2019 - My Attempt at the "Grow Your Grades" Contest - Biomedical Engineering Student

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SebastianSk
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Hello, I am new to this community of the study room but when I read about the "Grow Your Grades" contest I was tempted to try it and so here I am. I am a university student living in Poland, about to start my second year in the direction of Information Systems under the faculty of Biomedical Engineering at Politechnika Śląska (because of this, I am located in the Silesian voivodeship (Śląsk). I am not a seasoned blogger and have not really contributed much to posting and blogging because of lack of time and lack of ideas. But I am hoping to improve my time management, and at the same time to provide some content for my website (it has been bare lately). I am posting here to validate my participation in the contest with this new account, (A lot of construction to do with the website, but I would now like to think of it as a portfolio of mine and so I will try to revamp it over my academic years to reflect this desire)

I am not living in halls or any student accommodation, because of personal preference and also in Poland public transportation is very accessible. My previous education consisted of the following before I began my undergraduate degree in the aforementioned:
  • Foundation in Science (one year at the University of Reading) - 4 As in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Academic Skills.
  • MPharm (one year at the University of Reading) - 4 As in Fundamentals of Physiology, Medicines Discovery Design, Development and Delivery, Extra-Curricular Courses involving Language and Cultural Studies, and a C in Introduction to Professionalism and Practice

As I had mentioned, I am in the second year of my current field of studies and so this would mean that I passed the first and second semester of the course (in Poland each year is divided into two semesters and the grading system is based on a 0 to 5 point scale which I will translate to grades in the English education system at the bottom of the post):

Format: Subject Name - Grade - ECTS Points

First Semester (Average: 4.6)
  • Basics of Manufacturing Techniques - 4.5 - 3
  • Biomedical Data Acquisition - 5.0 - 4
  • Chemistry - 5.0 - 4
  • Computer Programming - 5.0 - 4
  • Materials Science - 4.0 - 4
  • Mathematics - 4.0 - 5
  • Physical Education - 4.0 - 0
  • Physics - 4.5 - 4
  • Polish Language - 5.0 - 2

Second Semester (Average: 4.3)
  • Biochemistry - 5.0 - 2
  • Biophysics - 4.5 - 4
  • Circuit Theory - 4.5 - 3
  • Computer Programming - 4.5 - 4
  • Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology - 4.0 - 2
  • Mathematics - 4.0 - 5
  • Mechanics and Strength of Materials - 4.0 - 4
  • Physical Education - 5.0 - 0
  • Polish Language - 5.0 - 2
  • Statistics in Biomedicine - 3.5 - 4

Polish System of Grading and Translation
  • Very Good - 5.0 - A
  • Good Plus - 4.5 - B
  • Good - 4.0 - C
  • Satisfactory Plus - 3.5 - D
  • Satisfactory - 3.0 - E
  • Fail - 2.0 - F

I intend to post some interesting content, but at the moment I am getting everything prepared. But I will not keep people waiting for long.
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kiera modi
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Hey! Greetings from the UK, and I'm looking forward to see your progress!
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First Week Finished (6 – October – 2019): Modules, Books, Simulation Software and a Tip for Group Projects

The first week of university presented itself lightly, but while expectations were not met it gave me some time to revise circuit theory which would be much needed as background for electronics. My schedule for the third semester will consist of the following subject matters:

Computer Programming Project [2 ECTS]
Numerical Methods (Lectures, Laboratories and Project) [4 ECTS]
Biomedical Signal Processing (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS]
Electronics (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS]
Introduction to Biomaterials (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS]
Medical Imaging Techniques (Lectures, Laboratories and Project) [4 ECTS]
Computer Aided Calculations (Lectures and Laboratories) [2 ECTS]
Polish Language [2 ECTS]

All together eight subjects in total, however one less than in previous semesters due to the dropping of physical education. The problem with previous semesters has always been to have breadth but at the same time depth of knowledge which presents a great challenge. Let us see what we have to work with.

Physical education is, to me, the easiest module because it does not require intensive studying. Choosing a martial arts for physical education if given the choice may increase workload if instructor and your fellow colleagues in this area of fitness are serious (this would translate to the need to practice more regularly). However, it would be a more worthwhile sport than simply going to the gym if done right. Other than the benefit of self-defense, it can also present a way to improve endurance in other exercises depending on the warm-up and intensity of practice executed. However, it is generally impossible to become an excellent martial artist without practice with a partner if your goal is self-defence as in any real-life situation you will not be dealing with air (unless your main goal is only fitness). If those surrounding you are not engaged enough or have preferences to practice with certain people other than you then it is perhaps best to opt out of physical education if possible and find a school to join that has a more appropriate atmosphere. But then why would physical education even be important if it does not contribute to any grades since doing something like fifty pushups does not teach you about solving double integrals? More about this in a later post.

