Student bloggers

Life as a student in Bath

Topic: Faculty of Science

First year Pharmacy course and assessment


📥  Faculty of Science, Jemima (Pharmacy)

I wanted to write about what the first year of pharmacy involves (the content and modules), how it is assessed and what that is actually like. I am the second year of the new course and when I was researching universities Bath was still operating its older course so it wasn’t set in stone what was to be included. I think it would be helpful to know what sort of knowledge the course includes. There are 5 modules- Healthy Body 1 and 2 (Biology), Molecules to Medicines 1 and 2 (Chemistry) and Preparing for Professional Practice. You can find more info about these modules here. Each are 12 credit modules and you have to pass all of them and there are some other requirements. First year doesn’t count towards the degree mark, however you do have to pass everything to progress to the second year, so if you fail something you have to retake it in the summer. In addition to the exams for each of the modules there are is also a Pharmaceutical calculations exam- doing calculations such as working out doses and how many grams are in a certain amount of a cream for example, which has a 70% pass mark and you have to pass to progress.

My modules for the first 2 years

There are also two observed structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) in first year, both of which you must pass. The learning for these comes under a mixture of the Healthy body and Preparing for Professional Practice modules. These test how well you can communicate with a patient to find out what is wrong and then give them the right treatment, using clinical knowledge and also knowledge of products and of consultation skill models. To be honest when I heard about these I thought that’s good as I am good at talking, but it is a bit harder than that. You have to learn to a certain extent the Calgary Cambridge model of consultation skills and know the right questions to ask in the right order, checking for any red flag dangerous symptoms. You also have to be able to listen to the symptoms and work out what is wrong with the patient and make sure you get enough medical history, then summarise and give them the right treatment while ensuring you are empathetic and provide good non-verbal communication.

Some of the conditions you cover in first year include cough, cold, flu, hayfever, and sore throat. You sit in a little room with a lecturer and they pretend to be a patient with one of these conditions, and you ask questions and find out what is wrong and offer an appropriate treatment e.g. with chesty cough mixture giving them choices, e.g. drowsy or non-drowsy or children’s depending when their problem is what they are doing, their age. The other consultation is again with a lecturer or someone who role plays a patient who has been given a prescription for, or wants help with, a few different types of inhalers or a peak flow meter for asthma. You talk to them about the device and teach them how to use it properly, checking that they understood. If you fail one you have to retake both, although most people pass as long as you have practised (I did it over Skype with my boyfriend and family and with a flatmate) and have learnt symptoms, treatments and how to use the devices. You also get workshops to help you learn and which provide valuable practice.

The two Healthy body units include things such as DNA transcription, translation, nervous system, cells, microbiology, metabolism, endocrinology, heart, lungs, liver, health psychology- changing behaviours, and much more! Each unit has a 3-hour exam and 60% is multiple choice (with 20% scaling so 20% of your mark is taken off to allow for random guessing). The rest are short answer questions , and typically you can choose four questions from a choice of six. In the first semester we had quite a few 2 hour practicals- for example doing a microbiology practical followed by write ups including data analysis.

The two medicines to molecules units included topics like organic chemistry, bonding, amino acids, shapes and molecular structure, biochemical reactions, drug design, kinetics, pharmacokinetics, acid-base, absorption, analysis and drug development process. These are also 3 hours long exams consisting of some multiple choice questions (some of the patients were Harry Potter characters!) and some short answer questions. We had 3 hour practicals once a week for most of the second semester practising analysis, which was quite interesting, and we also did a practical data analysis which counted for 10% of our second molecules to medicine unit.

The final unit is the preparing for professional practice unit where we learnt things like roles of pharmacists in different departments, different pharmacist skills, ethics, pharmacy law, and evidence based practice which covers how to write continuous professional development entries reflecting what you have learnt. We also practiced dispensing and have worked on two problem based learning projects- a presentation about what to say to a parent of a child with a cough and a summer safety campaign) in our tutor groups which count towards the module as well as an essay. We also have a pharmaceutical calculations exam which is not part of this unit but it is compulsory to pass it 70% for the year which is a mixture of multiple choice and short answer calculations.


