ASK AN INTERCALATOR

Thinking about intercalating this year, but would like to get an insight into how students found the experience of intercalating?
Read below to learn what it’s like to intercalate!

For each subject we asked students “Why they chose it? What was good about it? What was bad about it? Tips/Things they would do differently?”

ANATOMICAL SCIENCES

Anatomical Sciences by Simon Merrick

Why I chose it ?

Many (most?) of the reasons I chose to intercalate were from that list of ‘bad reasons to intercalate’ that they was warn you of. Things such as the longer holidays and a less strenuous timetable for a year. I would say that these aren’t bad reasons per se but make sure you have some of the ‘good’ reasons as well, the year will be much more fun and successful if you do. For my part, these were: Getting some early experience of doing research (it’s something you have to do at some point, so you might as well start early). Having more free time to engage in other university activities outside of medicine. Pursue an area of interest that beyond that of the medical curriculum. CV points. I chose Anatomical Science in particular because it was an area of medicine which I found particularly interesting. It also has clear relevance to clinical medicine and I imagine it looks more impressive than some of the others if you are considering surgery (although that is speculative). The chance to do an experimental project in Anatomy was also appealing. Mine involved the dissection and subsequent testing of cadaveric vertebrae, which I felt would be more interesting than a bog standard library project.

What was good about it?

The skills you acquire from intercalating are invaluable as soon as you start year 3. In anatomy we had to do a fair few presentations throughout the year, something which is comparatively sparse in the preclinical years but become far more prevalent once you move out to the academies. The extra practice really helps, especially if (like me) you don’t particularly enjoy presentations. Similarly, the dissertation makes all subsequent SSCs look like a doddle. Whether you do an experimental project or a literature review, the 10,000-15,000 word essay you produce will make the 1,000-4,000 word SSCs feel like nothing. The practice will also make you a pro at literature searches, referencing etc all the things that you need to be good at for SSCs. The dissertation was probably the single most useful aspect of the year. It was a chance to pursue a subject in a huge amount of detail under the watchful eye of a supervisor. In the end I decided research probably wasn’t for me, but learning this early on was useful! I might otherwise have jumped into doing a masters later on without knowing. That the courses are so small (relative to the 200+ medics in each year) means you get to know all the lecturers really well. One will likely be your dissertation supervisor, with whom you will have frequent meetings and who will provides a remarkably useful point of contact for queries etc. CV points. When I last looked FPAS offered 7 points for ‘Educational Achievements’ when applying for foundation jobs. Getting a 1st in an intercalated degree gets you 4 of these straight away (2.1 = 3, 2.2 = 2, 3rd =1) and if you go on to get a publication or presentation out of your dissertation (which is very doable) you get another one.

What was bad about it?

Obviously, I can’t speak for other courses like physiology or pharmacology but in Anatomical Science the additional knowledge was of surprisingly limited help in 3rd year. This was by virtue of the fact that we had done only a few areas of clinical anatomy in extreme detail rather than covered the broad spectrum required in clinical medicine. This is not to say it was of no use however. One of the modules I did was on the spine, so I was already very familiar with a lot of what came up in spinal orthopaedics for example. It’s worth noting however that the Anatomy course isn’t geared towards clinical anatomy but the underlying science (as the name suggests) and it is not the same as the anatomy you learn in the dissection rooms (unless you chose an experimental research project for your dissertation there was no dissection). Rather than naming the structures and their paths through the body, the course focused more on the science of tissues such as bone and muscle. Many people didn’t enjoy the return to essay style exams. As far as I remember, only the statistics module had any multiple choice. Personally, I didn’t mind these too much (you’re given a choice of which essay questions to answer, and it’s relatively easy to predict what most of the options will be) but it’s something to bear in mind.

Tips/Things I would do differently

With the less demanding timetable and a much longer summer holiday it is easy to get complacent and hence a nasty shock when starting 3rd year. Be ready to increase the work input again once you return to medicine. Make the most of the extra free time! There’s no harm in simply enjoying the extra freedom as far as I can tell, but relative to 3rd year its a lot of free time you have and if you’re productive enough you can get a lot done! All in all, its a pretty awesome year! I would certainly choose it again.

Bioethics by Jeremy Cave

Why I chose Bioethics?

I chose Bioethics because (other than medical humanities – and poetry doesn’t do it for me) it seemed to be the only subject available that demanded some lateral and creative thinking. You are required to challenge and justify the reasons for your own actions and opinions and also the actions of other doctors, asking whether they are good reasons or bad reasons, giving explanations as to why or why not. It also seemed to provide you with a really good grasp of the legal framework for Medicine, how the law works and why we have to do some things rather than others. If, like me, you get frustrated when you look at an immensely difficult issue like abortion and don’t have an answer or opinion to it, but want to, and you want to have a better grasp of the issue, then Bioethics is for you. Likewise, if you think you’ve already got an answer to the issue, then Bioethics is the course to really test that view and come to understand it in greater depth.