Language is, in my opinion, another very easy subject but only from the perspective of class dynamics (this ease can have problems). While for first-time learners it can be incredibly difficult, having a good grounding in the basics of a language can make learning other parts enjoyable. Emphasising grammar exhorbitantly will lead to the problem of lack of conversational skills and trudgery when applying in other real-life situations. Many people advocate the learning of a language via the memorisation and constant practice of complete sentences and whole phrases. This approach has great merits but I believe that it can only be effective if the learner has some prior background of the language such as having learned the basics first concerning sentence structure, retaining a small but useful vocabulary and knowing some of the grammatical rules. Set phrases are good for beginners but, for more inflected languages such as Polish, should be supplemented with lessons on grammar to enable aspiring bilinguals to more flexibly create sentences and to understand them when their syntax has been manipulated or there are subtle modifications in the general meaning. However, a good rule of thumb would be to practice both recognition and recall of words which can be tested in a variety of ways, for example, from translating sentences in one’s native tongue to the foreign language without the help of a dictionary (all about forcing memory), and speaking of course. Starting out just by the recognition of words and phrases may be a good motivator but if not complemented with its counterpart it will run the risk of turning the student into the equivalent of an asymmetric duplex interface.

Jak się masz? Jak się macie? – Both phrases are used to ask how someone or some people are doing, as in the English “How are you?”. However, one weakness of memorising set phrases is that in the second phrase (Jak się macie?) identification of the second-person plural verb conjugation instead of that of second-person singular may be lost. This expresses the importance of supplementing lessons with grammar. While this is a rather innocuous example and in actual fact the two phrases may be used synonymously (especially for the second sentence by those who had grown up in a communist environment where the second-person plural was considered a formal way of address), in more advanced conversation this could increase misunderstandings in other phrases.

Returning to the first point mentioned in the first sentence of the previous paragraph, problems begin to arise when fellow colleagues are not enthusiastic to learn a language. This can happen because of a variety of reasons of which the major ones could be:

Seeing language lessons as a time to relax from the stresses of core studies. And its synonym, being too overworked to switch mental orientation as it is no surprise that language learning can be more intensive than solving an algebra or some other technical problem.
Signing up for language lessons for a language that you did not want to learn in the first place because of a lack of choice (this is especially true for central European universities where learning a second or third language is mandatory).
Coasting along or not seeing the immediate value in learning a language.

There are solutions to such issues but I will cover them in another post. But because of an atmosphere of disinterest in the class, learning a language can quickly become boring and dull especially when others are not on a sufficient level to practice with you or simply do not care. If this occurs and the teacher has no control over the classroom, and it is impossible to change language learning groups, it would be best to opt out of the classes by asking to take an exam or a test which would exempt one from taking up language for the semester. And then self-study the language if it was truly what you wanted to acquire. In the long-term it would save time, especially for those who need to commute or drive for moderate to long distances to attend language lessons.

In essence, this brings down the core and intensive number of subjects to seven. Be that as it may, this still presents the problem of acquiring depth in each subject. While not every subject will take an equal amount of time to learn one key concept, as it may be easier to learn one key concept in one subject than in another, difficulties are abound when switching mental orientations on a regular basis. Mathematics is essential for learning Circuit Theory and Electronics, not much of a paradigm shift here. But designing a circuit for a particular purpose is more difficult than solving a set of prescribed problems whether from mathematics or electronics. Therefore, the difficulty may not inherently be in switching from topic to topic (especially if they build upon one another or are inter-related in some ways) but may be in switching between levels of activity. For anyone planning to work in corporate after graduating from Information Systems in Medicine, simply having completed a degree is not enough and this is often true for all degrees. A degree is truly important, as it is a sign of perseverance and to a lesser extent mental aptitude, but other skills are required as well. In a computer-oriented field, making yourself more attractive often means having a portfolio of projects undertaken for one. Though, working on projects to improve a portfolio can be tiring as it takes more mental energy to design rather than internalise theory from a book. And then comes the question how are you going to make yourself stand-out? Designing a game is nice but there is a saturation of them. Then something related to the simulation of the mechanism of action of a specific disease or drug or an algorithm that can calculate the potential for X disease occurring given certain parameters, if the firm is more oriented in the sciences. But then that would require a good grounding not only in simulation modelling but also in biology, perhaps medical biochemistry, immunology, etc… Here then, not only does one have to come up with a scheme for the application, but also apply different areas of knowledge, make use of practical programming skills and come up with a way of testing the final product. This is a different paradigm to simply internalising theory. While theory is important, priorities say that it should not be your only goal for finishing university. Concisely, university, especially technically-oriented, should teach students how to design.

