Preparing for Med School interviews

The following are notes written for a session I was asked to run with sixth form students about preparing for Med School interviews. I am quite sure there are lots of sensible suggestions that I have inadvertently omitted – please feel free to use the Comments facility to offer your additional advice.


Your personal statement: You’ve got an interview! Apart from anything else, that means you must have done something right in your personal statement. Even though it may be months since you wrote it, it is important that you re-read it thoroughly about a week before the interview to remind yourself what you said and then reflect on what questions this may lead onto. In particular, think about: Continue reading

Add something “sciencey” to improve your plausability

There are many reasons why I am grateful to have spent some of my summer reading Ben Goldacre’s excellent book Bad Science, including the fact that it brought to my attention a paper The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations. The article is an account of experiments conducted by Deena Weisberg and colleagues at Yale University, and was published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience in 2008.

jcn2Recognising that neuroscience is an area of research that fascinates the public and where discoveries are frequently picked up by the general press, Weisberg et al generated four explanatory statements for each of 18 different psychological phenoma. In each case the four statements represented:

  • a good explanation without specific mention of neuroscience
  • the same good explanation with the addition of plausible, but logically irrelevant, neuroscientific details
  • a bad explanation without specific mention of neuroscience
  • the same bad explanation with the addition of the same plausible (but irrelevant) neuroscience as in the second example

Continue reading

You know when you’ve been viper-ed

viper44A tweet this morning from @jon_scott alerted me to the fact that sometime over the weekend, the University of Leicester has been visited by the PR machine for the Viper service. Paving slabs had been stencilled with the company’s logo and web address. Rather ingeniously, the marketeers have jet-washed the image rather than painting it on, which I presume guards them against accusations of vandalism because all they’ve actually done is remove dirty (thanks to @jobadge for pointing this out, she is obviously more ‘direct action’ savvy than me). The image on the bumpy pavement at the traffic lights makes the wash v paint strategy most clearly.

viper55 viper33

Viper is marketing itself as a way for students to check that their work is not guilty of plagiarism. Several institutions have already wrestled with the question of whether to let students pre-submit their work to Turnitin so that they can see for themselves if it is going to get pinged by that software with the same intentions. However laudible this seems, one of the difficulties is the fact that students will simply learn how to mask their tracks rather than developing bona fide study skills. The subversive nature of the current marketing strategy reinforces the view that this is a way to “beat the system”. I was interested also that one of the recommendations for the software on the Tucows site seems to come from a student who bought a ‘bespoke’ essay for her course and was now asking for a refund as the software showed it was not quite the original work she thought she’d paid for!

Making the best of “Bad Science” (Review)

Harper Perennial edition (2009)

Harper Perennial edition (2009)

If you have not yet read Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science, then I thoroughly recommend that you do. As readers of his regular Guardian column or his website will already know, Goldacre has embarked on a campaign to root out example of pseudoscience and shoddy science whereever they may be found.

All the usual villians are present – homeopaths, nutritionists, slack journalists, pharmaceutical companies and AIDS dissenters. Some are mentioned by name, but given their alleged predilection for litigation, and since I do not have the time, the money or the inclination to do battle with them in the courts, I shall not repeat their identities here!

It would be wrong, however, to give the impression that Goldacre is merely on a crusade against high profile exponents of “bad science”. True, the author does sometimes betray a little too much glee as he places a bomb under the throne of a media “health expert” (in a way that I found disturbingly reminiscent of the Physiology lecturer, when I was a first year undergraduate, recalling his boyhood experiments on frogs). Nevertheless, Goldacre is keen to emphasise that his purpose is to “teach good science by examining the bad” (p165 in my copy), adding that “the aim of this book is that you should be future-proofed against new variants of bullshit” (p87). Continue reading

“Will this be in the test?”

Amongst the major science research journals, Science magazine has consistently been the most prominent in flying the flag for science education. I was very interested, therefore, in an Editorial by Carl Wieman in the September 4th 2009 issue of the magazine. In his piece Galvanising Science Departments, Wieman describes some fairly radical innovations in Science Education currently underway at the University of Colorado and the University of Bristish Columbia. The aim is to adopt evidence-based teaching methodologies with emphasis on the development of scientific thinking and problem-solving skills rather than fact regurgitation.

I have no direct experience of teaching in the USA, either as provider or recipient. I know, for example, that much greater emphasis is placed on the recommended course text in the USA than in the UK, but beyond that I cannot speak with any authority. It does sound like some of the reported innovations are things that have taken place here for some while, such as the addition of specific (skill-centred) learning goals to modules. A cornerstone of the strategy has been appointment of science education specialists, individuals who not only have expertise in their subject discipline, but are also au fait with educational and cognitive psychology studies, a variety of effective teaching strategies and – I note with some mirth – possess diplomatic skills!  The programme is ongoing, the University of Colorado is in the 4th year of an initial six year project and so the full impact of the developments will not be known for some while. Continue reading

CiteULike = SiteILike

delicious1I have been a devotee of social bookmarking tool delicious since 2007 and now have nearly 4000 items tagged. Although the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos (slide 17) in my July 2008 presentation Knowing where it’s at: find it? flag it? share it? (or how delicious saved my life) were staged for effect, the ability to accumulate links to resources online rather than generate piles on (unread) papers in my office has been a genuine revelation.

connoteaAlongside delicious, I also dabbled briefly with Connotea, the online reference management tool from the Nature stable. It has the same potential as delicious for user-generated tags, but at the time I couldn’t really see what additional value it was adding and I let my interest wither, electing instead to use delicious alone for all of my bookmarks, including journal articles.

citeulikeMore recently, I’ve been persuaded by a colleague to take a close look at rival social citation application citeulike. This time around I think I get it. One of the features that really appeals is the potential to import comprehensive bibliographic information armed only with the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). With journals making the DOI of articles increasingly obvious on their websites and in table of contents alerts, this becomes a very straightforward way to collate large quantities of metadata whilst retaining the capability to tag a paper with whatever keywords reflect its relevance to you.

In truth, I have not conducted a rigorous side-by-side comparison of citeulike v connotea (or any of the other similar tools). I am quite sure, for example, that they all have the potential to assimilate bibliographic details armed only with the DOI. For the foreseable future I will continue to tag journal articles using delicious. However, this feature of citeulike, couple with the capabililty to establish shared libraries of articles relevant to members of a particular list, has persuaded me to also give the latter a prolonged trial.