Learning and Growing

by Jessica Garlick

The build-up to honours was immense. Throughout my undergraduate degree, we would all speak about the plans we had for after our BSc and our ideal career path thereafter. Once third year rolled round and conditional acceptances were being given, there was an even greater pressure to succeed in our undergraduate degree and get our firm acceptances. We were constantly reminded (and reminding each other) that conditional acceptances can be revoked and the pressure built and built. Every postgraduate that crossed our paths was interrogated about their honours year- which course they did, what their project was, was it enjoyable, did they have any advice and what their plans going forward were. Most senior postgraduates would say that honours was their worst year and the most stressful year of their university career thus far. Which only built upon the daunting idea of the honours year. Then it happened, we got our firm acceptance emails which signified that our journey was only just beginning.

Most of us came to med campus on the first day of semester brimming with excitement and some fear- as to be expected with the years building up to finally being a postgraduate. The honours year so far, has been stressful, but enjoyable. There is a lot more freedom than being a undergraduate and I think this is the main reason previous postgraduates emphasised the difficulty of honours. If you are studying the right thing, then it really is enjoyable, but it is also very easy to fall behind if you don’t work consistently and efficiently. Time management is more important now than it ever has been and the covid-19 pandemic has only added to the importance of correct time management owing to more online-based learning.

In the clinical anatomy stream, dissections were not compulsory, but highly recommended. It became apparent that you definitely needed to attend the dissection sessions in order to pass the modules well and fully understand what was being taught. However, we no longer had demonstrators and lecturers holding our hands by telling us exactly what was expected and there was no longer the threat of not meeting DP to make us go to dissections. Luckily, I did not struggle to motivate myself to attend these sessions and thoroughly enjoyed learning while dissecting.  The fact that assessments are only held at the end of the modules (for my modules anyway) also made us believe we had all the time in the world to study…later. Time management is a must! Especially during the techniques module and subsequent academic modules.

Not only have we had to develop our time management skills even further, but our projects also give us a lot of freedom. However, each task (proposal, blog post/infographic, graphing assignment, literature review and data collection) need a lot of attention and cannot be done to a high enough standard last minute. Although rather cliché I am going to have to say; “with great power comes great responsibility”. The power in this sense is the furthering of our academic careers, the power of learning and gaining knowledge and skills that will benefit our future career and self-development. Choosing a project was a daunting task since many of us were unsure on what type of research would suit us and we had so many questions about the fields we had chosen. Luckily, there are helpful resources available to us when it comes to what the honours year is about and how to get to where we want to be.

We’ve had to learn to be flexible and adaptable as many have had to alter or adapt their projects- be it experimental design or overall topic. We’ve learnt that science isn’t about succeeding first time and often requires us to ‘play’ with our methodology and thinking processes. This is just part of being a scientist and not succeeding first time doesn’t mean you’ve failed, but rather that something needs to be adapted. This is part of the fun of science- even if it is stressful and time consuming. It will be worth it in the end and a lot of us are developing new skills while having to adapt our projects.

Lastly, those that are studying clinical anatomy or biological anthropology learnt to dissect cadavers and spent many hours dissecting, learning about and appreciating the human body- on a cellular, tissue, organ and system level.
Our first day with the cadavers was filled with excitement, but also a lot of trepidation. There is nothing that we could do to mentally prepare for the day we started dissecting and there was a lot of nervous energy in the cadaver room that day. However, after the first incisions were made, it became easier and our nervousness melted away into an eagerness to learn more.  Many of us named our cadavers since it felt disrespectful to simply refer to our groups’ cadaver as “the cadaver” or “the body”. Our group named our cadaver Gerry and naming him instantly allowed us to feel as though we were giving him the respect he deserved for donating his body for us to learn about anatomy and for research purposes. The cadavers didn’t only aid our understanding of anatomy, but also helped us to develop more empathy and respect for the living and dead.  I will always be grateful and remember what I learnt by dissecting Gerry as I continue my research in anatomy.

The honours year is full of curveballs owing to having to own up to our responsibilities and having to learn to be more independent in a lab or cadaver room and with our research in general. This is stressful and daunting for most of us, but I have already felt a shift in myself and I’m starting to feel like a scientist. I know we all have our undergraduate degrees telling us that we are now scientists, but there is a difference between being a scientist on paper and feeling or acting like a scientist. Slowly, my peers and I are developing skills that will help us on our journey as we specialise and fully delve into the world of research.

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