The musings of a final year medical student

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Sexism in science

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Most of us have heard about Sir Tim Hunt in the press. An honorary professor at the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, he was coerced into his recent resignation following a sexist remark at a Seoul conference: "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.

Whether he had the intention to offend is unknown, but I doubt it. Whilst being a respected figure in his field of biochemistry, we will never know what he was like to work with. He may have been charming and egalitarian, or the infamous remark from Seoul may be a snapshot of his incredibly sexist ways.  

The Daily Mail and Brian Cox have jumped to his defence, claiming he was "hounded out" by social media and that he is a "scapegoat" for sexism. Assuming his comments were not intended to offend, and the fact that people in the STEM field have no doubt said worse, this internationally-mediatised comment still plays a role in the unconscious bias we all have. Even if he'd pushed the boat out and said "Women are shit in labs, ban all the women", the effect would be the same.

I've never worked in a lab. After hearing what he's said about girls in the lab, I'm not quite sure I would ever want to be in one. Comments like that will make less and less women want to contribute to academia and medical specialities if the movers and shakers of these fields are making them feel uncomfortable. What if you've never been in a lab? Well, you'll never know what they're like, but it's quite likely that Hunt's comment will make you assume that girls either don't work well in labs or shouldn't work there. He went to Cambridge, he's published books, he's got a PhD and a Nobel prize; surely he knows what he's talking about?

I feel sad to say that I've had a few unpleasant experiences with consultants being rude to me, even though I have only just finished first year! In one instance I was at a case-based learning session and after the doctor had asked the names of the boys, he then moved onto me: "You, the one in the top that looks like a Persian rug". (It's alright, clearly the man doesn't appreciate vintage silk blouses.) In another, I was presenting my musculoskeletal case and half way through the rheumatologist barked "That's enough, you've talked enough about that." 

These examples above are not all based on conscious or unconscious prejudice, however it does highlight a larger problem: medical students get a lot of shit from their superiors regardless of gender. Whether it is rooted in sexism or race, those factors are only a segment of the overarching mistreatment of hardworking young adults.

Caitlin Moran has said in the past that women feel uncomfortable in the world because the world wasn't designed for them; it was designed by and for their husbands. Whilst the world is changing everyday, assumptions and bias ingrained in society are hard to shake. Seeds of hope and change come from the people who decide to cast away bias and fight against it - but comments like Hunt's ruin these efforts. That's what makes his comment so bad. 

Thousands of women are going to feel hurt, annoyed and intimidated by one 'off the cuff' comment by one successful academic. And that is the power of sexism.

Friday, 12 June 2015


I really don’t want to write this. It’s about periods. I don’t like talking about periods. I don’t think anyone does like talking about periods….

But really, that’s why it’s worth discussing.

I, like many women, feel it is unfair that sanitary products are branded as a ‘luxury item’. Consequently, they are heavily taxed in the UK. Now, I think any woman in their right mind would argue that they are certainly not a luxury item!

If women couldn’t afford sanitary products, we’d probably end up having to sit on the toilet for 5 days every month for fear of a gruesome mess.

The current campaign #JustATampon is brilliant. We need to take the stigma away from menstruation in order for it to be taken seriously.

After all, periods are shit. But they would be a hell of a lot worse if you couldn’t afford a tampon.

I thoroughly recommend you watch Rosianna's video if you want more info.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

My favourite piano pieces

My friends and family know that I started playing piano aged 10 and have been obsessed ever since. Even though my piano teacher says I am naturally more suited to the fast tempos and feather-light broken-chord left-hand accompaniment of Mozart, I am far more attracted to the heavy, thick emotive chords associated with the romantic period. I find it so strange why classical music doesn't appeal to my generation, and I feel angry when my peers scoff at the fact that I'd much rather listen to Brahms than Beyoncé. Their loss.

The romantic period began in the early 19th century and bleeds into the impressionist era, which I am also a fan of. To me, these two periods tell a real story through their pieces. They resonate with feelings of euphoria, love and devastating sadness. I can relate so much more to piano music than music accompanied by lyrics as they are open to much more interpretation.

Here I've listed just a few of my favourite pieces written:

Debussy - Clair de lune - an absolutely beautiful piece. Probably Debussy's most famous piece. It is so tranquil. Debussy was an impressionist composer, so some of his stuff gets a bit too weird for my liking! This is one of the pieces I play the most often.

Liszt  -  Consolation no. 3 - This piece so so tender and beautiful. It moves from such sweet moments to real sadness, and the link provided is performed by current favourite living pianist, Valentina Lisitsa. I have played a few pieces by Liszt and his work can be particularly challenging, especially because he had a phenomenal note span and so he could play a lot more than most of us mere mortals physically can! I always play this piece when I am stressed.

Rachmaninoff - Prelude in g minor op.23 no.5 - What an amazing piece. I love the rondo structure of this piece and how the sections are manipulated versions of each other, so clever. The contrast of sections allows a really special exploration of emotions. 

