Third Year

Choosing your options…

In third year, called Part II,  you will get the chance to intercalate and study another subject. This is a great opportunity to get to grips with another subject in detail as well as to take part in a research project or dissertation.

The majority of students choose a natural sciences subject including:

  • Physiology, Development and Neuroscience
  • Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour
  • Psychology
  • Biochemistry
  • Zoology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Sciences

However, you can also study non-science subjects at Part II such as History and Philosophy of Science; Politics, Psychology and Sociology; History of Art; Management Studies and languages. Although in some cases, such as languages, you may need to be a certain level to take it.

Once you’ve chosen your Part II subject you then have to decide whether to do a scientific project or a dissertation:

Projects are a great chance to explore scientific research and working in a lab and maybe even get published if you’re lucky! They vary greatly depending on the subject and supervisor so there is normally something to suit everyone.

Dissertation: Instead of a project you can chose to take the BBS option – this involves taking a minor subject and writing a dissertation. Minor subjects run for one term only and allow students to either choose a new module within their major course, or a single module in another course.

Here are what some of our current students say about their Part II:

Luke, studying Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN):

What do you like about PDN?

The department is so friendly! The tea room is the place to be and there’s always talks and events going on (many have free wine, and cake). You have a huge choice of modules to take and the ones I’m doing, which mainly focus on physiology and development, are really interesting. Our lectures are given by people at the cutting edge of their fields and they really know their stuff. There’s a big community feel within the department and there are so many people around to ask for help.

What’s it like doing a project?

I was really sceptical at first because I didn’t enjoy practicals in Ia or Ib. However I’ve loved it so far – you’re really discovering something new and learning new techniques at a high level. My project is studying the impact of placental endocrine dysfunction, for example in preeclampsia, on maternal hepatic physiology and whether it can predispose to maternal metabolic disease. It’s science at its purest and I have a great team of supervisors and colleagues to help keep things fun. The opportunity to publish is very motivating and it’s exciting when you get data showing something completely new. I’ve spent much more time on my project that I probably should, given it’s only worth 37% of our final mark. However I have got a lot out of it and am proud of what I’ve achieved – it’s certainly a welcome break from reading papers!

How is Part II different from Ia and Ib?

The workload is very different. I only have 1 lecture per day and the rest of the time I’m either in the lab or doing reading. The learning is much more self directed which means you can focus on areas that interest you, and ignore those that don’t. Supervisions are arranged by you which means you can choose to have none if you like (which is nice after 1b). It’s a great change of pace and it means I’ve had lots of time outside of work to pursue other interests! But it also means that you have to motivate yourself to do work and essays – I haven’t done many essays yet and without the threat of a looming deadline it’s hard to see any reason to.

Simran, studying Psychology:

What do you like about Psychology?

Psychology is great because you have a number of modules to choose from and can focus on what interests you. I planned my modules so that I had about 8 lectures a week in Michaelmas and will 4 per week in Lent. I like that we are working at the forefront of what is known in psychology.

Are you enjoying your project?

My project is very interesting and not typically lab-based. I’m working on a trans parent family project, where I am investigating the dynamic of these families through interviews.

How did you choose your Part II project?

There was a long list of projects to choose from (100 in total!). I read through and chose this as my first choice, because it was the one that struck me as most interesting, although I have to say it was a hard choice with so many to choose from. Your specific project is chosen during the summer after you have chosen to study psychology.

Andrew, studying PDN BBS (Zoology Minor):

What is Zoology like?

I chose to do Zoology as a minor because it connected science to social and political issues so had more of a real world context compared to others.

Why did you choose to do a dissertation?

I liked the idea of researching a topic of my choosing and doing a piece of writing where I could analyse and critique current evidence and understanding. I also liked the flexibility of the dissertation which allowed me to commit to more scheduled things like lacrosse training.

Are you enjoying third year?

I am enjoying the freedom and the flexibility but it is hard work and requires a lot of self discipline and determination in terms of note taking, paper reading and essay writing.

Simon, studying Pathology:

What sort of things do you study in pathology?

