A week in the life of a BMSc student

Personally, I don’t think there is enough information out there on what its like to do a BMSc/BSc during medicine. At Dundee, an perhaps elsewhere, there is still the general view that a BMSc year is a ‘year out’ and lets your social life stay alive for one year before the dreaded fourth year. Obviously, the work load varies from BMSc to BMSc, with some more work intensive than others, but a BMSc should definitely not be thought of as a skive, by any means. I did the anatomical sciences BMSc, where a large part of the course is made up by studying anatomy. However, it is the other parts of this course I found particularly challenging and it is these parts I hadn’t given much thought to prior to starting the BMSc year, so perhaps this might be useful to people considering a BMSc year.

Throughout the year you have a dissertation, anatomy, generic skills and four units to complete. Each unit lasts 6 weeks and includes a lecture series which is examined at the end of the year by a written paper where you are given two essay titles. You then pick one to answer in 90 minutes. These exams all happen in May. In addition, by the end of each unit course, there is an essay to complete, and usually an additional piece of work e.g. poster, literature analysis. As I say, you have four of these to complete.

Monday

Depending on whether you are a morning person or not, you get out of bed relatively early, and sit down to your laptop. This usually involves a couple of hours reading on literature relevant to the essay title you have been given for your unit, or some reading for your dissertation/project which occurs throughout the year. Then, at 10am, it’s off to campus for a 2-3 hour lecture on your unit topic. The timing of these lectures varies over the year, so this is not set in stone.

After a quick bite to eat at the union, it’s off to the Anatomy lecture at 1pm for an hour, folllowed by a 3 hour dissection on the area discussed in the lecture, to consolidate learning.  At 5pm, its time to head home after a fairly long day and then at night, most people try to write up the lectures from the day and perhaps do some of the recommended reading from the unit lecture.

Tuesday

Perhaps this is just me, but I normally revised the lectures given the day before and then moved onto the other tasks which always loom over e.g. Essay reading/writing, Dissertation reading/write up. Also, depending on your lab, you may well be in the lab for the whole day which leaves little time to keep up with other work!

Wednesday

In the morning, its a 9 o’clock anatomy lecture with 3 hours in the dissection room afterwords as per normal. In the afternoon, I almost always was in the lab doing some work in there. Following the lab, I wrote up my anatomy lecture in the evening, tried to keep up with the lab book you’re meant to write throughout the year (although this seems like an annoying task, I would have been lost without my lab book – I used it to keep track of all my experiments I was doing and was good for reference later once I had forgotten what I’d done and what I hadn’t). Again, more dissertation work or essay work if there was time.

Thursday

This again was a lab day, finishing off the experiments from the Wednesday as some of the experiments I was doing involved leaving things overnight and processing the results in the morning. At night, I usually looked over Wednesday’s anatomy lecture to keep on top of that and did more dissertation work.

Friday

Morning was lab again, finishing experiments from the thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon was filled with anatomy lecture and dissection. The evening involved getting as much of the anatomy lecture written up as possible before meeting up with friends in the evening to relax.

Saturday

After a bit of a long lie, I would finish writing up yesterdays lecture and revise it again to make sure I knew it all. Again, its more essay reading or dissertation work.

Sunday

No points for guessing here, more essay or dissertation work.

On top of all this, there is also a generic skills part of the course. In first semester this involves a series of lectures on statistics, which, although a bit mundane, is probably actually quite useful for your future career. This, for us, happened on a Friday afternoon from 5-6pm which was a huuuuuuge drag! This is then examined before the christmas break in an online exam. In second semester, generic skills is a problem solving course which involves 4 lectures, with the exam being  a written paper at the end of teaching which involves you answering 2 of 4 questions from the lectures given.

The difficulty of the year is not with difficult concepts, its the fact that the work is almost never-ending due to essay deadlines and dissertation work. For example, at one point, we had an anatomy exam and essay hand-in deadline on one Friday, followed by our dissertation hand in only about a week later. Trying to do all this whilst staying on top of lectures and generic skills things is a bit of a nightmare. And, when you finish one thing, which would normally be a relied, you normally have another deadline just coming up which you need to work for. It can all seem a bit much at times, believe me!

Pros and cons of a Laboratory project

Gaining experience in a lab is not always possible in medicine and so this gives a good foot in the door for people thinking of pursuing an academic career path. Also, it helps you do develop a new, analytical way of thinking. Furthermore, some people actually enjoy it!

From a practical side of view, when your supervisor asks you to come into the lab, it MAKES you do work. For some people, this is a good thing! Another point to note is that, depending on your luck and quality of your work, there may be a chance of presenting your findings at a conference or being published which looks great on a CV. Some people have also managed to continue in their lab as a summer job to get some money before 4th year.

On the other hand, a dissertation is just a big essay really, so is a similar format to other work you do through the year. BUT, if you struggle to motivate yourself to work, it might be tough – for example, getting yourself out of bed in the morning to do even MORE journal reading can be a drag, especially if that’s all you’ve done for the last 5 weeks. Also, might get boring writing essays all day, in my experience, being in the lab helps to break up your week a bit and I found it quite therapeutic at times. In saying all this, if you put your mind to it, if you worked from the moment you found out your dissertation title (normally a week or so before the start of term), you could probably have most of your dissertation written up by the end of the first month if you really went for it – this would give you way more time to study other things. Doing a dissertation has minimal chance of publication though, and often its the same dissertation titles, year after year.

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