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The Course

Introduction

This course is the full Part II course, often referred to as Single-Subject Pathology, and consists of lecture courses in two options from the five on offer (note that a combination of (A) and (E) is prohibited) – (A) Cancer and Genetic Diseases, (B) Immunology, (C) Microbiology and Parasitology, (D) Virology and (E) Dynamics of Infectious Diseases - a research project in one option and several days of organised data-handling and discussion sessions. A major element of NST Part II Pathology is the research project in which the student joins in the work and intellectual environment of an active research group for about half of the year. Students nominate one of the two options as the "first choice" option, and the project is carried out in this option. For the medical or veterinary student, the project offers a unique insight into the scientific basis of human and animal medicine; for the natural scientist it offers the opportunity to apply cellular and molecular sciences to health problems. The research project offers valuable experience for those wishing to develop a career in medical research and has proved to be one of the main attractions of the Part II Pathology course.

A summary of the Department's research interests is given in the Department's Biennial Report, which can be consulted in the library. In addition, you can follow this link to the research interests of most of our laboratories: Cellular Molecular Pathology; Immunology; Microbiology and Parasitology; Molecular Histopathology; Virology; and the Cambridge Infectious Diseases Consortium (who offer projects in the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases option). The research project is a very important part of the course. It is a real research project, carried out in an authentic, vocational environment, and the student gets a different kind of insight into the subject and contact with staff than is possible in a formal teaching environment. The amount of time spent on project work is up to the student – some devote much of their time to it, others less.

Eligibility

For the NST Part II Pathology course there is no requirement that students should have previously studied Pathology at IB. Indeed, any Part I subject or subjects which provide an understanding of molecular biology would offer the basis for entry into this course. However, we recommend that students who lack a basic understanding of molecular and cellular biology carry out some remedial reading in the long vacation period.

Research Projects

Objective:

The project is intended to give you personal experience of the discipline of research, as it happens in real life. Your project is not like a practical class. The results of it are unknown, so it makes a real contribution to our fund of knowledge about disease processes.

Research as a career:

One function of Part II projects is to allow you to decide whether you would like to become a career researcher, or include research in your future career. If it turns you off research, that is at least a valuable lesson. If it turns you on, Natural Scientists should consider a Ph.D. Medics and Vets. Can consider a Ph.D. or M.D. later in their career, or Addenbrooke’s offers an M.B./Ph.D. programme. You will receive a Career Guidance seminar early in the Michaelmas Term where these issues can be discussed further.

Choice of project

You will be expected to choose a project from a list provided, after consulting prospective supervisors to narrow down your choice. The project chosen is not as important as you may think. All of them are interesting once you get started, even if the subject of the research is strange to you at first. Some years ago, before there were “options” in Part II, a student requested a project in immunology. This was misheard as “parasitology”, and a project allocated. The disappointed student went on to be a most distinguished parasitologist, a Professor in this Department, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Timing

Some students like to start their project during the Long Vacation Term, others a week or so before Michaelmas Term begins. This has obvious advantages in that some of the groundwork of the project can be carried out before you get involved in the Lecture courses. It is not essential to do this, but you should start your project promptly at the beginning of term. Careful planning is needed to dovetail the project with the lectures and other teaching elements. In order to encourage students to finish bench-work in good time, the project report should be submitted by the end of the Lent Term. This allows the Easter vacation and beginning of the Easter Term to be usefully used for other aspects of course study and revision.

Techniques

You will undoubtedly learn some new laboratory techniques in the course of your project. Make sure you learn carefully the techniques that you will use. Many pieces of equipment are expensive and shared; bad technique can ruin them for others. Be careful with reagents and consumables, take care to store and handle them properly. In particular always take care to return things to their proper place and notify your supervisor or another appropriate person if supplies are running out or equipment is missing or damaged. Above all, be familiar with all the safety precautions of the laboratory where you work.

Research groups

Your project may be under the supervision of only one person, or you may find yourself part of a big research group. Take all the benefit you can from advice from scientists within the group and outside it, when necessary. Sometimes a chat with someone in a different group may solve a problem better than advice from within. As a Part II student you are a full member of the Department, with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

Literature

A vital part of the project, and the course, is intelligent and critical use of the scientific literature. Keep a card index or computer record of the references which you will need when writing up the project.

Seminars

Do attend seminars in Cambridge that are relevant to your project. Note the techniques of giving a seminar, and try if possible to find opportunities to practice your own skills. Remember you will have to give one, on your project, in the Easter Term.

Examination of the project

The project used to be graded alphabetically; these days it counts for 20% of the marks in the exam. Do not be misled into thinking this makes it more important. It is close-marked and at best can make a difference to your class only if you are very close to a class borderline. The course-work is much more important to your class. An important point which cannot be over-stressed is that Part II examiners are very well aware that many factors other than the student’s ability contribute to the final project report. Every allowance is made for these variables.