What was good about it?

You are given a very broad scope to pursue the subjects you want to for your essays. So for one essay I wrote about the compulsory use of condoms in pornography and in the dissertation I wrote about the use of mandatory chemical castration of sex offenders. This means you won’t, or should not be, bored during your course. There shouldn’t be any reading or writing you do that you find tedious because it all goes towards answering an issue you find interesting. Moreover, for those who, like me, see intercalation as a release from all things medical this scope to write essays on subjects other than hospitals/patients/doctors is great. The law is also really enlightening. You come away with a very complete knowledge of the important legal requirements of doctors, why they are as they are, and more broadly how the law works. The course as a whole will also help to greatly improve your writing, or if you have done essay based subjects at A-level, it will re-connect you with the joy of writing freely rather than doing bloody tick box MCQs. Having said that, You shouldn’t worry, or be put off, if you think you’re no good at writing essays or have never done them before. You are given good advice and support when writing your first essay or two and it naturally develops over the year without you realising.

What was bad?

The law department love to set you quite a bit of work during the week for tutorials. This is perfectly do-able but its a pain nonetheless. The CEM set you readings and some of them are naff, or too complicated, but you should harass your intercalator parents over those ones. Other than that though there is very little about the course itself that is bad. You will really enjoy the year.

What you learnt/do differently/tips

I think one of the big things you’ll learn is how you think and what matters to you. If you really engage with the course and think and discuss the issues that matter to you, you should hopefully come away with your own philosophy and ideas (about life, universe, everything). For example, I found myself, by mid-march, getting hot under the collar over the day to day restrictions of people’s freedoms and liberties (think seat belts, hard hats etc.). The beauty of the subject though is that unlike some crass journalist bleating away in the Mail you’ll have a body of text, other philosopher’s thoughts, and your own, to support and explain these views of yours. If I could do something differently it would be manage my time better and read a lot more. The large amount of free time you’re given is a blessing and a curse. It means you can do loads of the things you enjoy (and if you’re disciplined you will do) but if you’re slightly lazy like me you’ll end up playing FIFA all day. So although you are given an ample amount of time to do all the essays required of you I still found myself up against it. Fortunately, with intercalator parents next year you won’t be making the same mistake!

CELLULAR & MOLECULAR MEDICINE

Cellular & Molecular Medicine by Maria Williams

Why you did it?

  • Considering research as part of career
  • Interest in the subject and wanted to further knowledge
  • Gain a BSc

What was good about it?

  • The experience in the lab
  • Meeting people from a different course

What was bad about it?

  • Very long hours spent in labs and very large
  • Volume of work required for dissertation, but only worth 25%
  • Data handling exam

Tips

  • Don’t neglect lectures as they are worth more than anything else
  • If things go wrong in labs keep going!
  • Sit in on more than 4 units as you can choose which ones you like the most (if you choose 4 there is bound to be one you don’t like and you’ll be stuck with it for the exam!)

Global Health by Tim Robinson

WHY?

  • Another year of university before progressing to clinical stages of medicine.
  • Interest in travelling abroad to low-income settings, highly useful for working for organisations such as Medicines Sans Frontieres.

GOOD POINTS?

  • Minimal contact time and work needed to be done
  • Easy to understand
  • Interesting
  • Useful
  • Only one exam which requires little revision

BAD POINTS:

  • Poor administration
  • Significant delays in having essays returned to you
  • Varied quality of teaching
  • Minimal feedback

WHAT YOU LEARNT/DO DIFFERENTLY/TIPS:

  • Really improved my ability to critically analyse papers/journals etc.
  • Lots of group presentations to be done, really helps improve your public speaking.
  • Some really interesting and globally important topics involved.
  • This degree does not cover any scientific sides of diseases/treatments etc. It is all about economics/politics/approaches of health care abroad.
  • The essays take longer than you think.
  • The dissertation takes a significant amount of time, but if you choose a topic of interest then it can be very rewarding.

Medical Humanities by Elizabeth Hancock

Why I chose it

In the first few years of medicine I found the core sciences very challenging and difficult. Having always enjoyed humanities, this intercalation not only served as a complete break from medicine and science, but also gave me a chance to enjoy the subjects I had loved at school within the challenge of a degree course.

