Final-year research project
I can’t believe I’m already in the final year of my Biology degree – time flies when you’re having fun! A big part of the third year is the independent research project, something I’ve been excited for since starting university. It’s a chance to get stuck in with research and develop your experiments, which you can have complete ownership of. It’s also been a great opportunity to consolidate all the skills I gained in the first and second years.
For my project, I’m investigating the effect of schistosome (parasitic worm), and infections on certain immune cells, such as macrophages. More knowledge in this area might allow us to identify potential therapeutic targets for patients with schistosome infections.
Since beginning my project, I’ve been spending one to two days a week in the lab. This has been a highlight, a chance to put down my lecture notes and take part in real, hands-on science. Most recently, I’ve been performing ELISA assays to investigate cytokine production in macrophages. The results of this have been fascinating, but it did involve a lot of pipetting!
Of course, a side effect of lab work is analysing the data that you generate! So, if I’m not in the lab, you can often find me in the library with a cup of hot chocolate, statistically analysing my data and getting to grips with the primary research literature to see where my results fit into the current understanding of parasitic infections.
Choosing Biology modules and teaching styles
In my final year, I’ve narrowed down my modules to reflect my interests in cancer treatments and disease. Some topic areas my modules cover are neuroscience, cancer, immunology, ageing, and regenerative medicine.
As bizarre as it may sound, I picked third-year modules I wanted to do before I finished my first year! I decided to do this because many third-year modules require you to have studied certain things in your second year. This worked out well, and I’d recommend reading the third-year modules before confirming your choices for second year.
For each of this year’s modules, the content comes in two main ways. Firstly, at the start of the week, we receive a series of online materials, such as pre-recorded lectures, primary research articles to critique, and pop-quizzes to test our understanding. Having these resources online means that we can go through them at our pace, independently or in a study group. I like to tackle materials alone, then meet friends to discuss tricky concepts so that we can help each other.
Later in the week, we have face-to-face workshops or Q&A sessions with the lecturer and our course mates. Workshops usually focus on developing skills that we’ll be assessed on. For example, we might read a research article then, in the workshop, work in small groups to critique its findings. Q&A sessions are more informal, and provide an opportunity to ask the lecturer questions, revise the online material, and prepare for the assessment in that module, perhaps by doing some exam-style questions.
Top tips for studying Biology at university
If there’s one piece of advice that I wish I’d followed in my first year, it would be to not leave work to the last minute! Pulling an all-nighter in the library is just as awful as it sounds. It’s much easier to work on assignments as you go, so you avoid a pile of work before a deadline.
As the course progresses, you become a more independent learner, so it’s key that you keep yourself motivated and productive. I’ve found that keeping myself to a routine and creating a to-do list of tasks for each day not only helps me stay on-top of my workload, but also ensures that I take breaks and build in downtime in the evenings and weekends.
My other piece of advice would be to mix up your study locations. Being stuck in your bedroom for days at a time leads to craziness – well, it does for me, anyway! I go to campus a few times a week to give my surroundings a change, and to study with my friends.
I hope reading this has given you an insight into what studying Biology at York is really like! Good luck. 😊