The course follows on from Part 1B pathology (and some MIMS), delving deeper into the (largely) molecular understanding of your chosen options. I chose Cancer and Genetic diseases (CGD) and Virology (VIR); some example topics include cell cycle regulation, cell death (apoptosis, necroptosis etc), gene mapping, assembly/egress of viruses, viral survival in the host and population and more. The Part II pathology talk provides you with lecture lists for each option when you go. My main note here is that it is very molecular!

What was the workload like?

Very high – it lives up to its stereotype! Juggling lab time, lectures, writing essays and more isn’t an easy task, but that being said, you can still choose how much work you want to put in. I would say it is similar to second year…

Would you recommend it?

If you enjoyed Part 1B pathology and aren’t put off by my answer to the workload question then I would definitely recommend it…

Emma, studying Pharmacology BBS (ETECH Minor):

How have you been finding your dissertation?

When beginning research into my dissertation topic, I began to feel overwhelmed about the sheer volume of papers and information available to use. However, after doing some broad reading on the topic I began to feel more and more comfortable with it and started to formulate a plan of how the dissertation was going to look. From then on, I’ve found it really interesting to read research from various sources – laboratory work, government organisations, internet blogs – and have often found myself looking into related topics for my own interest rather than for the dissertation itself. So far however, the research has been my favourite part – writing the 6000 words is not the most exciting but it’s nice to be putting together all my research in one place. I’ve really enjoyed investigating one specific area in so much depth and I’m looking forward to having a complete compilation of the topic.

What does a typical week look like for you?

My timetable is much more sparse than previous years which is common for 3rd years on any NST part II course. I start the day (sadly at 9am) with 2 lectures and this can often be all the contact hours I have. The rest of the day is free to go over the lectures and research points that either I didn’t understand fully or am interested to read more about. Any questions or issues that pops up from this work can be discussed in a supervision with the lecturer – supervisions are optional and I tend to only go if I have a particular question but some people find them useful to consolidate information. Essays are also optional but I have found these the best way to integrate information from the lectures and write about any extra papers I’ve read. Tea talks are held on Friday and are for the whole Pharmacology department. An external speaker or sometimes a researcher in the department gives a talk about their previous and current research. They are usually really interesting and there’s the bonus of free wine and snacks in the tea room afterwards with the whole department. The only other contact hours are 4 discussion group meetings throughout the term where we practice presenting skills and confidence – though it’s not worth putting too much time or effort into. I’ve chosen the ETECH minor option which doesn’t start until Lent term but that will involve an extra 2 lectures a week. Fortunately, in Lent term, Pharmacology lab projects start as well so lecture frequency drops down to only one a day (although still at 9am much to all our disappointment).

Is Pharmacology what you expected?

There is a lot more molecular and cellular pharmacology than I expected which I don’t enjoy as much as systems pharmacology. However, I think that comes across more because Michaelmas term covers 10 out of the 12 molecular lecture sets. As with all NST part II courses there is a lot more independence and I have found motivating myself to write essays challenging. My favourite thing about the Pharmacology course is that everyone is really friendly and they try their best to make you feel part of department. The tea room is a great place to take a break – Lavern (legend) is always around to chat with and make you a cup of tea.

Maria, studying Biochemistry:

Why did you choose biochemistry?

I chose biochemistry ages ago, because to me it seemed like a reasonably broad subject with a potential to twist it towards pharmacology and drug development, or towards genetics, or towards cancer research etc, which is what was interesting to me at the time. Here it is a really well organised department and I really enjoyed biochemistry as one of my 3 subjects last year, so I continued with it.

What sort of things are you studying?

We study chemical biology and methods of biochemical analysis, quite a lot of cell biology, a lot about genome organisation, including histone modifications etc; and in lent term we have a choice in one of the modules – microbiology of infectious disease or bioenergy sources.

Would you recommend it?

I’d definitely recommend the department! Everyone’s really helpful and nice and moodle sources are organised well, compared to for example pharmacology last year – and lectures are recorded so you can rewatch them!