What was good

As I had hoped it would, Medical Humanities completely reignited my passion for literature and history. The books I had had to relegate to my ‘need to read list’ in favour of staring at Grey’s Anatomy, could now be enjoyed and analysed for the benefit of the course. Having seminars with english and philosophy students means you have to raise your game quickly, but it also means that you become immersed in the course as an arts student. This was a great opportunity to explore humanities with reference to medicine and develop a non-clinical appreciation of illness. In addition, being able to write a dissertation of your choosing enables you to explore any topic of philosophy, history or english (with a medical slant) that has ever caught your interest.

What was bad

Medical Humanities is a course which studies medicine in literature and the philosophy of medicine and science. Unfortunately, while you can chose a history dissertation, this only includes a limited amount of the history of medicine.

What you learnt/ do differently/ tips

Studying Medical Humanities is a very steep learning curve! If you’re like me, there will be times when there is a rising sense of panic at the prospect of writing an 8000 word essay and studying philosophy, a subject which I had never done before. But, during the year, even if you can’t tell at the time, the amount you will learn in terms of an ability to critique, form an argument and coherently discuss that argument, is huge. My advice to new students would be to welcome any criticism of your work as it’ll only help you improve and to enjoy the course. Don’t underestimate how hard you will have to work, but love the opportunity to read and discuss classic works of literature.

Neuroscience by Omololu Akinsola

Why I chose Neuroscience?

  • Get a second degree in a year? Why not
  • Gain and Practise Literature skills
  • Interest in the subject (and be a student for one more year)

What I enjoyed about the degree

  • Less lectures, more seminars
  • Experiments
  • Covering interesting topics

What I didn’t enjoy about the degree?

  • Essays
  • Reading (and loads of it)
  • Juggling time

Words of wisdom

  • If you do choose Neuroscience, get a Dictaphone
  • Manage your time
  • Decide carefully

Pharmacology by Chloe Caws

Why I chose it?

  • Wanted to intercalate in a science
  • Enjoyed the pharmacology teaching in years 1&2
  • Impressed by the pharmacology intercalation talk; the 3 main units looked
  • Interesting/ clinically related
  • Felt pharmacology would be clinically relevant in the future

What was good about it?

  • Very well organised course; I knew exactly when all my deadlines would be and when I would be doing what from the beginning of the year
  • Small number of students on the course; great to know the lecturers personally and feel part of a department
  • Lecturers teach their own research areas so they’re all enthusiastic and the material is as fresh as possible
  • Opportunity to get lab experience
  • Opportunity to learn how to read and write scientific papers

What was bad about it?

  • Lots of reading papers
  • Potential for disappointing results in lab projects

What you learnt/do differently/tips

  • Make the most of the extra non-contact hours at the beginning to keep on top of note-making
  • Be aware of the statistics component of the course
  • Pharmacology is nothing like year 1&2 exam questions, you do not have to learn a list of drug names don’t worry!
  • Assessment is in essay form but you get lots of practise and it is a good opportunity to go into depth about what you know
  • Overall I loved intercalating, the pharmacology course was interesting as well as challenging. The year massively helped build my confidence in key skills such as essay writing, reading scientific papers and carrying out lab research. Apart from anything else intercalating provided a breather after two intense years in which to focus on other things e.g. netball and experiencing life as a more normal student in Bristol!

Physiology by Peter Lillie

Why you chose it?

I was interested in physiology and the units that physiology offered sounded clinically relevant. I also wanted the opportunity to do a teaching project (UAS) as my dissertation project as I’m interested in teaching clinical medicine later in my career.

What was good about it?

I really enjoyed the UAS dissertation teaching project. It was a chance to get out of the university and be creative in producing teaching materials. It was also demanding however and required quite a bit of organising and communicating to run smoothly.
Also, although the ‘concepts and skills’ stats unit was a bit dull I anticipate the skills taught will be useful later in the course/my career.

What was bad about it?

Because teaching finishes in February for you to write up your dissertation and start revising, the spring term can be very isolating and involves a lot of self directed learning/motivation!
I’ve definitely found this year more challenging than the first two years of medicine. It requires a greater depth of learning, a critical approach, a lot of self directed learning/work and getting used to a completely different style of assessment and examination.

What you learnt/do differently/tips?

  • Getting together with other physiology students/intercalators to go over lectures and/or revise is a really good idea. It stops you getting bogged down in the massive amount of potential additional reading and you could even share out reading papers.
  • Working in a group to prepare for the data analysis assessment was also invaluable.
  • Try not to get to stressed by trying to read and remember 100s of papers- make sure you understand the lecture material and key reviews before looking at any original papers!
  • Get help if you’re feeling lost/amotivated/confused- there will always be a member of staff willing to offer guidance and/or you can speak to your intercalator parents.

Want to get a more in-depth answer?

If you would like to get a more in-depth idea and discuss your thoughts on intercalation, please email our PreClinical Vice President who can help to shed some light on the process or point you to an intercalator.