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Introduction

I’m Seren, I study Biochemistry at Queen’s and I’m from Sevenoaks in Kent. I went to a state grammar school in the outskirts of London before coming to Oxford, and I’m currently in my first year here.

I love the breadth of the Biochemistry course at Oxford – in the first year we study lots of different aspects of cell biology on the molecular level, including looking at different proteins, DNA, metabolism, and signalling, as well as some background physics and organic chemistry that helps us to understand techniques like X-ray crystallography, and the mechanisms enzymes use to catalyse a reaction.

Tutorials are usually in pairs or as a group of three, which provides a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of concepts with someone who is an expert in that particular field. We usually have one or two tutorials per week in first year. The tutors may ask you difficult question which you don’t initially know the answer to, but they help you to reach the answer by giving you more information about a concept you are already familiar with, or a different angle from which to look at a problem.

I also love how studying Biochemistry here is an integrated masters course, because it gives you research experience and this is also provided by the practical side of the course. In first year, we have labs every Friday, with some of the experiments looking at mitochondria, amino acid metabolism disorders, antibiotics, and enzyme activity, as well as using programs like PyMol to look a the structures of enzymes.

College experience

Student life at Queen’s is great, and despite the workload, there is very much a work-hard/play-hard attitude, where people get their work done as well as enjoying themselves, in whatever form that may take. Some people who don’t drink alcohol (like myself) can feel nervous about the drinking culture at university, but I haven’t found it to be a big issue – no one pressures you to drink, and there are plenty of activities where alcohol isn’t playing a central role (for example, movie nights in the common room), so there’s nothing to worry about. The LGBTQ+ Soc at Oxford runs all sorts of events, one of the most enjoyable of which was the Women*’s and Non-Binary Pizza and Drinks Night – it was a great opportunity to meet new people from different colleges. There was also CAKE, which is “Oxford’s best women*’s and non-binary club night” held at Plush, which was one of the best night outs I’ve had. The LGBTQ+ Rep at Queen’s also held an event in the College bar before a night out in the last week of term, which was another really fun evening with friends.

Despite not being a very sporty person (having only done dance outside of school), I’ve taken up rowing. Since this is a sport most people do within their own college, it has been a great way to meet people from all years at Queen’s. I’ve also taken up some wellbeing responsibilities: I’m the Freshers’ Welfare Rep, and next term I am doing Peer Support training, which I’m really looking forward to. Everyone here is so welcoming, and there’s a great sense of community, so I hope you apply here and get to experience it for yourself!

Advice for applicants

If you want to apply for Biochemistry, you could read books and articles that talk about biological processes and evolution from a chemistry perspective, or genetics, or recent Nobel prize-winning advances such as Cryo-EM. If you are offered an interview here, the tutors aren’t looking for someone with a mountain of knowledge – they want someone who is passionate and can problem-solve, rather than someone who has memorised facts!


Introduction

After studying Chemistry at Cambridge and Warwick Universities, and working in the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Oxford, I was from 1992 to 2001 a senior (non-clinical) scientist at the MRC Biochemical and Clinical Magnetic Resonance Unit, University of Oxford. My work on the biochemistry of human disease resulted in about 40 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters.

Research

Since 2006, Ruth’s research has been in the Social Sciences. She has worked in the Department of Politics and International Relations and at the Blavatnik School of Government. Her book entitled “A Government that Worked Better and Cost Less? Evaluating Three Decades of Reform and Change in UK Central Government,” co-authored with Christopher Hood, won the 2016 WJM Mackenzie Prize from the Political Studies Association. In 2018-19, Ruth held a Parliamentary Academic Fellowship hosted by the House of Lords Library.

Biography

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Teaching

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Publications

The course

The University syllabus reflects the breadth and multi-disciplinary nature of Biochemistry, which is practised in one form or another in most of the science departments. The Department of Biochemistry is probably the largest in the country and provides most of the lectures and classes for the four-year course, although the opportunity is often taken to use the special expertise of colleagues in other departments when they are available. A particular feature of the Oxford course is the opportunity to specialize progressively, so that during the last year students spend almost half of their time on their own research project in one of the many research laboratories of the University, and also study in depth, by advanced lecture courses and seminars, two selected branches of Biochemistry.

College teaching

The College is responsible for tutorial teaching, and many of these tutorials will be with either the Tutor or the Lecturers in Biochemistry, whose specialties are complementary. Further specialist topics may be dealt with by tutors from other colleges, but there is no rigid plan of tutorial teaching; we try to balance the interests and abilities of individual students with the requirements of the course and its examinations.

Admissions

We appreciate that Biochemistry is not taught at school in a systematic way, and therefore we look for applicants with enthusiasm for the subject rather than deep understanding of much of the field. However, a good grounding in Chemistry is important (to A-level or equivalent), together with an interest in applying aspects of Chemistry to the study of biological systems. The course also has significant maths and biology content, and some physics. The first-year course provides the necessary background in biology, physics and mathematics for those who have not studied these subjects beyond GCSE, however Biology and Mathematics to at least AS-level or equivalent can be helpful.

Courses

  • M.Biochem in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry (a four-year integrated Masters course)