Biology Semester Two: Begin!

With a new semester comes new modules (unless you have any that stretch over them both, which I don’t), so I thought I’d give a little run down of my first impressions on the modules I have started this week in 2017.

Western Campus – Partially showing the GeoSciences building.

Biogeography: This module is one that is a kind of collaboration between the Geosciences and Biology department. Despite being two different modules for both departments, they overlap so much that the majority of them are taught together.

The study of biogeography is defined simply as ‘the distribution of species around the globe,’ and the module deals with exactly that. The first session introduced the very idea of what a “species” is, and how they come to be. Of course, their distribution, and how they come to be distributed, was explained next – particularly the idea of Gondwanan distribution (Gondwana was a supercontinent, like Pangea that broke apart to form the continents and microcontinents we know today. Knowing that this is only the tip of the biogeographical iceberg has me excited for what future lectures have in store.

Research Methods: The EHU website concisely summarises the module on their website. An essential program to biological research, R, will be taught.

“Research Methods in Biology introduces you to essential biological research methods and data analysis. You will examine experimental design and analysis with varied types of data and subsequently design a study of your own.” – Edge Hill University

As well as this, the actual assessment section of the module this year will be centred around a research project that is conducted over the course of a week in pairs, and presented on a poster during a “conference style” poster evening.

Biochemistry & Metabolism: The module this year focuses on “biomolecules, the different types of anabolic and catabolic pathways, as well as basic concepts in enzymology and eukaryotic and prokaryotic cellular energetics” (as stated by EHU).

However the intriguing part about the module this year is that part our assessment will be based on a presentation we give in conjunction with animation students. This provides valuable experience in working with others who may have less understanding of scientific terms and concepts. Communication will obviously be a vital part of this assessment – as biologists, we will have to explain our assigned biological process; on the flip side, the animators will have to explain to us what is feasible in terms on the animated end product.

Coping With University Stress

Although I have found university to be a freeing and joyous experience overall, it can be a tad stressful from time to time. When you first experience stress at university varies (if you even experience it at all), it may come shortly after moving into halls; halfway through the first semester; or perhaps during one of your exam periods. Luckily, it’s not the end of the world. It’s very common to have some form of worry whether it be because of your course, the new environment, or new people, and Edge Hill University is equipped to deal with this scenario.

Student Services have a branch dedicated to the wellbeing of students: Counselling and Wellbeing Services. They offer free sessions and workshops on relaxation and stress management, as well as support groups for things such as bereavement or loss. Their dedicated page to relaxation can be found here.

There are also personal things that you can try to reduce your stress levels during times of worry. Here are my main three that help me keep calm in moments of panic:

Blogging

Specifically two forms – active and passive. My active blogging is similar to what I’m doing as I type this, and the result is similar to what you’re reading here right now. Simply writing down all the thoughts in your head – a brain dump – can alleviate a lot of stress, whether it’s posted on a public blog like this, or a private one more akin to a diary. Instead of having things constantly occupying your mind for attention, you can separate yourself from any troubles and take a fresh look at the world (and hopefully see it isn’t as bad as you thought).

What I mean by passive blogging on the hand (if you can even really call it that), is using sites like Tumblr. Whenever I scroll down my dashboard on a typical day, anything soothing, cute, reassuring or funny gets tagged by me, and sorted into categories on my blog. Then, whenever I’m having a rough day, I can scroll through all these lovely posts – be it pictures of cats, funny test posts, or calming art.

Meditation

Something else that helped me a lot though my years of sixth form, was meditation. Admittedly, I’ve fallen out of practise in recent times, but it’s worth mentioning – since it even helped with my anxiety at the time as well. I personally used an app called Headspace, which has an unlimited free trial but also a paid subscription for more directed sessions. Headspace essentially is like a podcast, in that you listen to it from your phone or computer and are spoken to (if you’ve ever listened to Welcome To Night Vale, think of Cecil’s soothing tone). They also run a Get Some / Give Some scheme, which is a lovely way of giving back and supporting those who have gone through a whole manner of hardships.

There are of course other permanent, free, meditation aids. Two more that I myself have not tried, but have downloaded at some point or another are, Calm and Stop, Breathe & Think.

