I have always been interested in the overlap between Chemistry and Biology taught in school, and specifically the chemistry which underlies the functioning of our cells. The research that is done to investigate these chemical processes, together with its possible application, inspired me to study Biochemistry.
The Biochemistry course teaches you to approach problems from different angles in a multidisciplinary approach to thinking. This is really refreshing and makes understanding the course contents much more enjoyable.
The tutorials given at the college give a really challenging and useful platform to check our knowledge of the course. I enjoy participating in them to test the extend of my understanding and engage with an leading academic in the field.
I’ve really enjoyed the course so far. It can certainly be demanding at times, but it is immensely satisfying knowing that you are being taught by some of the best lecturers and tutors in the world and that you are learning – to the best of our current understanding – how life on earth really works. I find almost all of my lectures and set work interesting, and even when I don’t, I’m still able to recognise that I’m developing key skills that I will need in order to become a successful scientist one day (although you’re by no means constrained to one career choice upon graduation).
My favourite experience? One week in my second year, my tutorial topic was about the mechanisms of proteins in the electron transport chain. That week, there was a talk from a scientist from Cambridge who came to speak in our department. He had just discovered a new structure for Complex I in the electron transport chain and came to speak to us about it before it was published. What I learned completely re-shaped my essay and I achieved the highest mark that I have ever received for a piece of work. The research was published months later in Nature, the biggest science journal in the world, but I’d been told about it six months before it came out.
The First Year involves five different modules: Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organic Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, Biophysical Chemistry and Maths and Statistics. These modules provide the foundation for the next three years of the course and the only prerequisite A-level course is Chemistry.
The Second and Third Years culminate in sitting Finals exams at the end of the third year. The modules that are studied throughout the two year period are Structure and Function of Macromolecules, Energetics and Metabolic Processes, Molecular Biology and Genetics, and Cell Biology and Integration of Function. These modules are so broad that there is definitely something for everyone in every part of the course!
The Fourth Year is probably what everyone looks forward to the most. It involves doing 16-week full-time research project under the supervision and in the lab of a member of the Department of Biochemistry. If done well, there’s even the possibility of publishing your work at the end of your project in a prestigious journal! The project concludes with the writing of a thesis and a presentation.
What makes Oxford different?
The plethora of opportunities and activities that Oxford promotes is absolutely astounding. From social events like balls and college BOPs to careers events such as dinner and tea with company representatives, there’s just so much to experience at Oxford!
I used the New Scientist magazine a lot, which isn't free to subscribe to, but lots of articles can be accessed free online, and this helped me to discover new research and different areas of my subject. I would suggest the Naked Scientists podcasts (especially the genetics ones) which can be downloaded for free from iTunes. Some books I discovered new ideas in where 'Power, Sex, Suicide' by Nick Lane, 'The Epigenetics Revolution' by Nessa Carey, 'The Double Helix' by James Watson and a Biochemistry textbook by Susan Aldridge. I also went to a couple of lectures which you can often go to for free at your local university.
- Power, Sex and Suicide by Nick Lane.
- Genome by Matt Ridley.
- Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley.
- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.
- The Ancestors’ Tale by Richard Dawkins.
- The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes.
Both of my interviews started with a discussion about my personal statement, such as the books I'd mentioned (I was asked what I thought of them) and my EPQ and also why I wanted to study biochemistry. I would recommend being as enthusiastic as possible here, as it's really your best opportunity to show your passion (but I was told never to say you're passionate about your subject because it's a cliche! :) ). Then in my first interview, the interviewers went onto a set of four or five problems, one after another, going over things like gel electrophoresis, genetic family trees and bond strengths. My advice would be to tell the interviewer if you haven't covered something in class yet and speak all your thoughts out loud. Don't be afraid to give multiple possible answers to a question, but if they then prompt you to choose one, make a decision and don't worry too much if it's wrong. I wrote some working out on the paper that they had provided. In the second one, it was similar but on a big whiteboard and more problem solving, again I wrote some working on the board in order to better communicate my thought process. These questions involved talking about acids and bases and the ionic product of water, amongst other smaller questions. It also seemed that both interviews were split into chemistry questions and biology questions, with a bit on the structure of DNA for the biology part.
Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December.
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.