Breadth lacking depth is not very useful and comes across as superfluous while depth lacking breadth is too narrow-minded. Since simulation is a complex topic in itself it will be left for another time. Instead, let us focus on applied knowledge. One proposition would be to have a systematic study plan that consists of a few parts of theory and problem-solving mixed with a few parts of reading journals or scientific papers. Due to the length of this topic and the provided example, it has been moved to a separate post. The reason for why I would recommend such an approach would be that not only can scientific journals and papers reinforce concepts learned from core subjects but also foster a mind for applying concepts to real-life applications (of course not all papers are oriented towards the applied sciences, and sometimes non-applied knowledge can also be important). Additionally, if searching for a topic for a bachelor’s project or planning to enter the research stream, having internalised information from such sources can enable one to be better prepared for designing a project or a research proposal as one can draw from a pool of previously internalised ideas and other information rather than only having theoretical knowledge to work with. Obviously, due to quandaries in the academic world with the present-day “publish or perish” attitude and the temptation to go on ego-trips which translates to more incomprehensible material (showing off knowledge rather than communicating it), you can face great setbacks rather than intellectual development when taking this approach. But I will try to tackle these problems next time.

Nevertheless, depth will always be a continuous challenge at university especially when there are assignments and projects competing for your time. Projects can be especially fatal if they are done in groups. Motivation has always been a constant headache, especially when colleagues believe that they will be passed anyway regardless of their level of effort. Motivation has always been a great obstacle to overcome especially when you are serious about the group project but others would rather coast along. From personal experience, the fear of failing a module is not nearly sufficient to persuade effectively. In my opinion there is a lot of leeway given to students in central European universities, and while this reduces the stress on passing on the first attempt it lulls the lazy and uninitiated into sublimity. Motivating other group partners can be done but depending on the social dynamics can be a lengthy process and may bear no fruits in the end especially when group partners feel a sense of entitlement. It has been found in one social study that assigning simple tasks to individuals in a group project that would then be executed upon successfully would provide people with more confidence and enthusiasm to carry on with greater and more difficult responsibilities, notably in the face of failure, than initially delegating large blocks of a project to be accomplished (Prescosolido, 2003). This approach can have merits when the deadline of a group assignment is moderately long or a great time away. But with work that has to be finished on a tight schedule there may be no room to gradually build confidence and so to be an effective unit everyone must sensibly tackle larger portions of the project in a shorter amount of time. I will not bother with further details about group projects, since there are in existence thousands of articles detailing their advantages, disadvantages, models and so on. However, if you are ever in a group project never underestimate the need to come up with a plan literally written on paper that everyone would agree on. That way, everyone’s responsibilities are stated clearly with explicit deadlines and no ambiguity. Therefore, if someone fails to deliver or contribute due to laziness then you have clear grounds for expelling them and they cannot return to exact revenge on you because of feelings of entitlement. Although it takes more effort, having a clear plan of action in the beginning would prevent a lot of pain and hassle in the future particularly in protecting your reputation and the validity of your actions.

Because, as mentioned, the week was light, there was not much of a chance to get a feel for all subjects. So far, only Electronics and Computer Aided Calculations took place. Ideally, I should be doing some self-study for other subjects nevertheless. In the previous week I took some time out to do some revision for circuit theory.

I have plenty of books at the moment but before I can recommend any of them I must have some exposure to them first. But for those who would like to master all the fundamentals of circuit theory I would highly recommend Robbins’ and Miller’s “Circuit Theory and Practice”. With all concepts explained in blocks and with plenty of exercises all the way through this book is very digestible. After completing it I would then recommend heading over to “Principles of Electronics” by Sangeet Choudhary. Another very digestible book explaining everything from the fundamentals of electricity to transistors, operational amplifiers and switching theorems. However, one criticism I have of it is that it only consists of multiple choice questions as exercises.

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As circuit theory simulation software I am using OpenModelica. While intuitive for creating simulations of circuits I would not exactly endorse it because of the difficulty in getting it to run on Linux. I suspect the issue to be broken source-code packages. It yields no results on Synaptic Package Manager and installing it from the compilation of source code spits out errors that won’t go away no matter how many dependencies you try to resolve. I would opt out for PSpice but my installation manager tells me the package available for Linux is broken. In the end I settled for the option of downloading the pre-configured Virtual Disk image to be run under Oracle Virtualbox from their official website. While it runs perfectly on my current desktop environment, it does seem to be the least-preferred method in a way due to the amount of disk space the .vdi file takes (7 GB). But the fact that it is advertised for home and industrial use adds some attraction to the product that might overlook its non-user friendly set-up. Let us see what I can do with it. First up, I will have to make time to read its lengthy manual.

That shall be it for the first post. I will be sure to come up with more continuous updates and with posts that consist of a greater depth and breadth of content.

