in depth but second and third years should be getting to grips with what is the primary mode of communication of scientific research.

They can seem daunting, especially at first. For a start there are thousands of journals out there and it can be difficult to get a measure of the differences between them. Which is better — Nature or Science? The EMBO Journal or the Journal of Biological Chemistry? How do you find out?

As an undergraduate student, you may feel that you are in no position to criticise the contents of a paper that has obviously been written by an ‘expert’.

What is a university degree for?

The education journalist Peter Wilby had a comment piece in the Guardian last week, in which he raised some interesting questions about the value of educational qualifications. The article resonated with me because it touched on an issue that I have become more and more aware of since assuming the role of Director of Undergraduate Studies: the meaning of a university degree.

Wilby starts from what is probably a widely accepted position:

“Education is regarded as an unmitigated good, of benefit to society, the economy and the individual. More means better, we think. In many respects, that is true: if we are a more tolerant, more inclusive society than we were 50 years ago, that is largely because most of us are better educated.”

But despite improvements in education he notes that many professions have been affected by a sort of qualification inflation, by which the minimum entry requirements have risen inexorably and, in some cases, without proper justification.

How to email your Professor

I came across this blogpost yesterday with useful advice on how to communicate with professors and lecturers by email. Although it comes from Wellesley College which, being a US liberal arts college for women only, is a rather different institution to Imperial College, much of the advice is relevant and helpful.

It is clear from my email inbox that many students already have a clear idea of how to write a polite and effective email message, but I’ve also seen examples from students who are not so sure how to go about the task.

To the points of technique and etiquette mentioned in the blogpost, I would like to add the suggestion that students try to keep to a minimum the number of times that they email staff at weekends or during holidays, out of consideration for the fact that staff are entitled to a break from their teaching duties from time to time.

The value of student dissatisfaction?

Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, is a well-known TV historian and currently also has a regular spot presenting ‘A Point of View‘ on BBC Radio 4.

In this week’s instalment, she ponders the survey culture that has swept the UK university system, asking if student satisfaction should be the most important driver of the educational system, even when students are paying £9000 a year.

Have a listen (or read the text) and see what you think.

Welcome and Welcome Back

Welcome to all the first year students arriving for their first taste of life at university. We hope that you are about to embark on some of the best years of your life. There is plenty of hard work ahead but also a great opportunity to grow, both in terms of scientific understanding and personal development.

Welcome also to all our returning students — we hope you enjoyed and profited from the long summer break and are looking forward to getting back into the swing of life on campus.

Students celebrating the results of their finals in July 2012

First years are perhaps most likely to be regarding the year ahead a little apprehensively, but please don’t worry.