Oxford Demystified - Biomedical SciencesWatch
I do hope these prove useful as an insight into life as a BMS student. If you have any questions, do get in contact here on this thread, or on our socials links:
Why did you want to study your subject?
From my GCSES, I knew that biology was definitely the route I wanted to go down. My A levels made me realise that it was definitely the human aspect that appealed to me, much more than the plants and ecosystems, but I wasn’t sure about dedicating so many years of my life training to be a doctor, only to realise that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. This is when I discovered the Biomedical Sciences course and it was literally perfect! It covers all areas of human biology that interests me most, such as genetics, immunology and neuroscience.
The course is so broad, that anyone with an interest in human biology can specialise in exactly what fascinates them. It has a far more theoretical basis than medicine, so studying it really helps you to understand the inner workings of the human body and opens up a huge variety of future career options. From graduating, you can go into research in a huge number of fields or enter medicine at the post-graduate level as by the end of your degree, you’ll be so much more informed on exactly you want to do! Even if you choose to leave the field, Biomedical Sciences is an extremely valued degree and is highly desired by employers as it is considered a challenging subject, proving the expertise of those who graduate from it.
It goes without saying that the Oxford is invaluable to have on your CV, but a Biomedical Sciences degree at Oxford is so much more than that. Firstly, the course is one of the best nationally, covering a huge range of topics and allowing each student to tailor their studies to their interests. The first year is very broad, with 6 key themes including the body, neuroscience, genetics, cells, molecules and psychology, as well as covering core chemistry, physics and statistics. This gives you a really good scientific basis from which you can further specialise in your second and third years.
The tutorial system is what makes teaching at Oxford so unique. You have 2-3 tutorials per week which you prepare for by reading round a specific topic and writing an essay. The tutors will then ask thought-provoking and challenging questions about the topic and discuss the answers with you at length so that your understanding of the subject is greatly strengthened. Both lecturers and tutors are very often at the forefront of their fields and it is really inspiring to learn from them. Lastly, it is a common misconception that being at Oxford is all work and no fun. This is not the case at all, there is an extremely good social life! In the city itself there are several clubs ,and countless pubs and bars (many of which offer a good student discount) and you can easily find people that are down to go out any night of the week. Additionally, the colleges themselves are also fantastic social hubs, with their own bars and various events throughout the term. There are a huge number of societies which are both fun to attend and often host excellent socials.
Did any of your teachers inspire you? Or any other expert (TV presenter etc)
I was fortunate enough to have a really encouraging Biology teacher in sixth form, and he was definitely the person who most inspired me to choose this degree.
However, I also loved watching the Royal Society Christmas lectures and seeing where the subject could take you once you reached the top level.
Which resources did you use (please name as many as possible) Which books/journals did you read? Which did you like best, and why? What did they teach you?
My main source of external knowledge came from non-fiction books. There are plenty of resources out there which are really accessible for sixth form students, and make you feel like you’ve truly expanded your knowledge once you’ve finished reading them.
Some examples I would suggest include: the epigenetic revolution by Nessa Carey, Herding Hemingway’s Cats by Kat Arney, Gut by Giulia Enders, and Genome by matt Ridley.
All four of these books give really good introductions to topics that are covered in more depth once you start the BMS course in Oxford, so reading them will make lectures seem more approachable at the beginning of term.
As well as non-fiction books, I’d highly recommend subscribing to the biological sciences review magazine, as it offers A-level tailored content, including articles for wider reading around each subject, and exam technique advice.
Did you attend any lectures, or take part in any competitions? If so, would you recommend them, and why?
Cambridge University run a lecture day called “genetics and biochemistry masterclass” which is free to attend, but requires online registration. I found this really helpful in choosing what subject to apply for, as it gave a taste to what oxbridge lectures are like, as well as showing me whether biomed would involve content that I would enjoy studying in detail.
I would also highly recommend doing the RSB Biology Olympiad, as the questions stretch you beyond the scope of A-level, and getting a gold award is impressive for your personal statement.
Did you have any work experience? If so, how did you find it?
I did some experience working in the OCDEM (Oxford Centre of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism), as this was an area in which the research really fascinated me. I shadowed research scientists for a week, and they were kind and helpful enough to explain simply what they were working on, and what they were doing at each stage of the experiment.