Friends

Of course, there’s nothing like having friends to fall back on in times of stress. A close few who you can rely on to back you up when you’re feeling down are always nice. Plus, if the tables turn and they’re the ones who are stressed, there’s not much better than being able to make someone feel calm again.

Making my final UCAS choices

Anyone applying for university this year has some quick thinking to do! I can’t tell you what is best for you individually, but I can tell you about my experiences and what was best for me, and my thoughts looking back two years later…

One thing that helped me massively when making my decision was attending different university open days. Luckily, my dad was able to either drive or accompany me on the train for a number of them. Being able to physically experience the university and the surrounding area was a huge aid in my decision making process. I visited both campus and city universities, and honestly most of the city uni’s weren’t for me. Living just outside of London for most of my life, and taking frequent excursions into the capital, had got me used to the bustle of the city. But as a place for me to study in a university setting, the cities I visited weren’t for me, and I would never have known that if I didn’t visit them personally.

Then again, some of the campus uni’s felt too secluded. Edge Hill felt like great middle ground. Despite being a campus university, it is only around 10 minutes from Ormskirk town centre (and although Ormskirk is small, it has good character) and only 30 minutes on the train from Liverpool – a city I’ve also come to love. As soon as my open day at Edge Hill was over, it already felt a tiny bit like home – I knew it had earned a place as either my firm or insurance choice.

In the end, I chose Edge Hill University as my firm, and a uni with much lower entry criteria as my insurance. Now, I don’t regret my firm choice for a second, as Edge Hill is a fantastic uni and I know I’ve already grown as a person just from my year and a half studying here. However, I do regret my insurance choice. I should’ve aimed a little higher and been more confident in myself to achieve the grades I had set out to acquire. After all, if I did end up falling below my expectations, I could’ve always looked at Clearing.
Like I said earlier, I can’t know which decision is right for you. Ultimately all I can do is wish you luck, and hope that you found some of my experiences helpful and worth reading. So with that in mind… Good luck!

Semester One Biology Highlights

Since semester one has essentially finished (bar a few exams and reports being due), I thought I’d take this time to look back on my favourite parts of the modules I’ve experiences on the second year of my undergrad Biology degree.

Life On The Edge

Tech Hub

Life On The Edge (LOTE) is the new and improved version of the Environmental Physiology module from previous years, it deals primarily in microbe, plant, and animal extremophiles. The largest addition to the module was Life On The Edge Evening, a series of short presentations, by the students, on a chosen extremophile. This was hosted in the lecture theatre of the new Tech Hub. One of the purposes of the event is to test the students’ research and presentation skills – which counted towards our grade. Although public speaking isn’t my strong suit, it did give me the chance to bust out my PowerPoint skills – as lame as it sounds, I’m quite fond of designing the slides. However anxious it made me, I’m sure the experience improved my public speaking abilities and got me used to presenting in a professional environment.

Another point of interest for this module was the field-trip to Anderton Nature Park, where we sampled the salt springs for microbes and isolated them from the water back at the lab.

Molecular Biology

This module featured quite an insight into the techniques and points of interest in the field of molecular biology. My personal highlight was learning about epigenetics, as I already knew a little about it and was interested in it before knowing it was featured in the module. Google defines epigenetics as, “The study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.” This module was quite technical but very rewarding, in that the subject matter is complex but also very cutting edge.

Laboratory Masterclass

The highlight of Lab Masterclass has got to be using the scanning electron microscope (SEM). It’s an expensive piece of kit, so it’s incredible that the department to trust all the second year undergraduates to use it for our practical coursework. The assignment in question had to contain two images from the SEM which both had to be scientifically relevant, as well as a short report on the subject matter of the images. This practical was weighted quite heavily for the module, so it was imperative we used our time wisely on the microscope to get some impressive images. We could’ve chosen any sample with biological relevance to look at under the SEM, and being a fan of plants, I chose leaves. I won’t go into the details, but here are some of the images I didn’t use, that I think are still pretty impressive:

The course page for biology has a tab that gives an overview of the modules.