We need to start talking about mental health

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

- in general, not just in Universities.

With many recognised illnesses, there is one group that is still tough for people to talk about; mental illness. Like any illness, it can impede your progress, but quite often it can remain unnoticed and undiagnosed, making it even more difficult. In fact, I’m often surprised about how many people are affected by it.

Well, I believe that the first and most important thing is to be more open about mental health; this will mean that people are more able to recognise that they are ill, to know that they are not alone in feeling this way. Because there is this stigma around mental illnesses, people may be scared to ask for help, and this could lead to devastating results. By being more open, I would like to think that something can be done before it’s too late, but also that people struggling are more willing to seek help. I also think that by being more open, people who are not suffering from mental illnesses would feel more confident in how to help someone else who is – because, to be totally honest, while I would do my best in that circumstance, I’m not sure if that would be helpful or not to the other person.

One thing I’ve learned about research is that it’s competitive, can be isolating and there are constant changes (the up-and-down nature of research), and this can make it really difficult to make friends. This is made worse by the fact that PhD projects start throughout the year. It’s not surprising to find yourself feeling down when your experiments are not working, and you feel totally on your own. It is usual to feel upset that someone had published something similar to what you are working on, if that does happen. Other things happen too, and if you are struggling, then please do not suffer on your own; there are services, from the University wellbeing service, your supervisor and colleagues, the Ombudsman, your GP. Talk to your friends about what you are going through – maybe they’re going through something similar – and about what would help you. Different things work for different people – I found talking to a psychologist helpful after being diagnosed with a physical illness, but you may find that medication is more helpful.

The thing to remember is, that mental illness can happen to anyone, like physical illness. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, and keep looking until you find something that works for you. Don’t beat yourself up about it – being ill has nothing to do with “just having the blues”, etc. Find people who are willing to listen, and be prepared to listen; by being open, I hope that less people are suffering with a mental illness on their own, and that people feel confident in how to help others who are struggling with a mental illness. Let's stop stigmatising mental illness.


How I came to study Pharmacy at Bath


📥  Faculty of Science, First year, Jemima (Pharmacy)

I thought it would be helpful to write about my journey to studying pharmacy here at the University of Bath. I will start by saying that while I have enjoyed my first year of Uni, pharmacy is an incredibly difficult course. When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor and even when choosing my A levels I knew I wanted to do something involving patients, using my science to help people. I did work experience in a hospital with the view to do either studying medicine or pharmacy and I honestly found the doctors job on this specific ward very boring, spending hardly any time with patients hours looking at a patients’ tests.

I also spent time with most other healthcare professionals- physios, occupational therapists, nurses, healthcare assistants and a ward pharmacy assistant. I found their jobs much more interesting and rewarding- I talked to the pharmacy assistant about the role of the pharmacist and really enjoyed what the pharmacy assistant was doing, checking drug charts, talking to patients, arranging discharge medicines, roles the pharmacist often did as well. I also did some work experience with emergency nurse practitioners in a minor injuries unit- I loved their role as well but knew that I didn’t want to be a nurse. I found out that pharmacists are starting to be used in this sort of area in A&E and in GP surgeries, and I also considered other potential areas for pharmacists, and from then on I decided that I wanted to be a pharmacist. I completed an Extended Project Qualification (equal to an AS) on the future of pharmacy- how pharmacists’ roles are changing in traditional types and what new areas of pharmacy are emerging.

I first came to the Uni on the open day and I fell in love with Bath straight away, even after a difficult journey that should have taken about 3 hours but which took over 5 (leave plenty of time if travelling by car to an Open Day as Bath can get quite congested!) I had also visited Bath a couple of years earlier and had always wanted to come back and so it was so great that the Uni offered pharmacy. I would really encourage people to go to open days- it is a wonderful way to get a feel for the university, the facilities and the course that they are offering. I think it is so important that I am helping out at our upcoming open days (more to follow).