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References

Pescosolido, A. T. (2003). Group efficacy and group effectiveness the effects of group efficacy over time on group performance and development. Small Group Research, 34(1), 20–42. https://doi.org/10.1177/1046496402239576
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Learning from Scientific Papers - Part 1

As described in a previous post, I was suggesting the idea of learning more especially in applied knowledge by reading up on academic literature which tends to be more inclined to applying than theorising. This of course cannot always be a good thing, as often is the case that any ground-breaking research that can be applied or useful in anyway frequently requires several phases of development. For example, if every great founding chemist only wanted to immediately know the usefulness of a particular study then the field of chemistry as it stands now would be very sparse and backwards. However, it is useful to take into account the famous Delphic maxim that is usually applied to everything: “Everything in moderation”. Being too theoretical is not a good strategy to learning and neither is being too practical. But then by reading scientific journals technically one is not being very practical since all one is doing is reading. But I would like to counter that argument by saying that reading journals or papers can provide you with valuable knowledge that can be applied more readily to practice than if you were to rely on theory alone. This would especially be true if you are engaged in successive scientific projects and you need some ideas to fuel some sort of inspiration and to think of something that would be somewhat worthwhile. Of course, due to the time constraints and the surmounting subject matter at universities it may not always be possible to execute an ambitious but truly worthwhile project. But you still need something to think about, and while you may eventually get there with just theory alone it would take much longer than if you already have some knowledge in your head about how a certain field you were interested in was investigated under the lens of applied science before.

There is a pre-requisite however, and that is before diving into academic literature you need to have some background in the subject matter you are interested in. Trying to read a paper on pharmaceuticals without much knowledge in organic chemistry, physiology or perhaps physicochemical interactions will likely leave you feeling lost at the end of your reading. If you were inclined, you could stop at a concept that you don’t understand and do some reading on it until you understand it and then move on. That approach would work better if you knew some fundamentals in that particular field, but otherwise time will just be wasted because most likely you will have so much to look up that you will diverge exponentially away from your main goal. It also depends on how much time you want to spend on reading a paper. Ideally, such academic materials should reinforce or build upon what you had learned and provide you with some valuable insights. Though be that as it may, some barriers to this include the following:

  • Publish or perish attitude of the academic community as of the present day. Due to this, you may come across papers that may seem nonsensical or without any purpose.
  • Authors going on ego-trips or papers being written in a complicated fashion because of fear of being thought of as fluffy. Often is the case that many researchers may want to show off their knowledge. While all well and good, to the undergraduate student such writings come across as incomprehensible and do not communicate science. Then there is another case where researchers or academics may think that writing in a comprehensible and simple manner belittles their work or the insight that they want to give.


However, some filtering can be applied in the aforementioned cases by reading the Abstract and Introduction of academic material to determine whether:

  • It is written in a manner whereby you think you will understand atleast 80% of the content,
  • It is something that you would like to have a deeper insight into.

If you have difficulty understanding or following the general content then it may be time to give up reading the paper and move on with core university studies or to retry in the near-future. It is good to keep in mind that many scientific papers are written by people who have more years of experience in a particular field and/or had more years of study than someone who is simply in the first or second year of an undergraduate degree. Again, it is not always as clean-cut as this as there are cases where researchers do not have a clear idea of what they are talking about and this can show in their writing, but just speaking generally.

So, you have a particular interest and you would like to deepen your knowledge in certain areas. Let us use an example to guide us to see how this idea of learning from scientific papers can supplement what we had learned from a book or from a course.

Let us say that we have this situation whereby we are interested in neurology. First, we select a field that we would like to expand our insight in. Why not see whether there are any sex-related differences in the nervous system. We come across many articles, but let us see what the differences are in terms of pathologies. Then we choose this article:

Sex and Gender Differences in Central Nervous System-Related Disorders

Abstract

There are important sex differences in the brain that seem to arise from biology as well as psychosocial influences. Sex differences in several aspects of human behavior and cognition have been reported. Gonadal sex steroids or genes found on sex chromosomes influence sex differences in neuroanatomy, neurochemistry and neuronal structure, and connectivity. There has been some resistance to accept that sex differences in the human brain exist and have biological relevance; however, a few years ago, it has been recommended by the USA National Institute of Mental Health to incorporate sex as a variable in experimental and clinical neurological and psychiatric studies. We here review the clinical literature on sex differences in pain and neurological and psychiatric diseases, with the aim to further stimulate interest in sexual dimorphisms in the brain and brain diseases, possibly encouraging more research in the field of the implications of sex differences for treating these conditions

Zagni, E., Simoni, L., & Colombo, D. (2016). Sex and Gender Differences in Central Nervous System-Related Disorders. Neuroscience journal, 2016, 2827090. doi:10.1155/2016/2827090

Wonderful. The abstract seems understandable, and from the introduction we can note some useful information (and many questions).

  • Sex differences in neurological diseases is an under-represented field and warrants further research (potential for your own research or for a project in neurology)
  • Brief examples are given where it seems adult-onset disorders have a higher frequency in females than males. But why, can you formulate a probable explanation using your current knowledge? Being inquisitive is important as well as keeping track of your questions. These can help anchor your mind to the paper and deepen your insight when you try to look for answers.
  • There are sex-related differences in the brain whereby neuroanatomy is determined by gonadal sex-steroids or genes on chromosomes and these in turn influence behaviour. But how do gonadal sex-steroids influence neuroanatomy exactly? This would indicate that there are significant differences in the signalling pathways between neuronal cells among men and women, is this correct? How would these differences be distinguished exactly in terms of their low-level mechanics? From the other part of the statement, it would be implied that the two sex chromosome consist of genes that codify for proteins that are expressed in different ways in the brain depending on whether those proteins were translated from the X chromosome or the Y chromosome. To what extent does gene expression in relation to neuroanatomy differ between the X and Y chromosomes? How then would this apply to aneuplodies?