Studying over Christmas

Creative Edge in the snow

Whether you’re a student at university, or a student in sixth form or college, you most likely have some work you should be doing right now: essays, assignments, coursework, reports, or the dreaded revision. But let’s be honest, with Christmas fast approaching and winter beginning in earnest on the 21st (the winter solstice), work is probably the last thing you want to be doing.

Now don’t fret, I’m not going to tell you that you’ve got to forgo the festivities to stay on top of your work load. My main piece of advice is to plan your distractions. What I mean is that you’re going to to be busy over the holidays with things unrelated to your studies: quality time with friends from home, family, last minute shopping, and possibly eating copious amounts of food. What I find helpful is to take note of when you think you’ll be likely to be doing all this socialising and plan your work around it. Slot in little revision sessions, or dedicated working periods, every other day when you know you’ll be relatively free from distractions. This will help you stay on track for January exams or deadlines without missing out on any of the fun.

Sometimes you need to be a bit selfish in that your work comes first. If you have work you know needs doing, you may have to turn down social activities to get it all done, even if it is your family – you’re allowed to say no! Ideally, you won’t have to, as long as you plan ahead. If you’re having trouble pinning down the exact timings of your social events, then scheduling a short half an hour study session on an uncertain day will guarantee you get something done. If even that is too much and you feel you need to revise, then carrying around flashcards on a busy day will ensure you’ll have something to feast your brain on. Otherwise, set time aside when you know you won’t be busy, and get working.

I myself have a written report due in January for Molecular Biology, and a closed book exam for both Molecular Biology and Life On The Edge. So I’m going to have to follow my own advice this holiday season!

New Blogger Approaching: Ashley Tuffin

New Challenger Blogger Approaching
This is my face.

I’m new here, so I guess I’d better tell you a bit about myself! This will serve as a good way for current and future readers (as well as my fellow bloggers) to get to know me and hopefully give a sense of the kind of perspective I’ll be writing from.

First things first, I’m a non-binary transgender person (meaning I am not a man or woman, use non-gendered terms, and they/them/their pronouns). Luckily, as I came to realise this, I had a loving and supportive group of friends that not only accepted me but respected me too. Having to go and enter a new environment where I wouldn’t know anyone, and wouldn’t know how they’d react to my identity was a daunting and quite terrifying prospect at times, but it has been largely a non-issue, as I have made some good friends through my course and societies (including the LGBT+ society).

The Sugar Hut

Now, my origins. I was born and raised in the south, specifically in Essex. When I tell people this, it’s sometimes followed by some kind of Q&A which usually results with me saying: No – I haven’t watched The Only Way Is Essex; No – I haven’t been to the Sugar Hut; and Yes – I’m aware I don’t sound like I’m from Essex. It’s nothing personal, I’m just not a huge fan of reality TV (although I’ve watched my fair share of I’m A Celeb, in the past). Which I guess means I should brief you on a few things I am a fan of!

Things I am a fan of watching: Sense8, Planet Earth II, Fresh Meat, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Things I am fan of reading: Young adult, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Romance (preferably in some combination). Things I am a fan of doing: Badminton, Swimming, Historical Reenactment, Volleyball.

Now, back to the past. I studied at the sixth form of my secondary school, so I know how daunting it can seem to go and live and learn in a completely new environment after seven years of your life. This is something I embraced by moving up to Ormskirk, around five hours away, but you may not be as dramatic (or maybe you’ll be more-so)! I studied A-level Biology, Chemistry, and Religious Studies aka Philosophy & Ethics. I chose Edge Hill as my firm choice, and here I am!

Facilities
The Biosciences building

Currently, I’m a second year studying Genetics, but I first enrolled as a general Biologist, an even briefly changed to study Ecology and Conservation. In the end though, the BSc Genetics degree held the most modules that I was interested in. I’m involved mainly in two societies: Historia Normannis (historical reenactment), and the LGBT+ society, where I am the Freshers Rep. At the time of writing, I am also in the middle of applying for a summer work placement under the ERASMUS+ programme and also a year abroad placement for the coming uni year.

Now that that’s over, I can promise that my following blog posts will be less egotistic, and will be considerably more related to university life at Edge Hill. However, I hope you found some enjoyment in getting to know the blogger! See you next time!