I would highly recommend doing something similar. I remember writing around to all the labs near me, and seeing whether anyone would take me on. It provided valuable insight into whether that would be a career path I’d be interested in, as well as giving me an opportunity to learn about pancreatic anatomy that I wasn’t previously aware of.
Did you have a specialist subject/EPQ? What was it? How did you go about your research?
Unfortunately I didn’t do an EPQ, and none of the members of the OUSBMS (Oxford University Society of Biomedical Sciences - check out our socials, Facebook page and TSR account!) did either, meaning this question is difficult to answer.
I would say however that If you are considering doing an EPQ, go for it! The second year of the Biomed course involves a research project, and doing an EPQ will definitely equip you with useful skills for this that many others wouldn’t necessarily have.
What did you mention in your personal statement and why?
Personal statements are called “personal” for a reason. They should highlight what you’ve done in your academic career that has paved the way towards choosing BMS as a subject. The interviewers aren’t looking for anything specific, just as long as it doesn’t feel superficial or forced, and truly shows that you have gone out of your way to work out what you want to do.
In mine for example I talked about how my experience with an autoimmune disease had initiated an interest in working out what was going on, and how I had supplemented my own research with work in a laboratory, and by reading various books in immunology and metabolism.
Put yourself in the eyes of the interviewers reading it through. Make sure there’s something that stands out that they can pick up on and ask questions about in the interview. It’s likely that your personal statement will be dissected during interviews (mine definitely was), so ensure you have springboards for the interviewers to bounce off, and that you have fully pre-prepared answers for talking more in depth about these areas.
Which techniques did you use for the entrance test?
BMAT is one of those tests where practice really does make perfect. There are plenty of past papers out there to do, and even once you run out of the BMAT ones, the TSA involves very similar skills to section 1, and you could even use some UKCAT papers (from the relevant sections). Make sure that when doing these papers, you keep to a strict time limit, as this is one of the most difficult things about the BMAT!
Other than that, keep on top of the current news surrounding the subject, as this may prove useful for the essay section, and make sure you go over your mistakes and focus on areas you constantly perform worse in.
How did you choose your college? Did you go to an open day and if so, did it help you to decide?
I would highly recommend going to an open day. This is the best way to see lots of colleges in a relatively short time-period.
All colleges at Oxford are pretty similar, with the same fundamentals and general structure. This means that it isn’t really important where you end up, so your choice should be made based on gut feeling of the atmosphere you get, and visiting the colleges in person is the only way to do this.
Open-days can be quite daunting due to the vast majority of colleges you may want to visit. To make it less intimidating, make a short-list before you arrive, using criteria such as: location, size, subjects offered etc.
A final bit of advice would be try to attend the “meet the tutor” events that some colleges hold. Tutors are going to be your main contact-point for academic needs, so its really important you have someone in college that you have a good relationship with, and can approach with questions that may arise.
How did you find the interview process? (NO INTERVIEW QUESTIONS PLEASE - this is against TSR guidelines)
Before the interview, I was really nervous as I expect most people are. When you interview, you live in one of the colleges (often the one you applied to) for a number of days until your interviews are complete. It was a good way to get some idea of what it is like to live in college and meet people who are also applying there. I had all four of my interviews in one day and it was quite stressful as it is one interview after another pretty much. Biomedics tend to interview at two colleges, doing two interviews at each. One interview is a more neuroscience focused one, based on conceptual questions and questions on information they may give you in the interview. The other is more applicable to cells and more general human biology. The interviews are designed to test how well you work in a tutorial-like environment, it doesn’t matter at all if you get things wrong, the tutors are more looking to see how you think about challenging and unexpected questions and the way in which you use the information or knowledge you do have to give a response.
Any interview tips?
The best thing to do is to take your time once you hear the question and think about how this could possibly relate to stuff you may already understand from your previous studies. Think aloud and say anything you’re thinking even if you aren’t sure, they prefer to see you puzzling over something instead of just saying your answer right off. I remember coming out of the interviews absolutely buzzing as it was the first time I had been able to have really in-depth conversations with people who truly are experts in their fields and it gave me an idea of how truly amazing it would be to study at Oxford.
How did you feel after the interviews?
Although I mentioned I felt buzzing, I also really felt like I hadn’t got in for sure. Interviews are so daunting and such as novel experience that you feel drained and defeated afterwards, once reflecting on what you think you should have said .Do NOT worry if you feel this way, as it is most definitely the norm! Often the people who felt like the interviews went the worst are the ones who get in, as the interviewers went into more depth with the questions.
