Year 2 Term 3: Feb – May 2020 (reupload)
(This post has been reuploaded at a later date due to some issues with order and publishing)
Just an update from me to follow up from the January post!
The iGEM (international Genetically Engineering Machine) project
Though iGEM is a summer project the team has already begun ideation and discussion, as we need to apply to funding and do preliminary research before the Summer holidays begin. After about a month of research, deliberation and presentations we've decided to do a project on bowel cancer detection. Recent papers have raised that there's a possible link between E. coli (a common gut bacterium) and the development of bowel cancer, of which there are 42000 new cases per year in the UK alone. Bowel cancer is also being diagnosed in an increasing number of persons under 50, with the highest rising group being people in their 20s! Lab-grown replicas of the human gut were used to test this and our team aims to utilise synthetic biology further to uncovering more knowledge about this topic.
I've also been quite busy with volunteering as I near the end of my time as BioSoc's Outreach Officer. Last week, myself and 3 members of the BioSoc volunteering team headed out to Edgewick Community Primary School, a Widening Participation school in Coventry, to carry out a very hands on workshop meant to teach the children about the digestive tract. This was our first trip out for the Warwick WP Bright Stars programme, the Life Sciences “branch” of which I started during my time as Outreach Officer. We created handmade materials and planned activities for a “Lesson in a Box,” which means that even if students are not free to deliver the workshops, the activities should be easy and accessible to carry out by the teachers themselves as long as our box is sent out to them!
The box with our hand-drawn and handmade materials. It felt good to use my art training from SOTA again!
Everyone appeared to be having a blast, and we hope we’ve left a great impression on biology as a subject to the kids. Unfortunately photos taken during the activity will have to wait, as schools in the UK shut down quite suddenly on Friday and the teachers who took them are unable to send them over for now.
First Aid and AED training
In February, I also undertook a CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) course at the Warwick Medical School. I’m glad to say I’ve passed the exam and now am officially certified as a Basic Life Skills provider. On top of basic first aid and CPR (for adults, young children and babies,) we also learned how to use the AED, how to apply tourniquets for catastrophic bleeding, proper procedure for choking as well as managing drowning situations. I'm currently undergoing selection to teach this course in the next academic year, though those plans have been put on hold due to the uncertainty of the virus situation here.
Us modelling the choking training apparatus - you practice doing the Heimlich maneuver on this and when you do it correctly and with enough force to dislodge blocks in the airway, a foam piece will shoot out of the tube at the top.
After the incredible success of the SingSoc production I had watched in my first year of University, I had considered taking up a part in the 2020 production which was of a play written by a member of the SingSoc. Sadly, the final exam of my first aid course coincidentally clashed with the day of the play, and as such I was unable to even attend the showing, let alone participate in it. After my exam ended at the Medical School I rushed over to the Students' Union where the play was being wrapped up and was able to catch the actors right in time!
Many of the actors were members of my orientation group at the SingSoc Orientation camp in 2019!
2020 BioSoc Ball
Also in February was the BioSoc Ball, which the 2019/20 exec worked really hard on organising. As none of us had organised a Ball before it was a rather hectic scramble as we had to get everything from venue, entertainment, decor and transport in place. As always with big events, best laid plans will fall through but I'm proud of us for pulling through despite a range of issues such as last-minute cancellations by services we hired.
The event was a wonderful way to wrap up our time in the exec as election results for the 2020/21 exec were just released two days before. I’m happy to report that I’ve been elected as the Vice-President of the BioSoc for the next academic year and have plenty of big plans for the society!
The BioSoc exec of 2019/20: The first exec committee I joined back in first year!
One of my closest friends from SOTA who's currently studying in London was also able to join us at the ball 💕
COVID changes in plans
I was planning to stay in my off-campus accommodation to revise for Term 3 examinations, planning wellbeing events for BioSoc members in preparation for the revision and exam term, as well as gradually handing over all the projects I’ve juggled as Outreach Officer to next year’s Officers. I also had a 6 credit weighted biology field course in Wales to prepare for - though now it’s been cancelled as Warwick is stopping all face-to-face assessment and teaching in Term 3. As the Singaporean MFA issued a recommendation for students overseas to return to Singapore, I decided to fly home to be with family in the uncertain situation. As London was slated to go into lockdown over the weekend before my flight, I had to pack up my entire life in the UK very quickly! I was lucky to have a close friend from SOTA studying in London who was able to let me stay in her flat while waiting for our flight, and we flew home together in late March.
It's been really unique living through and seeing the development of the COVID-19 pandemic as a Biology student. Though all students at the department of Life Sciences study virology and epidemiology, before COVID such outbreaks appeared so distant from anything we'd have ever experienced. Things in the UK were business as usual into mid-March, before panic buying and stockpiling began showing a sombre change in mood and perceptions of the virus. Masks were in short supply at the time and it was also WHO/government advice for civilians to not rush to buy them anyway, as healthcare workers required them more urgently as cases began to rise.
It was so strange to see an almost-deserted Changi Airport after landing in Singapore - In all my years, I had never seen it so empty! The swab test after touchdown was incredibly painful, leaving the back of my nose sore for a couple of days, but I was still very grateful for the fact that there were even tests available for us to take. The whole experience was efficient and professional and I was very proud of Singapore for pulling together such an impressive response with such short notice.
After serving my mandatory 2 week Stay-Home Notice (while gradually recovering from the inevitable jetlag), I began preparing for my final exams which were due to be scheduled for May - June 2020. At the same time, I had several lab reports and Society responsibilities to finish as I wrapped up my year as the Outreach Officer of BioSoc. It was quite the challenge trying to keep up with virtual meetings while in Singapore's timezone, though I eventually got used to staying up at night to attend revision sessions, exam briefings and my weekly mentoring responsibilities at BioCafe!