Guest Post by Amy Brennan
So, you’ve got your results and it’s confirmed, you’re going to be studying Biomedical Sciences at University. This is such an exciting time and you’ll have lots to think about whether that be what it will be like living away from home, how you’ll manage your money or whether humans can survive on a diet of only pasta?
I was in the same position in 2016 when I started studying Biomedical Sciences at the University of York. I spent four years studying, with lots of successes and failures along the way. So, with all the questions you almost certainly have about starting university, let me answer you this one: How can I do well in a Biomedical Sciences degree?
So here are my top tips and advice for Biomedical Sciences students and the things I wish I had known when I started my course.
1. Write up your notes
This was something I learned very quickly when I started studying. The work piles up FAST. Find your own way of taking notes. These could be written or typed notes, or annotating presentation slides. You’ll need to find the best way to make notes for you and particularly the fastest way of taking notes. You will need to get good at writing down the most important information quickly as a lot of information gets thrown at you in lectures. Developing your own shorthand can definitely help with this.
Don’t worry about your notes being messy, just focus on getting the important information down. You can make prettier and more legible notes later on. This is where writing up quickly comes in. My lecture handwriting was almost completely unreadable, if I went over my notes with the information fresh in my mind then I could decipher them but if I tried a week or two later, I would honestly have no clue what they said!
A good tip here is to use lectures and Ted Talks on Youtube to practice your note taking before your first lectures, try a few different methods to see which one works best for you.
2. Get into the habit of reading papers
When you first start out, scientific papers are exhausting to read. I spent my Masters year researching just how difficult they are to read. The answer is very.
When I was in first year I used to avoid scientific papers like the plague and relied on textbooks for my information. Unfortunately, this just won’t cut it when you get further into the degree, and trust me, you are better off getting this skill down now than in third year when you’re writing up your project report!
When you first start it is going to feel like it takes you forever to read a scientific paper and it will feel really difficult, but like all things: practice makes perfect. I promise, the more you read, the easier it will be.
3. Go to lectures
I can not stress this enough: GO TO YOUR LECTURES. No matter how rubbish you feel, or how much you think you can’t concentrate, you will be amazed by how much information you absorb just from being in the room.
Of course, if it’s the odd lecture that you miss that sometimes can’t be helped but if you regularly don’t show up to lectures you’ll really suffer for it later on, even if those lectures are recorded.
A side note to that, if you do miss a lecture: catch it up as quickly as possible. DO NOT try to binge watch an entire module worth of lecture recordings (if you’re lucky enough to have recorded lectures) two weeks before your exam. It’s best to go over the material as soon as possible so that you can ask questions about anything you don’t understand.
4. Take time to relax
Now this is the advice that I wish someone had given me while I was at university. It’s okay to and in fact it is essential that you take time off. Biomedical Sciences is a really intense course and if you aren’t having down time away from studying then you are going to burn out. It’s much more useful to do 2 hours of productive study than 4 hours of half baked work.
If you aren’t looking after yourself then your work will suffer for it.
The best advice I’ve seen is to treat university like a job: for example, work from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. This will also get you ready for the world of work when you do leave university. It’s much harder to get into a regular work schedule when you’re used to waking up at 11am every day.
When you do have that downtime, I recommend doing something completely unrelated to your course. Play a sport, join a society, or just enjoy a cosy night in with Netflix but do something that allows your brain to switch off. This will mean when you are doing university work that you will feel refreshed and able to do your best.
5. Make use of work experience (in every form)
When you come out of university, there is lots of competition. Graduate jobs, PhD programs and research positions are very competitive and just having a good degree may not be enough. This is why it’s really important to get work experience in whatever form you can.
For those interested in a career in research: speak to your lecturers and other academics in the department, find out what their research focuses on and if it’s something that interests you, ask them if they’d take you on as a research assistant over the summer.
However, developing your wider skills outside of the lab is also really important. Apply for internships that will give you skills you wouldn’t necessarily learn as part of your degree. You could also work as a student ambassador to develop your interpersonal and presentation skills.
Experience can take a lot of different forms and it doesn’t have to just be through employment. If you think you’re a great teacher then you could tutor in your free time, or start a blog or instagram account about something you’re passionate about. There are so many ways you can show potential employers that you have a wide range of skills outside of your degree.
6. Don’t freak out about labs
You aren’t supposed to be good at labs when you first get there. Everyone will have different experiences so first year labs are always just about developing your skills so take the opportunity to develop those skills. Really get into labs, have a go at everything and don’t worry about making mistakes.
I know that labs can feel intimidating and you might feel that it’s easier to let your lab partner (if you have one) do everything because they’re better at it than you are but the only person that is helping is your lab partner. The skills you learn in labs are really important later on in your degree and potentially in your career so you need to jump into practicals with two feet.
If something is being passed around the class for you to look at or feel then make sure you understand what you’re supposed to be looking for. If you can’t see or feel it then ask. I can guarantee that you are not the only one and you are only missing out if you don’t ask.
7. Find your favourite working environment
You are going to spend a lot of time doing what we call ‘independent study’. This includes revising for your exams, writing up assignments and researching the topics you’ve been learning about. So in order to succeed in your Biomedical Sciences course, you need to establish how you work best.
Firstly, you need to find a study space that works for you. This could be in the University library, a local coffee shop or at the desk in your room. It doesn’t really matter where it is as long as you work at your best when you’re there. Having a dedicated study space tells your brain that it’s time to work and you’re likely to be much more productive.
Secondly, you need to decide on the conditions you work best in. Do you need absolute silence, do you need background noise or music, or do you work best when you’re in a group? If you do work well in a group (and you can actually get some productive work done-I was not one of these people) then find yourself some reliable study buddies and get together regularly to study.
8. Don’t buy everything on the reading list
Textbooks are expensive. Like really expensive. Your university may give you a reading list before you start your modules but do not race out to buy the textbook straight away. My advice is to start the module and work out if you actually need it.
If you decide that you do need the textbook then look in two places first: the library and the internet. A lot of textbooks are available for free online and this will save you a fortune over the course of your degree.
Also, look into older editions of the textbook. Speak to your lecturer and find out if an older edition would be acceptable for you to use. Often the differences between editions are absolutely tiny and you’ll be more likely to find the older editions for free or for much cheaper.
At BioPharma Dynamics, we wish you luck with all your studies and look forward to the work you do in the future.