Biology Semester Two Highlights

My exams are over. Second semester is over. Second year is over. So it’s about time I take a look at my personal highlights from this term’s modules, Research Methods, Biochemistry & Metabolism, and Biogeography.

Facilities
The Biosciences building at Edge Hill

Research Methods:

Oddly enough, one of the highlights of research methods for me was the stats portfolio. This coursework section of the module tasked us to analyse datasets using the program “R” and usually produce a graphical representation of the data, as well as an explanation of the results. This piece of coursework relied on knowledge acquired from the taught sessions on statistics throughout the year. Although coding in “R” was tedious at times, especially when one singular spelling mistake threw off the whole script, it was very rewarding to have a complete portfolio of work – particularly the graphs and charts.

Another highlight was definitely research week which, if you’re a regular here, you should know about – as I wrote a whole post dedicated to it.

Biochemistry and Metabolism:

This module was a complex one, being filled to the brim with technical knowledge but featuring a highly unusual assessment – a collaboration between animators and biologists to produce a short video on a metabolic process. As well as the bio-animation, there was also an exam. This was a challenging module, since it is very content heavy and also required you to work in a team with non-biologists – a vital skill however, that practically all scientists need. There were a number of experiments – some of them stretching across a good few hours – that introduced us to more lab techniques and the practical side of biochem. Bio-animation Evening, compete with food and wine, was a nice conclusion to the module; seeing everyone else’s hard work and the different animation styles was satisfying.

Biogeography:

As well as a typical examination, the assessment for biogeography was a ~15 minute presentation on a scientific paper – randomly assigned. This was challenging, as we had two weeks to read and digest our assigned paper, create a presentation, and memorise the script for our presentations. That said, it was also a very rewarding assignment. I was particularly proud of my presentation, and although delivering the talk was stressful, the creation of the presentation itself was enjoyable (on reflection, it seems I enjoy creating visual aids, maybe I should work on my illustration skills!)

Western Campus – Partially showing the GeoSciences building

To see highlights from my first semester, click here. Also, the other modules available for second semester biology can be found on the university website. Also of interest may be my outline of this year’s marine biology field trip.

Biological Research Week

In my second year of BSc Genetics (but also in other biological sciences degrees such as biology, human biology, ecology and conservation, biotechnology) during the core module of research methods, research week occurred. The largest assessed portion of research methods is centered around this week of research – specifically the proposal and poster part of the week, but we’ll get to them.

Research week starts before it actually begins. Once a partner has been found, someone you’re willing to potentially spend a lot of time with and definitely spend a lot of time working with, you must decide upon your topic of research. Since the project is only meant to span a week, it’s not going to be groundbreaking research. Hopefully, you and your partner have similar academic interests, or one of you is going to be more interested in the project than the other. Thankfully, our lecturers are not short of ideas for research if you’re struggling to pin down a research question that’ll fit your timeframe. Since myself and my partner are interested in ecology, we ended up doing a project on morphometrics – “the quantitative measurement of the form especially of living systems or their parts.” Specifically, we measured morphometric variation across urban populations. Other groups studied the calorific content of food, micromineral production of microbes, and squirrel behaviour, to name a few.

The first assessed section of research week is the proposal (no, not the 2009 People’s Choice Award rom-com nominee). The proposal is a document you must submit before your research begins, detailing your topic and research question, ethical considerations, health & safety, as well as any requirements such as lab time, transport, or equipment. Also to be included is a timescale, which can be neatly presented in a Gantt chart.

The actual research portion of my project went fairly well. At times the sheer amount of work ahead of us was pretty daunting – particularly in actually finding the species of plant we were sampling – but in the end, everything worked out fine. There’s something oddly satisfying about measuring the various aspects of a leaf’s shape… eighty times…

If there’s anything I garnered from the week, it’s that things never go according to plan. Because of the mild winter, our initial species wasn’t flowering during the week of our research, forcing us to rethink our topic and ultimately change species. Also, when analysing our data, we also found that our hypothesis was actually the complete opposite of what we found to be the truth. This wasn’t a problem, however, as the prime goal of research week is to get you accustomed to proper scientific technique and give you the experience of completing your own research.

Another key learning point of research week was the conference experience – producing your own poster from your research and presenting it amongst your peers. If you have a passion for graphic design, then you will enjoy formatting your poster in the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing way – I certainly enjoyed the challenge of organising our research to highlight the key points and figures in the best way I could.