Sunday, 4 October 2009

No rest for the wicked

So, we're two weeks into the new semester and already I'm starting to wonder why I subject myself to quite so much work. I'm tired, ill (freshers' flu again, seriously...), and just don't seem to have enough time to do everything (read, spend too much time procrastinating...). The workload this year seems to be unbelievably high compared to last year's already. We have an assignment due in more or less every week for the two vet courses this semester (an essay handed in on Friday, another due in this Friday, and a data-analysis one due in the week after). Luckily the FBLS courses are a little less coursework intensive, but they still take up time for lectures, labs, class tests etc. In fact, depending on the courses people have chosen, the number of hours of outside work suggested is suspiciously close to the number of hours in a week (possibly something to be looked at in the future).

On the other hand, I wasn't expecting this to be an easy course. In fact, part of the decision to take it was the challenge it would present. Although the realisation of the incredibly high standards is daunting, at the same time it has really encouraged me to work this year to prove to the faculty that I can reach the level they expect of me (although my flatmate may debate that having watched me finish the first essay at 2am the morning it was due in...). There's something exciting in being introduced to techniques that aren't even currently being widely used in the field (protein analysis techniques specifically, that are of limited use without the entire genome of the species being studied being sequenced. Hence very useful in humans, less useful currently in the veterinary field).

The courses themselves. Currently, I'm enjoying them. Well....mostly. As with any course, there's going to be some good bits and some not so good bits. Proteins, for example, are certainly interesting, and I love that our lecturer is a) working at a very high level in the field and b) pushing us well beyond what would be expected of the average second year, but it's not really my area. I will never love proteins, I will never have any desire to spend my life working on them, as much as I appreciate their importance to biology, they just aren't my thing. That said, the lectures are interesting and I always appreciate a look into what's going on in the research areas. Physiology is a nice mixture of revision of last year's work and pushing on to new concepts in related areas. FBLS much as I like the fact that they'll (hopefully) yield good grades without too much effort, there's only so many times you can go through the respiratory system without wanting to punch someone. At the same time, if I need them to get into third year, then so be it.

Coursework, as previously mentioned, is looking to be quite intense this year. The first essay (that has just been handed in) was on Proteins, a question that at first glance was fairly basic but turned out to be a little more problematic than expected. As well as covering the importance of proteins and their analysis in veterinary science, we were also asked to use four examples (two production animals and two companion animals) which was where I, personally, had the most trouble. Obviously there are many, many proteins in the world, the biggest issue is picking four that are both interesting and commonly used for analysis. I think I got there in the end, probably not my best essay, but hopefully enough to be a good basis for the rest of the year. Due in next for this course is a set of questions based on use of a protein database, an assignment I'm actually quite looking forward to. For me, moving away from coursework that's solely essay based is a good thing, I like having a taster of what we're likely to be doing in the future, and in a lot of ways I prefer data analysis to essay writing. Physiology is currently awaiting an essay on thermoregulation (which yes, I should be writing just now) for Friday. Technically it's an easy question, but if there's an easy question it's because they're looking for a lot more than covering the basics from you. Still, challenges are always good...

The one thing I'm missing so far this year is the labs. I've always enjoyed the practical work (seriously, nothing beats "So, today I dissected a sheep's uterus" for dinner conversation...) so not having it is a bit rubbish. Ah well, they should be underway by next week, something for anyone eating with me in the near future to look forward to!

Anyway, I should probably go and, well, write the Physiology essay before it causes a brain implosion. Flu has never been particularly good at encouraging me to work.

(As a final side note, I have three followers so far, yay! However, they are all physicists/astronomers. As much as this cheers my sould, it'd be nice to have someone who, y'know, does biology or something... If you're out there let me know!)

Monday, 10 August 2009


Every year the vets have a system where freshers are paired up with someone older in the vet school who is there to look after them, answer questions and generally be useful for the first few weeks of the year (and as far beyond as required). We, the bioscientists, decided that this is a pretty good idea, and that we would like to do something similar. As the course is new it can be especially confusing for new students as half the time the university is just as confused as we are as to the best way of doing things (eg the best bus to get from one campus to the other...the 20 or the 66 if you don't mind a wee walk, or the less regular 118 if you don't fancy the extra exercise in case you were wondering), so it can only be helpful for them to have someone to help them out with anything they're not sure about.

