What to expect from final year?

As my third and final year of university as an undergraduate draws closer, I’m wondering how different it will be to second year. You might also be wondering what modules are available to you in your final year of a biological sciences degree. As I’m doing a Genetics BSc, I have four compulsory modules: Applications of Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics, Ecological Genetics, and Dissertation – Genetics. This leaves me with one optional module. Optional modules for Genetics and other biological sciences degrees for third-year include:

  • SCI3309 Biodiversity and Conservation
  • SCI3310 Tropical Ecology
  • SCI3312 Environmental Change
  • SCI3314 Current Issues in Biology
  • SCI3316 Pathology
  • SCI3318 Invertebrate Ecology
  • SCI3321 Pharmacology
  • SCI3324 Epidemiology
  • SCI3325 Ecological Interactions
  • SCI3326 Conservation Issues
  • SCI3329 Field Botany
  • SCI3322 Laboratory Masterclass
  • SCI3017 Nerves, Brain and Behaviour

Some of these modules are available in second-year, and some are even mandatory, such as Laboratory Masterclass being a compulsory module for second-year geneticists. Some of my compulsory genetics modules can also be taken as optional modules for other biological sciences degrees. More information can be found here!


Entering third year can be a daunting or scary prospect, it’s weighted heavier than second year (60:40) and in some cases holds the compulsory dissertation module. If you’ve been away for a year for whatever reason, be it for personal or educational reasons, going into a new year group may also be quite nerve-wracking. I was away last year on a sandwich placement and am nervous myself about entering classes potentially knowing no-one there. But if we could do it in first-year, we can do it again! There may be a bit of added pressure this year but it’s essentially the same, classes and studying, maybe less partying, and a more long-term project in the form of a dissertation.

The future is a vast and uncharted ocean, but it seems looks like smooth sailing ahead… Godspeed!

Biology Dissertation Topics

Dissertations are a big undertaking. Not only is the dissertation module worth double the credits of a regular module, it is meant to take up 200 hours. For the biological sciences degrees, you must perform a series of experiments or scientific techniques to answer a research question. Depending on your specific degree ie Human Biology, Ecology & Conservation, etc. your dissertation must be on different topics – relating to your discipline, obviously.

To provide guidance and support to you during your dissertation, through advice and feedback to your proposal, you are assigned a supervisor. Since there are only so many lecturers, and they can only have so many dissertation pupils, not everyone will get their first choice of dissertation supervisor (and therefore dissertation topic). Even if you don’t end up with your first or second choice, the topic you choose to work on with your supervisor can involve transferable skills, for example, molecular techniques that can be applied to many different organisms.

For the year of 2018, there are two new lecturers in the department, and one established lecturer who was not a dissertation supervisor last year that is this year: Dr. Sven Batke, Dr. Aristides Tagalakis, and Dr. Rajeev Shrivastava.

Sven’s topics this year are related to plant ecology and physiology, specifically plant-water relations and epiphytes. An example of one of the topics this year is: “Quantifying the contribution of different epiphyte growth-forms to water interception and storage in
forest canopies.”

Aris has joined Edge Hill as a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in Human Biology, his research involves the treatment of diseases such as solid tumours and cystic fibrosis, particularly the delivery mechanism of treatments to diseases such as these. One of his dissertation topics this year is: “mRNA (commercial and in house) vs traditional plasmid: compare the different transfection efficiencies.”

Raj started at Edge Hill in 2008 as a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry and is offer dissertation questions this year related to environmental chemistry (in particular, water pollution), food analysis, and pharmacology.

Facilities
The Biosciences building for Biology at Edge Hill

These are but a few of the lecturers and only a sample of the broad range of topics that researchers at Edge Hill University study. Further topics for study include antibiotics, biodiversity and conservation, phylogeny, population genetics, mycology, nanoparticles, cloning, cancer, microbes, bioinformatics.

Life at The Field Museum

One perk of working at The Morton Arboretum are the Monday lunchtime Tree Talks – short lectures presented either by a member of staff or a visiting scientist. Although I spend most of my time at The Field Museum now, it’s nice that the perk has seemingly carried over. Although not on a regular schedule, there have been numerous interesting talks over the past few weeks. From Dr. Tyrone Lavery and the “Tree-Dwelling, Coconut-Cracking Giant Rat” to Dr. John Novembre’s work on the human genetics mirroring geography. Another great talk was presented by Dr. Corine Vriesendorp’s, for the Women in Science’s February meeting, on the creation of a new national park in Peru – Yaguas National Park – which took 15 years to be recognised! Dr. Robert Hart also spoke on the topic of ethnobotany and the value of local knowledge when assessing change in biodiversity. Yet another perk – the dollar-beer happy hour on Fridays isn’t bad either!