These questions may not be answered in the same paper, but they would certainly greaten our understanding and breadth of the subject if we seek the answers to them at a later but definite time. Next, we move on to Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Before we continue, it would be a good idea to have in mind what characterises this category. We can move on if we want to and try to infer the differences between pathologies through inference, though to gain more value it would be good to know definitions clearly. It doesn’t have to be a long discourse, it can just be as short as a paragraph as long as you gain something from it. Look for economy of time and knowledge, how to get the most from less. Therefore, from a simple internet search and according to a site called Nature, the following is said.

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders are a group of disorders in which the development of the central nervous system is disturbed. This can include developmental brain dysfunction, which can manifest as neuropsychiatric problems or impaired motor function, learning, language or non-verbal communication.
  • Okay, then what gems can we now glom from this section of the paper?
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) may be considered illustrative in sex-based differences, with a ratio of 4 males to 1 female that jumps to 11 males to 1 female in high-functioning cases. But the studies of the last two decades before 2016 show a trend of decreasing male predominance. Why? What has changed to cause this decreasing trend and why are there differences in the first place?
  • An attempt is made to answer our questions in the next paragraph. The male sex-bias with regard to ASD may be due to an interaction between sex steroids, immune factors, prenatal stressors and susceptibility genes. It was also stated that it is possible that genes on the Y chromosome interact with ASD susceptibility genes to contribute to the autistic phenotype. However, at the same time, most of the genes implicated in this disorder are not located on the sex chromosomes. Can we trace back the aforementioned interactions to see which chromosomes are involved, if not sex-chromosomes? This proposal of biological mechanisms is used to explain the bias in ADHD (Hyperactivity Disorder) as well.
  • For ASD, it may be that diagnosis procedures are not sufficiently rigorous. Thus it may be the case that the frequency of girls affected may be similar to that of the boys since autism is detected via Gestural Indexes. It has been found that despite having autism girls show more vivid gestures than boys when infants which may have skewed studies. But this would then suggest that sexual differences in neuroanatomy begin very early at the infant stage, perhaps even earlier than that. What leads to these differences in Gestural Index? Do males and females differ in neuron receptors, neuron architecture, variances in the sizes and interconnection of brain regions, some of these or all of these?

And we continue in this manner for the rest of the paper. Extracting the important points and being inquisitive, then seeing if our questions are being answered in further sections. Clearly, this process can get tiring but like any mental exercise it requires practice to build endurance. Speed will come later and with time. Therefore, it is a good rule of thumb to practice on simpler papers before moving on to more complicated material. In a way, this approach is very similar to the concept of “active reading” of textbooks, whereby information at regular intervals is summarised.

The above paper presented was a review. Reviews generally provide a great breadth of information with some depth but not too much. The conclusion section nicely summarises the information presented, and could be used as a filtering criterion to determine whether a paper would be worth reading or would be within your area of interest. But compared to simply reading a textbook, by expanding our scope of materials we are able to increase our applied knowledge several-fold if we not only actively read but also seek the answers to the questions we have in a smart way.

We may return to the textbook to see if we can formulate an answer on our own if we are lacking knowledge in one area, or we may search for another article or paper that deals with our question problem. This often leads to a lot of divergence because of the wealth of information available, but with some discipline discerning what is important to you at the moment it is all achievable. Afterall, everything cannot be accomplished within a day or as the old addage “Rome was not built in a day”.

That concludes this side-post. Happy reading and studying.
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Ended First Week of Fourth Semester (29 - February - 2020)
Fourth Semester Began on the 24th of February

I hadn't been posting as I had promised over the third semester, and I guess I had forfeited my chance to win anything in this competition but nevertheless I still think it is good practice to do some blogging from time to time. Therefore, I am trying again and also because I do not like leaving things unfinished. Generally, the third semester was my worst semester in terms of time management and accomplishments. I had passed as the regulations of my university state that one has to obtain atleast 80% in ECTS points to graduate to the next semester. One of the main killers for me was the sudden addition of two business-related subjects that were added close to the end of the semester (just a little more than one month before the examination session would begin) because the dean's office only made a decision as to how we would fill up 4 remaining ECTS points fairly late. Nevertheless, here is what I had received:

Fourth Semester (Average: 4.5)
Computer Programming Project [2 ECTS] - 5.0
Numerical Methods (Lectures, Laboratories and Project) [4 ECTS] - 4.5
Biomedical Signal Processing (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS] - 3.0
Electronics (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS] - 5.0
Software Enginering and the Management of the Software Life-Cycle [2 ECTS] - 5.0
International Business [2 ECTS] - 5.0
Introduction to Biomaterials (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS] - 5.0
Medical Imaging Techniques (Lectures, Laboratories and Project) [4 ECTS] - 4.0
Computer Aided Calculations (Lectures and Laboratories) [2 ECTS] - 5.0
Polish Language [2 ECTS] - 5.0


