Question 1: What do I learn in the First Year Oxford Biomedical Sciences courses?
The first year of the Oxford Biomedical Sciences course is designed to give a varied breadth of topics to allow students to learn what they find most interesting and have a good overview of the body.
The course is split into these sections:
Body and Cells
- Cell structure
- Cell division
I really enjoyed endocrinology, especially learning about how the thyroid, pancreas and pituitary have systemic effects that influence many organs.
Genes and Molecules
- Gene editing technology
- Transcription and Translation
I found the genetic technology difficult to learn, as we don't often see or use them in our degree until later, so I would avoid these in your Biomedical Sciences exams personally.
Brain and Behaviour
- Basal ganglia
- Receptive fields
The question we all wanted to be asked in the exam was about the Basal Ganglia. It would have been perfect as you draw a diagram and explain it! No such luck though …
Probability and Statistics
- Where you learn statistical methods to test the significance of experimental results, and basic Maths skills taught at AS
There are also Chemistry and Physics lectures, so that students who didn't study these at A-level can gain the foundational knowledge needed for the Preliminary (end of Oxford first year) exams.
Question 2: How busy will I be?
Your first year Oxford Biomedical Sciences course, and especially the first term, will feel very busy. On average you have around 2 practicals a week, lasting a few hours, plus 2-3 lectures a day and a statistics lecture and class.
Each week is different, so there is no set 'essay' day or free day. However, you know your timetable at the start of term, so you can plan ahead. I liked this as I could plan visits to friends and the best days to work, as well as seeing what I had to learn on my birthday!
You will also have tutorials each week, normally 1 or 2. They are often organised well in advance, so you can plan essay deadlines and feel more cool, calm and collected.
At first, I felt I was extra busy because of all of the extracurricular options you can take part in, such as Oxford sports clubs (Netball for me), charity fundraising, college bops (college only club nights), dinners and pizza with friends.
But don't worry if you feel that all your time is used up. It will get more settled, so make the most of Michaelmas term (the first term) to go out and meet people. They will likely be your best friends for years to come!
Question 3: Do you have much lab time?
Yes, as an Oxford Biomedical Sciences student, each week you will have 1 or 2 practical sessions, which can last between 1 hour and 4 hours. You have a lab book with all of the procedures in them, which you follow in groups or pairs. You are sometimes required to do a write-up after the session.
A fun practical involved giving electric shocks to ourselves. A great way to bond with the group!
Question 4: So. What even happens in a Biomedical Sciences tutorial?
Basically, a tutorial is like your interview, but hopefully less nerve-wracking! Also they are affectionately called 'Tutes' for short!
Usually you will have a tutor for each Biomedical Sciences topic, so I had 3 tutors in my first year. Your tutors go over topics from lectures in more detail, set you essays, and are the people you can contact with questions.
They are subject experts who often have research experience, so you are really learning from the best. More importantly, my tutors were super nice and friendly as well as being informative.
Each tutorial lasts around an hour, and you have around 15 a term, so that's between 1 and 2 a week depending on when they get organised.
I was asked to send my essays in 24 hours before the tute time, and then would receive marked feedback afterwards. The feedback can be varying levels of usefulness, with some tutors giving very detailed advice, grades and further reading.
You will know the tute topic beforehand and the essay helps you understand the main points to be discussed
My first tutorial was about the main molecules in the body- proteins, carbs and lipids. This was a good introduction to the year and linked to the A level course too.
The basic idea in many tutes is to start from a basic level of knowledge or small principles to then consider more complex answers. Don't worry, though – the tutor will be there to guide you and add new information in to help.
For example, you may have learnt about cell surface receptors – specifically the G Protein Coupled receptors. Then in the tute you would elaborate on the signalling cascades, such as the production of cAMP, which activates a protein kinase, which in turn activates further cell molecules.
Tutes are a great way to learn in a small group. I really feel that I benefit most if I've done the pre-reading and contribute in the tute. No one will mind if you are wrong!
Question 5: How do I get examined?
Each term you sit Collections, which are basically the Oxford word for mock exams (or formatives at other unis). They are a more condensed version of the final year Biomedical Sciences exams and are to measure your progress and strengths, as well as areas you should revise more.
You get termly reports from the Oxford Biomedical Sciences tutors, which are also to help you know your own progress.
The only actual assessed work is done at the very end of the first year Oxford Biomedical Sciences course in 9th Week Trinity Term (summer term).
This is the Preliminary Examinations, where you sit a paper for each of the 4 Biomedical Sciences modules you take. You have to get 40% in each to pass, and it is almost certain that you will achieve this, so don't worry!
Of course, you should aim higher for your own sense of achievement, but it is very very unlikely you would fail, and you can retake once if needed.
Question 6: What about second year Biomedical Sciences?
Once you have navigated the first year of the Oxford Biomedical Sciences course and earned a long vacation, your reward is to come back to Oxford to complete the second year!
This year you take options which are tailored to your specific interests.
My modules for 2nd year are: Immunology and Cell Pathology, Endocrinology, Physiology, and Second Messengers and Cascades
There are many options to choose from, and your interests in the first year of the Biomedical Sciences course really shapes which direction you want your degree to go to.
The first year of the Oxford Biomedical Sciences course is very busy, very fun and definitely a big jump up from A levels. However, you will figure out how you learn best, make some of the most amazing friends and learn about fascinating topics from subject experts.
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