Bath is one of the top universities for Pharmacy in the UK, consistently getting 90-100% pass rate in the pre-reg exam (which is set by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and all pharmacists must pass to register). As a comparison, one other uni that I applied for had a pass rate of about 50%. The grade requirements for pharmacy at Bath are quite high- AAB, including chemistry and one other science at A level as the scientific content is of a high level and is hard. I exceeded the offer and have still struggled to understand/remember things at times this year!

For me applying to do Pharmacy went like this: I went to the summer open days at the end of first year of college in around June time (Bath has Open Days in June and September) then applied in October for 5 pharmacy courses of different standards/grade requirements. In early November I had my first interview, at Bath! For healthcare courses, you almost always have to have an interview, partly I think to help reduce the numbers of people slightly as lots apply and it is very competitive, but mainly to check that you have the people skills for treating patients, to check your motivation for wanting to study pharmacy and to ask a little bit of chemistry. I was so pleased my first offer was from Bath (my favourite uni) and then over time I had interviews at the other places and got other offers. Once I had got one from Reading as well, my insurance, I officially put my firm and insurance choices on UCAS. I was worried about putting my firm and insurance as Bath and then Reading as they both had high requirements but my personal advice would be to put your two favourites unless you are really unlikely to get the grades.

In April I applied for accommodation,  and then I found out I had a place at Bath on results day in August. From then on I was in a pharmacy Facebook group chat and then we got allocated our accommodation and there were pages set up on Facebook to find your flatmates so then we had a flat groupchat. Then at the end of September I finally started studying Pharmacy at the University of Bath.

Confirmation of my place at Bath!

Confirmation of my offer from Bath!

A bit of advice if you are just looking to apply to do Pharmacy as a backup for medicine-don't! If you are thinking about it be careful as some universities say they would rather have someone with lower grades/lower predicted grades that wanted to do pharmacy than someone who wanted to do medicine but didn't get in. I didn’t realise that Pharmacy would be so hard or intense- everyone thinks of medicine being really hard but I think (maybe controversially) that pharmacy is just as hard and you have to have much of the same knowledge- complex biology and chemistry, potentially even more chemistry and maths doing calculations as well and knowing more about drugs. The course for pharmacy is 4 years as opposed to 5 for medicine but really pharmacy needs to be or could easily be stretched to 5 years (with some unis doing this).

After completing a pharmacy degree there is a year (pre-registration year) where you work in a pharmacy underneath another pharmacist, with an exam at the end set by the GPhC. One of the slightly annoying things about pharmacy is the fact that you have so much knowledge you must know and by the time you are qualified you have had a lot of training and often continue to train (Independent prescribing, Clinical Pharmacy Practice Certificates/Diplomas/Masters etc) and have to complete 9 continuing professional development entries every year. You don’t get paid anywhere near as much as well qualified doctors (although it is still a professional salary), and may not get as much respect from people- some people think you are just training to be a glorified shop assistant, which is really not true and I am glad to say that I think the public perception of pharmacists is starting to change. If you really want to do pharmacy and become a pharmacist, which I personally wanted to, then Bath is an excellent place to study it!


PGBio Inspirational Speaker 2017

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Every year PGBio, the post-graduate biology society, invite a senior scientist to deliver an inspirational talk. This year, we were very fortunate to have the Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse come to us. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside Leland Hartwell and Tim Hunt for their work on the regulation of the cell cycle, was the former president of the Royal Society and is currently the director of the Francis Crick Institute.

It was amazing to have Sir Paul talk to us, and later on I had the opportunity along with other PhD students, post-doc.s and a Masters student to have an informal group coffee with him. Sometimes, these kinds of situations can get awkward, but that was not the case here, and I really appreciated his honesty and kindness. Here are some of the highlights from the day;

Attack your hypothesis from many angles, and if it’s still intact, then it’s probably true – I have not considered this before, and I guess a part of me is scared of doing this precisely because whatever hypothesis I have may not stand. But I can see that it is important to let that dear go, so that you can be thorough in your research and, ultimately, have confidence in those hypotheses that remain intact.