Erring On The Side of Destruction

One of the major mistakes that I had made this semester was to try to study every subject equally and deeply which in reality is a complete loser's proposition. After some thinking I came to the conclusion that there was a paradigm shift that I had not wholeheartedly accepted until now concerning the difference in the philosophy of studies between English and Polish universities. When I was studying one year of pharmacy at the University of Reading in Malaysia I had only three subjects to focus on that were interconnected in many ways with some mandatory extra-curricular subjects concerning Malay Language and Cultural Studies. To me, the way that British universities had organised their courses was to demand extremely focused studies from their students. Polish universities on the other hand, with courses having about nine subjects per semester, make it temporally impossible to study such a volume of subject matter in the way that one would study on the British side. With about half of those subjects having laboratories that require reports and having small to medium sized projects to be completed, and with all subjects having some forms of assignments that need to be completed over the week with the additional requirement to pass end-of-semester exams/tests, it can easily get physically and mentally exhausting. I would have to say that I have experienced a much broader educational experience as I have been exposed to more multi-disciplined subject matter consisting of informatics mixed with biology and chemistry which would be difficult if not impossible to have at a British university (the costs of British universities are also rather exorbitant but most likely because of the currency exchange). But the main point I would like to make is, according to my opinion, you have more independence at Polish universities to choose your interests but this means very early on you have to choose the subjects that matter most to you and just do only what is sufficient for those that you do not have a strong interest in.

I had tried to study all my subjects for the semester equally and it almost ended in disaster until I took a more conservative approach to my studies. I do not have to be perfect in everything. By having this drive for perfection I think I had actually set myself backwards in some areas of my knowledge. If I had taken a more efficient approach by simply studying from my notes, being more vigilant during the lectures and laboratories and being more realistic with my projects I would have had plenty of time to study more advanced mathematics which I needed for my most hellish subject Biomedical Signal Processing and perhaps for future subjects as well. One of the disadvantages of my course is that mathematics only ran for one year which gives us barely enough knowledge to study certain subject matters efficiently such as the Fourier Series and certain transforms in Electronics and Biomedical Signal Processing, for example. This stems from an issue in the Polish educational system which the government only started to resolve beginning from 2017 concerning the removal of mathematics from schools in previous years. But anyway, the previous point still stands.

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The Seven of Cups (from the Simple Tarot Spread). I thought I would make my blog posts more interesting by introducing tarot cards that correspond to lessons learned from specific situations, since I have some interests in esoteric studies. My aforementioned situation certainly resonated with the qualities inherent in the above card, which talk about illusion, temptation and most important of all, too many choices and options or simply taking on more than one can chew.

The Solution to My Erring

Simply, I will leave out the heavy book reading that I had tried to do for each subject in the previous semester and I will only invest enough time to sufficiently accomplish (obtain atleast a 4 as a grade) what is stated in the outcomes documents for each subject. Additionally, I will keep my projects simpler and only study for each subject what I had written in my notes from lectures and laboratories. This can of course seem ego-destroying since I will not be the most knowledgable in my group and I may simply be like everyone else in terms of what was learned and gained, but I am starting to believe that there are other ways to define oneself at university. Boring, potentially difficult and drudgery-renching subjects will always be there and have to be studied whether one likes it or not, but simply studying what is prescribed will not get everyone far. I have to start thinking about what I would like to do after I finish university, whether I would like a research career or something else. Furthermore, there are skills that I would like to master related to statistics, business and computer modelling that I believe will get me ahead in my research-related endeavours but that are not taught or at-least not taught in-depth at my faculty. What about the extra-curricular activities as well, such as piano and violin? However, that is not to say that one cannot gain interesting insights into a prescribed subject by not studying it to death. Just that prioritisation is highly important.

Language Studies

My Polish had significantly improved over the semester, but that is not to say that there are no improvements to be made. One of the things I could have wished I had done earlier was to have found this concept of a Conversation Exchange. Essentially, one person talks to another person in the language they want to learn in exchange for teaching that person their native language. Admittedly, it requires some pre-existing background in the language to be successful but I find that it is working extremely well for me. At the moment, I have two sessions a week over Skype with a native speaker in exchange for me correcting their English during conversations. We are conversing thematically. Certainly, I wished I had implemented this idea at the beginning of the third semester instead of vegetating with my Polish-language colleagues who do not have much of an interest in learning the language. At the moment, I am seeing if I can strike a deal with one of my Polish-born colleagues in Biomedical Engineering to do filmed explanations of scientific concepts that they find difficult in Polish in exchange for them correcting my Polish. Let us see how that goes.

