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CH920: Cellular systems and biomolecules I.

Over the summer students with a place got sent a copy of Alberts 'Molecular biology of the cell' and a recommended chapter reading list.

If like me and you do not even have GCSE Biology, let alone A level or degree level biology, your first thought at seeing the 1400 plus pages of Alberts is one of shock and horror.

"How much biology?!!"

But worry not, you do not need to know the whole book: just read the recommended chapters, pay attention to the figures which show things really well, and the summary sections every few pages.

The course does starts with a nice little exam on the material but you are able to retake it, so not something to worry about too much.

For a non-biologist I found the course fascinating. There is a huge amount of material stuffed into the course which you will find with all the MSc modules, but I found myself really pleased with the amount of progress I had made in 5 weeks.

This module will be the first of many meetings with scientific papers, and there is a group poster presentation on a chosen paper. One of the personal skills to be learnt in the MSc year is the ability to work with people with varied scientific backgrounds: there are times in your research where you will be the one who knows most about your subject and you will need to get the key points across to others with no background knowledge in your area.

As a physicist my biology background was non-existent, so the first challenge in the group work was for the biologists to explain to me and the other the non-biologists exactly what the paper was about. But it was not long before the whole group was able to explain the in-depth details that ended up in our poster to the examiners.

This module may also be your first experience with lab work since school. Unlike school, lab results can be a bit less predictable: two degrees difference on your machine set-up DOES mean the difference between DNA analysis results and amino acid soup. However, like real research, the skill here lies in interpreting your results and understanding what went wrong and why.

In reflection what would I do differently if I re-took the module: not much, although I am glad I did read the Alberts chapters suggested in the summer.

What did I enjoy: the feeling at the end of the module that I really had progressed.

What didn't I enjoy: the realisation that for years I thought I was good at lab work but I was very, very wrong and that I can't pipette for toffee.