Reality of research is that we all make mistakes – this is definitely true, but it’s something that is not always evident when you read research papers; well, they are usually the “good bits”, right? It is comforting to know that you are not the only one to make mistakes.

Enjoy what you are doing, and have breaks – this is something I definitely stand by; the ups and downs of research is tough, and if you’re not enjoying it then it is going to be harder. And sometimes, the best thing to do when things are not going well is actually to have a break, whether that’s going home early and not thinking about whatever experiment is not working until you come back the next day, or just taking a few days/weeks off. It really does help to have a fresh mind!

I am so glad that I had this opportunity, especially at this stage in my career, and this will be one of those events that will stay with me. So, thank-you Sir!


Learning and collaborations

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Recently, I got a chance to learn about a technique which I knew about but have never used before. This was definitely a great experience for me, as a big part of doing a PhD is learning new techniques and expanding your knowledge. There are certain techniques and experiments which will be applicable for a lot of fields, while others are more specific to certain fields, and having a chance to use a technique which may not necessarily be a standard in your field is rewarding and also helpful in improving your knowledge (as you can probably imagine). Also, it's like a breath of fresh air when you are stuck repeating the same experiments.

Projects will require a different set of techniques, and each set will be different. And the truth is, there is a difference between knowing the theory behind the techniques and knowing how to use them (however, knowing the theory definitely helps, especially when you’re stuck); even though I knew the theory of Western blotting, it still took me ages to get one to work! Sometimes, when you need to do a particular experiment that you've never done before, this can mean collaborating with other people in your group, or other groups. Given the vast amount of techniques available, you end up knowing quite a lot about a few, selected techniques, so collaborating is a fantastic way of learning that little bit about a different technique - who knows, that little bit of knowledge may in fact give you an edge in future job applications! I guess that is also why a lot of research papers contain a lot of authors.

This PhD has been enlightening in that I have got to see how research actually works in reality; from how to figure out why the experiment is not working, to getting an insight into how long it actually takes behind the scenes – I now know how long it can take to get the data for a paper, then how long it takes after that before the paper is actually published, and I really didn't anticipate how frustrating that all can get at times. All in all, I have really enjoyed getting to use the techniques which I have learned, and I suppose learning something new recently reminded me of the thrill of research and why I wanted to do a PhD in the first place; definitely helpful to be reminded of that when you are lacking motivation... Use opportunities to expand your knowledge when you can, because, like I mentioned above, you never know when that little knowledge may come in handy...



📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

So, I guess most of you will know that you have to write and submit a thesis to get a PhD. It’s basically a book on your research, detailing what experiments you did and why, what you found, etc. Now, as you may have gathered from reading my blogs (thank-you!), I’m coming towards the end of my PhD, meaning I’m now starting to write this book... well, at least trying to anyway! It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind since I started, and now it’s time to start tackling it, it’s really scary! – I’ve never written anything that long, so it just seems daunting right now.

Some people will stop doing lab work and concentrate on writing full time – I’m not currently doing that, as I have not finished my projects yet. Now, I originally thought that writing while still doing lab work would be... well, not easy, but... do-able; it’s actually proving trickier than I anticipated. The difficulty is that lab work obviously takes time out of your day, so even if you start writing and get into a good flow, you may need to disrupt that to get back to lab work, which then makes it hard for you to get back to writing. Or, you may only have a short gap between stages of experiments, which makes it difficult to get started. How do you find the motivation in those scenarios?

Another thing that has an impact on me is the fact that my projects are still not complete, therefore what can I write about? Is there any point in starting something that may change anyway? – knowing what research is like, what you think will happen may not actually happen at all! Also, if you are aiming to get your research published, should you be concentrating on writing your thesis or the paper? – I personally say concentrate on the paper, as that will be an important factor when applying for jobs, and also when you come to do your viva (so I’ve heard). You can then modify the paper for your thesis – win-win really! Or put the papers together as a thesis, which I believe is now possible in my department.