But one of the things I found important about language learning was that beliefs and illusions have to be constantly broken to make progress. For example, a few days ago I thought that my Polish was exceptionally good and that I was definitely on the road to becoming a fluent speaker soon until I came across an unpleasant situation. I had not experienced this before in the time that I have been living in Poland, but I guess there is a first for everything. On my way returning home from university there was one young man, not very well dressed simply wearing sports shoes, some soil-stained pants, an average-looking-black sweater and a cap, who was loitering around an electrical installation building. I saw him and thought nothing much at first. But after I had walked a hundred meters passed him I noticed that he was walking in my direction. I was still walking as normal having him in the back of my eye. As I kept walking it seemed that he was definitely following me and so I stopped, turned around and confronted him (fortunately I do not keep any valuable belongings in my pockets or hanging loose anywhere as they are all in my bag and I keep myself agile by not carrying too much weight and not having restrictive clothing). I asked him whether he had a problem, why he was following me and whether he would like me to call the Police. At which point, he kept some distance from me but decided to vault the fence of a property essentially trespassing (bizarre behaviour, but I was not sure whether he was drunk or mentally ill). At this point, I started to call the police. The situation got more serious after that as he made a reappearance and was again following me, but while in the end the situation resolved itself I had realised that under the stress of it my Polish essentially broke down and I had made many mistakes and was not clear about the meaning of a lot of words that made it appear as if I had lost a few months of my language practice when I was trying to explain to the Police on the phone and in-person to some people and Police officers what was happening and what just happened. Especially frightening was my failure to explain the spatial aspects of where the initial incident took place.

The above experience had shaken my confidence in Polish, but in the end it was good that I had my illusions broken down. It showed me where I needed to improve, particularly in the efficacy of my language learning practices. For one, I had realised that in the past I was too lax with the differences in meanings between variously prefixed verbs such as wychodzić, wchodzić, uchodzić. I taught that simply reading a few pages of Polish and a few words a day would be enough, but while this can be sound advice it depends on how that reading and memorising is done. There needs to be some intensity in learning. I was taking the approach of trying to read as widely and quickly as possible, but rather I should slow-down, take note of the verbs I do not know by pen and paper, see if I can derive their meanings with my current knowledge, to consistently but not overwhelmingly fill in the gaps of my Polish grammar by reviewing some comprehensive grammar notes and books and then continue in this manner to master verb distinction especially among prefixed verbs. I also need to practice more recall and to also practice explaining things to someone in the target language, whether it be about daily occurrences or more technical subject matter. It is impossible to learn a language to perfection, or anything to perfection, because there are usually so many other things going in life but what is possible is to develop a strong core that will assist with rapid language acquisition. Definitely it can be rather dangerous to have your illusions broken down in such potentially life-threatening situations, though be that as it may the general message is to take the time today to challenge yourself so that you will have an easier ride in the future.

False Economy: If you find yourself understanding, for example, one-third of what you had read been reading from a book but consistently find that for a series of consequent days you are understanding no more than what you had started with then most likely your reading has become too passive and you need to slow down by taking stock of what you don't know more. For example, it might seem like a major achievement to read five pages of a foreign book in 20 minutes but if you find yourself stuck in a rut where you consistently only understand one in every five words or one in every three words then that means that something is missing from your language learning routine. You may not be supplementing your reading with enough introduction of new vocabulary. If your are focused mainly on reading, it would greatly assist you in your language learning to have a systematic plan in mind, such as to note down 10 verbs, nouns, or whatever you have the most problems with per reading session and to study and learn these entities to memory. This may slow your reading speed, even considerably, but you will be learning much more in the end and you will be able to apply the vocabulary you learned from books to real-life situations better rather than having vague associations or only having the "word recognition mindset" which is incredibly woeful for maintaining conversations.

My Overall Thoughts of the Third Semester

All in all, the third semester had ended better than I was expecting but it could have been greater than it was had it not been for me erring on the side of destruction. But I had learned some important lessons in the end that I believe will help me to succeed immensely in the fourth semester. I will see if I can articulate them in further posts.

Fourth Semester Subjects

Algorithms & Data Structures - 2 ECTS
Biomechanical Engineering - 4 ECTS
Biosensors - 2 ECTS
CAD Fundamentals - 5 ECTS
Computer Graphics - 2 ECTS
Polish Language - 2 ECTS
Implants - 2 ECTS
Modelling and Simulation of Muscoskeletal System - 3 ECTS
Medical Database Designing - 4 ECTS
Medical Electronic Equipment - 4 ECTS
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Initial Few Weeks of the Fourth Semester (31 - March - 2020)
Better Organisation of Time

So it has been a month since I had last posted and the concluding point of my studies in the past few weeks is that they have improved significantly compared to how they were in the third semester. One of the reasons for this is that I have been trying to complete any assignments as early as possible, ideally on the day that they were given. Previously I prioritising additional studies in terms of timeline streams than my core subjects, which lead to a lot of problems down the line and needless to say I do not believe that I had gained much out of the third semester. Currently, most of my assignments come from lectures and laboratories in the first half of the week from Monday to Wednesday, and if I complete them speedily then I have the rest of the week free to do some necessary and additional studies to fill in gaps in my knowledge.