The Field Museum’s mascot, SUE the T. rex, has now been dismantled and is being moved out of public display until Spring 2019. Taking up their mantle is a titanosaur, Patagotitan mayorum, which, according to The Field Museum’s website, is “25 Danny DeVitos in length.” Whilst I’ll miss walking past SUE at work, their twitter account, @SUEtheTrex (Specimen FMNH PR 2081), will keep their legacy alive hopefully for years to come – even whilst they’re out of the public eye.

Earlier this month was of course the Super Bowl. Despite having seen half a game of American football last year, I still didn’t really understand the rules – Molly and I were mainly there for the halftime show – but now, after watching most of the Super Bowl, I have a better idea. We had a little beer tasting whilst the game was on, with one beer from the Lagunitas Brewery, which I actually visited towards the end of January! It was pretty huge – although it is the only brewery I’ve had a tour of, so maybe I don’t have a good standard of measurement.

Also, after six months in the US, I’ve finally had my first repeat Uber driver, a zoology-major who remembered me as “The Botanist” which I can only assume means that I’ve made it as a plant scientist, coupled with the fact that I used “carex” in a game of Words With Friends the other week.

Applicant Visit Days Ahoy!

With the beginning of February comes the Applicant Visit Days, typically held between now and March/April, non-interviewing applicants will soon receive notice of these wonderful days – maybe you already have! Although I personally did not attend an applicant visit day for Biology, I have worked for the Biology Department as an Applicant Visit Day Helper, therefore I know a little something about what goes down on one of these visit days.

The Edge Hill University Biology Department is home to many sub-disciplines, from ecology to human biology – despite this, students from different courses will certainly overlap both in the common first year and in shared modules. In account of this, the Applicant Visit Day has an introductory talk given to the cohort as a whole, as well as area specific activities with a focus on either ecology, human biology, or genetics, for example. When I worked the Applicant Visit Day last year, I supervised the ecology taster session – and introduction to invertebrate ecology and identification, using keys and microscopes. Also part of the Biology section on Applicant Visit Days is the building tour, where you get a better look at the labs and equipment available to use once you begin studying with us. With the opening of the Tech Hub and the top floor lab, there’s even more space and equipment to use!

Facilities
The Biosciences building for Biology at Edge Hill

I have also worked for the Money Advice Team on applicant visit days, as a Money Buddy, positioned in The Hub. The Money Advice Team hold presentations on student finance, as well as budgeting – particularly from a student’s point of view (hence the Money Buddies). My role was to speak to potential future students about financial help offered by EHU as well as budgeting advice.

The Tech Hub

One of the pros of attending an Applicant Visit day (other than getting a better feel for your course and department) is getting to meet other students. If you’re worried about meeting new people at university, your course is the best place to start, and Applicant Visit days give you a head start. I hope you’re able to attend one and take advantage of this opportunity!

Public Lectures, Research Seminars and More!

Throughout the year, Edge Hill University hosts a number of public lectures. These are can be in subjects such as my own, Biological Sciences, or others, such as Education or History.

Banded archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix). Lithograph, published in 1884.

Recently, my personal tutor and department head of biology, Dr Paul Ashton, gave his inaugural lecture titled “Contemplate an Entangled Bank” after the opening to the final paragraph of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Paul’s lecture was on the culmination of his work to date, from lime trees to sedges.

The Biosciences Department also hosts research seminars typically at lunchtime, as well as public lectures in the evening. Previous research seminars from this term were on biogeography (the origin of the Lusitanian flora), a rare genetic disease (Fanconi Anaemia), and how plant-atmosphere interactions shine a light on the origin of flowering plants. Although the schedule for 2018’s public lectures is not yet released, check back HERE for details! I attended Dr André Antunes’ talk, “Living on the Edge: Life in high salinity environments” last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Also of note for the department is “ENTO’18: The Good The Bad and the Ugly” – an annual entomological conference which this year is being hosted at Edge Hill University during the 29th to the 31st of August.

The Geography department also holds public lectures in the Geosciences building, the most recent two being a lecture on coastal vulnerability to climate change and rising sea-levels, and perceptions of “Globalisation, Sustainability and Culture” in regard to “the Identities of old/new Empires and their colonies.”

Conferences and talks are held by the Faculty of Health and Social Care in their own building, as well as the Tech Hub and the Manchester campus – particularly for open days, where the Operating Department Practice programme is held. Conferences are also held by the faculty, such as the Digital Ecosystem event.

Education students have an interesting research seminar scheduled for early 2018 on January 11th – The Teaching and Learning of Britishness and Fundamental British Values, by Dr Sadia Habib, who has also published a book on the topic. Past seminars and lectures have included teaching in South Africa, lesson study, and educational responses for the future.

The Department of Performing Arts also has had many events throughout the year, two workshops of which were on Mindfulness and Butoh in Dance Movement Therapy. Another inaugural lecture was held by Professor Stephen Davismoon earlier this month.