One saving grace has been being around post-doc.s; it’s so helpful to hear about how they approached their thesis. Most have said something along the line of “start with your materials and methods/introduction”, and that’s the approach that I’ve taken. And I have to say that it’s great to know that I won’t have to sit down and write a whole materials and methods section from scratch! Of course, your supervisor/other academics will be able to advice you too; interestingly, I’ve had one piece of advice that it’d be better to concentrate on finishing lab work, and writing full time after; now, I can see advantages to that, as you probably gathered from above. However, due to the fact that my project is not finished, I’m currently concentrating on lab work. Who knows, I may finish lab work at some point in the spring, maybe I won’t...

How you approach writing a big “report” like a thesis varies from person to person; I guess the trick is finding what works for you. My advice for those about to embark on something similar, like your thesis or a final year dissertation, would be to start with the introduction and materials and methods, like I was advised. That has definitely worked for me, and that can be started even before you have a definite idea of what the outcome of your project is. Another thing I find helpful (and what I should start doing more often!) is finding somewhere to go and write; library, café, doesn’t matter. It’s better to be away from the office/home with the intention of writing, and I’ve recently discovered the graduate commons areas in 10W (4th and 5th floors); I went there with my laptop and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, as I find background noise distracting and music helps me concentrate better, and was more productive writing there than in the office. If you are still in the lab like I am, just find a couple of hours where you are not doing anything in the lab, go somewhere else and start writing.

Now, do I have a gap tomorrow...?



📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Publishing scientific papers is key for career progression, and it’s not until you start thinking about what should go into a paper that you realise how much work goes into one – for example, it’s taken me most of my PhD to get the research done to even start writing the paper. Then it was time for the manuscript to go to our collaborators, and I’m now (still) doing more experiments. And really, that’s only half of the story; once it’s ready, then it may or may not be sent out to reviewers, who might say more experiments need to be done!

The main factor in getting your research ready for publishing is getting the experiments done, and, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, they don’t always work the first time you try it. This then takes time to try to trouble shoot, which means that another month, two months, go by. It’s scary really, how time flies sometimes! You may also be asked to do experiment(s) for other people’s research – I’ve had the opportunity to do this, and it’s nice to know that I’ve been part of different research projects. I enjoy learning about what other research goes on, and it has been great that I’ve been able to be part of projects outside my own.

Once the manuscript is ready to be published, it gets sent to journals – now, I don’t really know too much about journals and their impact factors (rankings, basically), I can’t say much about this – where it either gets sent out to reviewers, or rejected. The reviewers then make suggestions for improvement, or rejects it. Now, this could mean more experiments, and that again could take a month or too! So all in all, you can see how quickly time flies in this process. Next time you find yourself reading a research paper, bear in mind that it probably represents years of work, possibly by a big group of people.



📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Life is full of decisions we need to make, and sometimes that’s not easy. Right now, being in the latter stages of my PhD, the big decisions I need to make is “what next?”. “What are my options?”. “What do I want in my career?”

Sometimes, it does feel like I’ve ended up here without really thinking about the next step – I mean, I never really imagined that I’d be doing a PhD at all! For me, it was more a case of “I liked doing my dissertation project, perhaps I would like doing something similar”, and I have no regrets. But, when it comes to thinking about my career, rather than more short-term goals, it frankly scares me… Am I meant to know what I want to be doing in, say, 10 years’ time? I think part of the reason I get scared is that I feel as if my decision needs to be a concrete one, which, thinking about it, doesn’t really have to be… right?

It wasn’t until recently, when I attended a PG Skills course on careers, that I realised I basically had most of what I thought was important in my career already. That seems something totally unexpected if I’m honest! Well, perhaps deep down I knew, but that really was eye opening! Although I’m not yet decided on what my “end goal” is, I have an aim for the near future, and that’s far more than I thought I had.