Chopin nocturne op.32 no.2 in A flat - Chopin is my favourite composer because of the consistency of how lovely his nocturnes are (nocturnes or notturnos are pieces meant to be likened to the night time). This piece is part of the ballet Les Sylphides. 

Chopin waltz op.70 no.1 - to me, the pianist Arthur Rubinstein does the best interpretative performances of Chopin's piano pieces. I studied ballroom dance when I was younger and I would have loved to have danced a waltz to such a pretty and light-hearted piece. 

Beethoven piano sonata no.6 op.10 - This is brilliant. Technically challenging, I struggled with this piece for a long time and still do! It was on the grade eight list when I did it, but I chose to do Mozart instead. I learnt it in my spare time. Like the other pieces, I like the contrast in all the sections and manipulation of melodies put into different textures. 

Chopin nocturne op.9 no.3 - arguably Chopin's most famous piece ever written. Beautiful, delicate and moving. I love playing this piece. I played a simplified version of this aged 11, but to now play the original feels like such a privilege. 

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Wow! I cannot believe a whole year has gone by. It feels as if Freshers' Week was yesterday, and now I've done all my first year exams! The exams were pretty intense, I saw quite a few people crying after them. I had two exams on the same day covering all of the year's content. The first exam was okay, but the second one was a lot harder. There was a sagittal MRI of a pelvis and I genuinely couldn't tell if the black outline was a penis or a rectum! Safe to say imaging is not my favourite part of the course, and I don't see myself ever becoming a radiologist. It was one of those questions that you're fully capable of answering, but given that you didn't expect it you are completely thrown and your mind goes blank. 

After the exam, I went into town and picked up some drinks for pres and a new skirt that I wore when I went clubbing. I had the best night with my fabulous medic mates, and we all deserved to celebrate.

Medical school has been such a massive change for me. Coming to Liverpool to study my dream course was so exciting, but so much happened that I never anticipated. 

Here is a list of things that I think I should have thought of when starting this year:

Medical school is bloody difficult.
Medics tend to be the top of their class back at sixth form, and even those brightest students find medical school incredibly hard. Now that's saying something. Don't expect to understand things the first time you read them, like when you did your A levels. Repetition is the best way of learning the content, not spending 10 hours on a Sunday cramming.

You're not superman/wonderwoman and you can't know everything.
You can't do everything. You can't be cheery and enthusiastic every day. You will never cover all of the year's content. I genuinely believe that if I worked every day since I got to medical school I still wouldn't know everything that was listed in the Learning Outcomes. And initially, that's a terrifying thought. For A levels, we were all accustomed to doing every past paper, going through the exam board's syllabus and ticking off definitions and equations we knew by heart. There is no syllabus at medical school. I had ONE past paper, and one mock exam. This is the first year of their new course here at Liverpool, and so we couldn't get advice off of the older years because we actually covered a lot more anatomy/physiology/histology than they did when they were first years. 

Please, stop asking so much of yourself. You're so clever and determined, but you're not perfect. You need days off just to sleep all day and recuperate. Don't give yourself a headache spending ages trying to learn the brachial plexus in a day.

Your happiness is the most important thing.
There's no point being at medical school if you feel awful every single day if something else could make you happier. And if you're struggling emotionally or academically, don't let it go unnoticed. Talk to people, your tutors, your mates, your GP. If you have personal issues going on, it's important to fill in a mitigating circumstances form in case you fail your exams. The medical school wants you to do well, it only makes them look bad to chuck people out. They want to make the best doctors and that starts with knowing you are getting all the help and support you need. I had multiple health issues that affected my studies and I waited too long to get a diagnosis and treatment, as well as informing the university.
A lot of medical schools allow students to take time off between years if they need it, or to repeat the year. If you fail your exams and your resits, it won't be the end of the world.
Don't be at medical school for anyone but yourself. Be selfish, do what makes you happy. You are the most important person in your life and you should do what makes you feel good. 

You will question your ambition to be a doctor.
I never thought this would happen to me. I knew that this was my vocation in life and I couldn't bear the thought of doing anything else. But it did happen. When I got set a 36 page neurosensory anatomy pre-reading that took 3 solid days to make notes on, and even then barely understood it, I questioned if this was for me. Annoyingly enough, it turned out that the depth of the pre-reading wasn't even necessary to pass first year. 

You will meet the best and the worst people.
At college, I had a great friendship group. When I came to uni, I had the impression it would be the end of 'cliques' and social hierarchy that I experienced at secondary school. I was very wrong about that! Medical school is so clique-y. Some people who I thought were my friends ended up really letting me down. However,  I have made friends with some wonderfully nice and loving people. They are people who really care about me and have given me so much support and happy memories. They have made me laugh so much it feels like I've done a hundred sit ups.
Medical school will scar us and bring us even closer; I know that they will completely have my back, and that is so comforting. 

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