The first major hurdle we hit was, oddly enough, picking a name. The vets use Big Vet Wee Vet, but Big Vet Bioscientist Wee Vet Bioscientist is really a bit of a mouthful. Most other things seemed to make us sound like a scientific Brady Bunch ( thanks), and so we've eventually settled on just using Bioscience. As this was mainly for the jumpers we're going to be wearing throughout Freshers' Week, we were also in need of a logo. This also turned out to be a bit of an issue, and we are now using a pawprint design. The jumpers are now ready, so hopefully I'll be able to provide a picture soon for general interest and so that any new students reading this will know what they're looking for. If you are a new student, we are the ones here to help! The vets may be able to help you out a bit, but they aren't going to know as much about what's going on as we will.

To be honest, we aren't 100% sure what we're doing just now. We know we're there to help first years out when required, but we aren't entirely sure when to turn up on Freshers' Week, or where. Hopefully we can get in contact with various people who can help us out with this, but if not, please be patient with us!

Hopefully I'll have a bit more information for you on this within a few weeks, and with any luck we'll know exactly what we're doing on Freshers' Week. Look out for the jumpers, and if you're lost we'll try and point you back in the right direction!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Some of those reading will be familiar with the course (I suspect, in fact, the vast majority of you), however, I am sure there are those of you who have no idea what Veterinary Bioscience might be about.

The Veterinary Bioscience degree at Glasgow University was started in 2008 as a joint effort by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (FVM) and the Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences (FBLS). It is aimed at sending students into the veterinary research field with the skills and knowledge specifically required for it. The entry requirements are of a higher level than a standard Biology course (A-Level or Advanced Highers are needed), but at a slightly lower grade level than for the Veterinary Medicine course. The work experience required for the BVMS is not necessary but is still useful as there is still some practical work.

First year consists of 40 credits in FBLS in the form of Level 1 Biology (two courses, each covering one semester), 40 credits in Level 1 Chemistry (a year long course) and 40 credits in FVM (4 separate 10 credit courses, two in each semester). Biology and Chemistry are standard courses taken by everyone in FBLS, and are aimed at making sure that all students go into second year at the same education level. This means that they can be a little repetitive at times for those who have taken either A-level or Advanced Higher, but most students find that there will be at least some elements of the courses that they have not covered. Besides, it never hurts to go over the basics when you have the chance.

The FVM courses are somewhat more challenging. Semester one consists of Animal Production and Management and Basic Mammalian Body Plan. APM gives students an insight into the basics of the agricultural industry, focussing on cattle and sheep farming. As well as the intensive lecture course there is a weekly trip to the university farm (see future posts for things to remember the first time you go) which involves being bussed to just outside Clydebank. BMBP is an introduction to Anatomy with two lectures and a laboratory session each week. Not for the weak-stomached, lab sessions involve dissections to illustrate the points made in lectures. These sessions are a valuable tool in the course, providing both real representations of the principles taught and experience for the practical part of the exam at the end of the course. A session on animal handling is included, although it is based around cats and dogs.

Semester two continues Anatomy with Comparative Vertebrate Morphology, a course which looks at the differing anatomy within the animal kingdom. Although the main focus is on mammalian anatomy, the course looks at reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish as well. Small mammals are the subject of several lectures, and with this course students can start to get a feel for the sort of animals they are likely to be working with if they continue into the research field. The practical labs continue, this time with a wider range of species both for dissection and as prepared specimans. The final ten credits of the year are through Body Systems Physiology, an introductory course to Physiology. BSP focuses on the nervous system and provides a good basis in this area for moving into 2nd year. The practical sessions are less frequent than with other courses and include computer labs which cover both an experiment and the theory behind it.

BSP is continued in second year as a year long level 2 course. The other courses in second year are worth 10 credits each and consist of Protein, DNA and Basic Genetics in the first semester, and Animal Science, Behaviour and Nutrition and Veterinary Bioinformatics in the second semester. Once the term restarts I can go into these in more detail, but for now I think I've covered the basics of the course.

Any questions or requests for post topics can be directed to me via the comments section and I will do what I can to cover them in the future. And I think that's everything for now!