Knowing now that I want to look for post-doc. jobs, it has made it slightly easier – however, there is still the question of what exactly I want to work on. For now, it probably would be ok to just look for projects that are interesting to me (which hopefully will match my skills!), but then what? Would that project guide me to the next stage? Or what if it only confuses me? – actually, is there any point in worrying about it at this stage? Is there anything wrong with waiting to see what opportunities arise, and taking them when they come along?

I think this is probably a hard choice for everyone, and there probably is no right or wrong answer in terms of how we go about making this choice – everyone will have a different way. The one thing I hope for is that, whatever I do decide, I will be happy with my choice and have no regrets.


Adventures in Germany

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📥  Faculty of Science, Postgraduate

My research involves using an atomic force microscope (AFM) to see into the tiny world of atoms and molecules. I was lucky, then, to find out that there's a week-long summer school focussed on AFM that comes around every three years, and my first year as a PhD student happened to coincide with one of these summer school years. Since Bath Uni would pay for my travel expenses through my postgraduate budget, I'd be silly not to go.


This year, the school was based in Osnabrück, Germany. Visiting Germany brought back memories from when I visited the Netherlands. Specifically, there's the issue of jaywalking. In the UK, when we see no vehicles approaching either way on a road, our tendency is to walk across. In contrast, people in places like the Netherlands and Germany only go when they see the green light. For the first few days in Germany, my rebellious British habit stayed with me. However, seeing the locals wait while I crossed the road made me feel guilty. That guilt eventually broke my habit. I felt awkward at first standing in front of a deserted road waiting for the light, but I was embracing the feeling that this was probably as close to being German as I'd get.


Our meeting point for the summer school was at a botanical garden owned by the University of Osnabrück. It’s a beautiful sight, but temperatures soard to a high of 33 °C during my time there. The heat, combined with 90-minute long lectures (my concentration limit is barely an hour), meant that my mind turned to mush. I was keen at first, sitting in the front row, but was gradually forced to retreat to the back row in case I needed to close my eyes without many noticing. It was a good move.


Overall, I had an enjoyable time. I met experts in the field as well as other PhD students who, like me, are basically the kids of the academic community. This was the first time I saw how much enthusiasm an academic community can have for its subject. Their enthusiasm turned question sessions at the end of lectures into rich discussions and debates. I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't feel like I was melting.

So, where to next? Well, I hear there’s a winter school in France early next year... For now, I’m back to my rebellious British habit of jaywalking.


The social side of a PhD

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Being a PhD student is time consuming, but this does not have to mean that you spend all your time working. In fact, I think it’s very important to socialise with other people, as it can otherwise become very intense! Things like getting a group of people together to go to the Parade can give you the extra motivation to get things done when you’re struggling, and even things like going out of the office for lunch with a few people will give you an opportunity to step away briefly, to come back refreshed. It’s important not to get too caught up in the PhD, I think…

One thing I appreciate about being here is that there are social events for postgrad's, students and staff in our department. From September induction week, Halloween party, Christmas dinner, international food evening and the Cider and Ale festival, to something as small as Friday coffee mornings, it’s always nice to have a chance to socialise with other people in the department. These are organised by PGBio, which is basically a group of us postgrad’s in the department, and something I’ve been involved in since the beginning of my time here. Being in PGBio has given me the opportunity to “work” with people outside my lab, while also meeting others in the department – being away from the main B&B building, I don’t see many of the other fellow PhD students usually!

These events are usually open to staff too, and we do get some postdocs coming along. This is a great opportunity to get some advice! – From advice about an experiment that you’re struggling with, what you should be aiming to achieve during your PhD (such as; applying for travel grants, publishing, experiencing as many techniques as possible) to how they approached writing their thesis, and also finding out how they got to where they are. All this is very useful, especially as I’m coming towards the end of my PhD and am going to have to start thinking about what I want to do next.

So, if you are looking to do a PhD, make sure you take these opportunities to socialise - day to day, it can be a bit of a bubble, so I see these socials as great opportunities to escape the bubble! Not only that, but they can also be ideal places to get some advice from others; people from outside your lab will have different expertise, which may in fact be very useful!