Finally, students of English, History and Creative Writing have enjoyed lectures on The Politics of the Neo-Victorian Freak Show, how the illustrations of Sherlock Holmes affected the success of Doyle’s success, and “what it meant to be a girl in the late Victorian period and how women editors played a role in shaping the modern girl,” in a paper reading by Dr Beth Rodgers.

As you can see, Edge Hill University offers numerous lectures across the board of courses! I’ve found that attending these talks for my subject has allowed me to get an idea of which topics I find enjoyable both inside and outside the curriculum.

ERASMUS+ Procedure and My Experience So Far

As I’ve mentioned before, the biosciences department currently have links to a few other universities in Europe with which the ERASMUS+ program is available. They exist in Sweden, Cyprus as well as potentially Germany. I have so far completed my first week of placement at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Umeå, with a fellow coursemate.

There was a fairly substantial interest in the program across my year group, so after applications were processed, interviews were held. The Erasmus Program Leader from the department, as well as the International Office, were both present to ask a few questions. After that, if you are selected, it’s a matter of waiting and filling in the relevant paperwork when the time comes. Make sure you fill this in as quickly as possible! The sooner you do this, the sooner you get approval to book flights and finalise accommodation. Which is an issue if you are staying in Umeå.

SLU, Umeå, Sweden,

Housing is hard to come by in Umeå, and can be expensive. The two options that might be best are either: staying in a current researcher’s residence with them or in their place if they are away during the summer; or staying in a student’s accommodation after they have moved out for the summer. For our Erasmus placement this year, we’ve had to stay in a hostel for a week, although will be staying in a current researcher’s apartment while they are away for the rest of the summer.

Despite the hostel, it’s been a good first week – I’ve got to know the city as well as fellow colleagues and have even managed to go clubbing and meet some new people here! If you’re so inclined, I’d recommend the pub/restaurant Droskan and the Take Queer event. Also if you are around for the end of semester, the festival Brännbollsyran which hosts music and a rounders-like tournament should be something you look into before going. Now that the introductory week is over, we’re off up to Gällivare to get stuck in with some real hands-on research!


If you want to stay updated with my adventures in Sweden with SLU, then you can check out my blog dedicated to it.

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.

 

First Year Biology Modules

Although it seems like an eon ago, it was only last year that I was a first year. Back then, I was undertaking BSc Biology rather than BSc Genetics. I thought I wanted to keep my options open and get a degree in straight biology, but after getting a feel for the course and seeing what modules were available to me for second and third year, I opted to specialise.

Currently, the Biology department run a common first year – meaning that no matter what branch of biology your degree is in, you will be doing the same stuff in first year as everyone else. This was very helpful for me, as it gave me the time I needed to test the waters and decide upon my specialisation.

Ecology in my first year involved a lot of plant-based fieldwork, we visited Limestone pavements and Ruff wood to take quadrat readings and other observations such as with invertebrates. The assessments for this module for me were a data retrieval exam, and an assignment to produce a dichotomous key for the woody species of Ruff wood – which has been one of my favourite assignments so far.

Biodiversity was probably my favourite year one module, getting to learn about the wide range of organisms on the planet, and how they’re classified in taxonomy. From animals we’re widely aware of, like chordates such as birds, fish and mammals, to ones you may know less about, like cnidarians like jellyfish and corals. Also covered was the complex evolutionary history of plants, the origin of life itself, and the diversity of fungus. This modules was assessed by form of examination and presentation.

Biology in Practice was the module that hosted the trip to Cyprus which featured many fieldwork activities. All this fieldwork ended with two presentations that gave a good insight to the kind of presentations I’ve been doing in second year and will do in third year. The whole trip was incredible, and deserves a blog post of its own. Another aspect of this module was the idea of self-evaluation, as we had to write a reflective report on our time studying in first year. As well as this, we completed our first scientific report.

Cellular Form and Function was tested by means of a laboratory practical (in my case, a fluorescent gene transfer) and examination. This module focuses on the processes that occur within cells that make life possible, as well as the factors that can effect the biology of cells, and laboratory techniques used surrounding them.

Human Body Systems focuses on developing your knowledge of the structure and function of the human body and builds your understanding of the inter-relationship between the systems of the body in the context of human health and disease.” – EHU

This module’s examinations were of the open book/data retrieval kind, and also a regular closed book kind. This was the second ever data retrieval exam I had attempted and I was glad for it – it helped me improve how I handled these exams. Although not a human biologist myself, this module was certainly interesting in that it covered such a broad range of aspects of the human body and really gave a good insight into how our bodies systems come together to work and protect us from disease.

Variation, Evolution and Heredity‘s title is pretty self explanatory – we studied how variation in organisms comes to be, and how this is passed to further generations. For the assessment of this module – we wrote an essay on Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but were also tested in a regular examination also.

Overall, first year was a beneficial experience, helping me learn about the type of study I would undertake in my following year, as well as giving an insight into the topics I would study too. Of course first year (especially the cyprus trip) certainly also helped the whole year group to bond and become more familiar with one another.