Where were you when you got your offer? How did you react?
I remember I had just come out of one of my mock exams at sixth-form college and it hadn’t gone very well so I wasn’t in a great mood. I remember opening it surrounded by my friends and being so surprised – I honestly didn’t think I had a chance of getting in! It was such a good moment as they were all so happy for me and I then called my parents who were as surprised as I was but also delighted. It made me realise that it was all very real and I really had to work to make sure I got the grades I needed to secure my place.
What do you think of Oxford/Your course? Would you recommend it to others?
Oxford is a fantastic place filled with fantastic people and countless fantastic opportunities. I would highly recommend you apply here, but only if you enjoy academic rigour. Although not overwhelming, work-load IS high, so you have to enjoy the course you sign-up for if you want to have a really good Oxford experience.
BMS is brilliant choice for a course if you are at all interested in physiology, neuroscience, psychology or cellular biology. It’s range enables you to build up a bank of knowledge to take forwards into the latter years as you start to specialise. It is unlike a medicine degree (which is filled with boring anatomy!) as there is no nationally-centralised content, so the university lecturers are able to take you down super interesting paths of their areas of study. Additionally, it is non-vocational! A degree from Oxford means your career path isn’t particularly limited - you can even apply for graduate-entry medicine after a BMS degree, and you’d have a step-up over other candidates who hadn’t studied a medical sciences subject.
Finally...Would you recommend joining OUSBMS?
YES, YES, YES. OUSBMS is the student-led society for biomedical sciences a Oxford. We are welcoming, friendly and fun, and would love to have you all on board.
We run speaker events, social events (bar crawls, pub nights, quizzes), and welfare events, all to try and create a rich student culture surrounding the subject, and allowing for the different year groups to get to know each other.
Do check out our social media links at the top of the post! We very much look forwards to hearing from you
Thank you to the wonderful ousbms society, for pulling together for this truly amazing chapter! You represent the very best that TSR has to offer. I am sure you will have encouraged students to apply for biomedicine at Oxford and will have them queuing up to join ousbms when they do get there! You all seem super friendly and welcoming
Thank you also for explaining the difference between biology, medicine and biomedicine. I honestly thought you followed roughly the same course as the medicine first degree (theory only). Just goes to prove how wrong I was. And the flexibility of the degree is great. You can go to the labs, apply for post grad medicine, go into other professions. You are not pigeonholed.
Thank you for explaining, too, about the great social life you enjoy. Many students seem to think that studying at Oxford means sitting there in your room going from one essay crisis to the next. There are great (sometimes unique) events going on around Oxford all the time, check it out!
Thank you for telling us about the Royal Society Christmas lectures. My only memory of this is my Mum trying to force me to sit down and watch them (French graduate here). No such problem getting you to, though! It's telling that you say watching these lectures may inspire you to go off and research about them. This one thing led to another approach is very popular with Oxbridge tutors, as it means you have intellectual curiosity.
The genetics and biochemistry masterclass and the biology olympiads are great recommendations, thank you.
Once you have had all these educational experiences, as you say, the PS is where you should mention them. What the tutors are looking for is something "personal" that you and nobody else has done. You don't want your PS to be filled with the same books and pat phrases that everyone else puts down! The tutors want to know what your experience means to them, not just a list of things you have done. They need to visualise you seated opposite them in a tutorial, keen and ready to listen, grow and learn.
Yes, the PS can give the tutors clues on what to pick up on in interview. My younger son (medicine) made a point about empathy, and this was the very first question at one interview. He also talked about his EPQ, which they luckily asked him a question about.
So sorry there are no open days for you all this year, but I will post our Oxford choose a college thread from Oxford Demystified, complete with video tours and individual college websites.
You came out of the interview "absolutely buzzing". Preparing for Oxford can be a lonely business, and so when you get to interview and speak to somebody who finally gets you, it can be exhilarating. Don't worry if it's not like that, though. Younger son said that after the icebreakers, he proceeded to "make a fool of himself" and the interview was the "hardest b****y interview in Oxford". Towards the end of the interview, they were literally firing questions at him in rapid succession. Again, I got the feeling that it was then he was fighting for his place, so don't worry if this happens either. Nobody, but nobody thinks they have got into Oxford after the interview, so don't worry if you feel despondent.
Biomedical sciences interviews youtube
Hopefully going to submit my application as soon as UCAS allows it. Fingers crossed.