Biochemistry is an information-heavy subject which requires very precise knowledge of the lecture content and the ability to use it effectively to support the conceptual framework of your essays. Whilst this is pretty daunting the course content is varied and relevant and is a very interesting, enjoyable subject.
The lecture course begins with gene cloning and manipulation, moving on to the control of gene expression. This is followed by a series on protein structure, function and evolution which progresses into lectures on enzyme catalysis and protein engineering. In Lent term you will cover Bioenergetics, control of metabolism, trans-membrane signalling systems, the regulation of mammalian cell growth and how its deregulation can lead to cancer. Finally in Easter term you will learn about bacterial chemotaxis and motility, bacterial secretion systems and the molecular biology of protozoa, particularly those responsible for chronic diseases in humans.
For most lecture series the notes are quite thorough, so you don’t need to be constantly scribbling during lectures. However, since some of the material is based on very current research you may want to supplement the notes by looking for recent developments in the field. In general it’s a good idea to read around the topics so you can really substantiate your arguments and demonstrate your knowledge in the exams. Regarding textbooks, the lecturers will recommend ones which particularly complement their courses but which are often too specialised to be worth buying – try having a look in the College library instead. General textbooks which are often good for extra information (albeit not particularly in-depth) are Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts et al, and Biochemistry by Berg et al.
Practicals are once a week, nominally from 11am-4pm although you will normally get away earlier than that. They cover a wide variety of current experimental techniques and whilst the background and procedures are for the most part fully written out (making revision easier!) you’re able to flex your intellectual muscles a bit by having to interpret and rationalise your results (or you could just ask a demonstrator). The odd bioinformatics practical or journal club nicely mixes it up, too.
There are three exams; Paper 1 consists of five essays from a choice of sixteen (one from each half term or so of lectures). Speaking from experience it’s difficult to flesh out five essays at only 36 minutes apiece so make sure you’ve practised keeping to this time and that you don’t lavish too much attention on one essay at the expense of another. Paper 2 is more synoptic, consisting of 15 very specific short answer questions and two broad, integrative 45-minute essays from a choice of four. Paper 3 is the practical paper which tests your data handling and understanding of all aspects of the practical classes.