STP Insights: The MSc

Having just spent 2 weeks up at Uni, I thought now would be the perfect time to write the second instalment of our STP insights series. I’m actually writing this on my train home so the memories of coffee-fuelled lectures and late night games of exploding kittens* are fresh in my mind: the perfect time to get them down on paper/…into my laptop.

Before I start, as usual- a disclaimer that the experience each specialism has during their MSc, and even each year, varies massively. This is just an account of my personal experience to give you an insight into what it might be like for you if you’re thinking about applying for the STP.

If I’m honest, there are some very distinct pros and cons of the MSc. I’m going to start with the cons:

  1. I’m based in Exeter. My university is in Manchester. This is a long old journey. Especially when I have to travel up for an ONE HOUR !!ONLINE!! EXAM. Ok, this only happened once, but still – as you can probably tell, it was very annoying and felt like a huge waste of time.
  2. Sometimes I might spend a whole day(s) being taught things you already know. People come into the STP with varying abilities so they need to bring everyone up to the same level. This is fair enough, and there have definitely been times when I’ve been grateful for material that I’m sure was incredibly basic to other people. But, I’d like to think they could warn us and potentially make some parts optional attendance.
  3. The MSc content is often not in sync with work-based learning. For example, in first year you’re unlikely to do the teaching that matches your rotation at the same time as your rotation. For bioinformatics specifically, I’ve found that a lot of the teaching comes well after we’ve already had to develop and use the skills we are being taught- there has been a shuffle around for the years below me now, but it still sometimes feels like we are doing the MSc simply because we need the qualification, rather than because we are actually learning new things. Of course, I haven’t finished yet so I hope I’m proved wrong in the rest of my 2nd and 3rd year!
  4. Assignments. Let’s be honest, no-one enjoys assignments, and it can be difficult to find balance between your work based learning and uni work after your block of study. But I must admit, it forces us to learn time-management and prioritisation  skills like you wouldn’t believe. These transferable skills are invaluable for a healthcare scientist and will inevitably be useful when having to balance the various roles we might take on.

Okay, let’s offset that now- here are the pros:

  1. I go to University in Manchester! I’d never been to Manchester before I started the STP, but it turns out I love it. It’s really cool to have the opportunity to visit Manchester a few times a year. (I also got to go to Liverpool for a week!)
  2. I get to see the rest of my STP cohort. I feel very lucky to get on so well with the rest of the bioinformaticians in my year. Not only do we spend a lot of time socialising and hanging out, we also learn a lot from each other, discussing projects and best practice in our respective departments.
  3. We get to do an MSc research project. I’ve actually yet to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing to be completely honest, but I am quite excited to have my own project that I can lead on and hopefully create something really useful for my department and develop a lot of skills that I think will be essential for my career in the meantime.
  4. Occasionally we get to work with other specialisms – although more in first year than later on. This is nice, because we all meet each other at the induction and for the most part never see each other again. However the opportunity to meet and work with trainees in other fields is fun and a good learning experience – especially  because in the real world, it’s highly unlikely we will only ever work with scientists only in our chosen specialism.
  5. Finally, practical work and workshops are actually pretty fun. I’ve spent the last 3 days at uni doing paired programming to produce a basic piece of software. I learn by doing, so actually having the opportunity to get my hands dirty in some code without worrying about breaking something important has been a really good experience.

Overall, I do sometimes feel like there are things I would rather be doing than sitting in lectures, but the MSc component of the STP is something I really enjoy. Whether it’s from my fellow trainees or from the course content itself- I always come back from uni knowing more than I did before.

*If you don’t know what “exploding kittens” is, you NEED to go find out!

Author: Jes

I am a trainee clinical bioinformatician working at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. I am passionate about increasing awareness and discussion about healthcare science and particularly the routes into the field.

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