Reading is Power

One of the greatest problems that I have been having has concerned my slow reading speed. It has prevented me from expanding my mind in a great deal of fields, as I prefer reading books than watching videos due to the greater insight they provide and also because reading is generally faster than watching (albeit more mentally intensive). To solve this issue I have been attempting to learn speed-reading from the following book which can be found on Archive.org with a collection of other books to help with speed reading as well, however take note that these books can only be digitally borrowed from this site for a maximum of fourteen days:

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So far I have finished going through a quarter of the material presented in there, and I would say that this book has helped me greatly from being a reader of 200 Words per Minute (W.P.M.) to one of 375 W.P.M. while, and this is important, still maintaining high comprehension. 375 W.P.M. is good but I would like to increase this number further, as I believe that 300 W.P.M. is the reading rate of the average reader. Two of the principles which were important to my development in this area were the following:
+ Reading in chunks instead of single words. One of the exercises in this book exemplifies this concept by requiring the reader to split an article into single-line sentences of four to five words. This demonstrates that speed reading not only involves a physical component concerning eye fixations but also a mental component concerning how the brain processes sentences. By grasping the meaning of written material in logical chunks of several words this truly increases one's speed reading capabilities a great deal as well as enjoyment from reading.
+ Having clear definitions of words. Vocabulary is additionally valuable in speed reading as having a vague idea of the meaning of words can significantly hamper reading speed as well as comprehension, because when a new word appears the reader often has to spend time pondering more about the meaning of it than for other words. The solution here is to read more widely and to be more active in looking up unknown words.

More points to come in the future, but for now this is the essence of what I had captured thus far.

Implants Project: Order Does Not Always Help

One of my core subjects for the semester concerns implants, and the assessment for this subject is divided into a final exam and a project. For the project we have to select an implant, for me I chose the bone plate, and to write up the appropriate documentation for the design of the selected implant from required characteristics of the material needed to material selection, technical drawing and so on. I had completed the second stage of materials selection with some corrections required to be committed by my instructor, and now I am on the third stage of the project which is the technical drawing of the implant and improvements to be made in its design.

During the implant stage it was non-trivial to find out which chemical and mechanical criteria would be essential in a bone plate especially concerning their particular values. However, now that I am working on the third stage I am finding that many of my problems could have been solved with the articles that I am reading up on in relation to the design characteristics of bone plates. This has lead me to the conclusion that for such projects it may be worthwhile to do some research for the later stages while working on the earlier stages to, perhaps, have better material to work with as well as to gain a better idea of the implant one is working with. I am of the opinion now that some of my parameters are crass compared to the information that I had obtained from doing research for the third stage. It seems to me that a lot of the answers to my question were found in queries for the impact of design on the bone plate for materials selection, rather than explicitly searching for reviews on the selection of materials for the second stage of this project.

Relaxation to Music

Studying is always mentally intensive if done right, and from time to time I like to listen to music during breaks. In doing so, I had found a rather interesting minority representation of Icelandic music which is the band Hatari. under the genre of technopop, it certainly sounds interesting and different to other bands that I had listened to. The way that Icelandic is sang by this band makes it particularly alien to the ear, especially in Ógleði (Nausea) which is about alcoholism. The last few lines of the song, as presented below, come across as a shock compared to the melodic-like lyrics before.

Þú ert svo gjörsamlega staðinn í stað (You are so completely stuck in place)

Að þú sérð ekki lengur keðjurnar, hlekkina, (That you cannot see the chains, the shackles,)

í hverjum þú danglar (That dangle)

This had reminded me of one Tarot card which is the Eight of Swords. This card represents a woman who is blindfolded and surrounded by eight swords, and generally she has a feeling of entrapment. However, in many depictions of the Eight of Swords the woman is bounded by some strips of cloth however it can be seen that the strips are not tightly bound and her legs are often free. This signifies victimisation and self-imprisonment in a way, as the character in this card has the possibility to remove the blind-fold and free herself from the situation. Whether or not addictions stem significantly from a victimisation mindset I do not know as I have not done sufficient reading on the subject, but can we apply this card to studies as well? Frequently we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the work we have, and may escape the work by engaging in other activities. Procrastination tends to prolong the duration of the assignment and causes a lot of stress, however there is always a choice to not indulge in it.

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Tarot card taken from the website "Tarot of Change".

Improvement in Polish via Conversation Exchange

In terms of my Polish progress, I would say that I am feeling more confident about my Polish now that I am using the conversation exchange method to improve. I would say that this is because a conversation exchange forces you to expand your range of topics which puts pressure on anyone with a limited vocabulary to meet the demand. Learning in group courses at university can be engaging and fun if fellow colleagues are interested in mastering the language. However, people tend to have differing goals and these can interfere in the learning process. One may want to learn the language to fluency while another may only want to learn the language for some basic phrases to impress a prospective boyfriend or girlfriend of the target language. These differences in goals can greatly interfere in the learning process, and so it is better to seek out people individually who are as interested in learning the language as you are.
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