Caution: Science May Be Toxic

Last night I finished reading Bad Pharma by Ben Goldachre. At over 400 pages, it took me three days to read because I simply could not put it down. To those of you who have read Bad Pharma you probably won’t be surprised at the following words which I’m going to use to describe my feelings right now: anger, disbelief, disillusionment, sadness, confusion…regret. It’s an excellent book, but it’s an excellent book that breeds a lot of negative thoughts.

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The cover of the latest edition.

Basically (and very basically at that) it’s a non-fiction book about the systematic corruption, bad ethics and downright dishonesty within medicine, scientific academia and the pharmaceutical industry. As a young, budding scientist, it was difficult for me to read. It wasn’t difficult because of me being made aware that these perversions exist in science. I wasn’t completely naive – I knew that science wasn’t a pure, wholly ethical, perfect institution. But to realise the extent to which these perversions occur…that was what was difficult.

So now I’ve been undesirably tossed into a state of career crisis, if you want to call it that. It may seem extreme, but again, to those of you who have read the book it might not seem unreasonable that my general good faith in science as a whole has been quite tarnished. Up until now, my plan was to complete my BSc degree in Biochemistry, do a PhD and then go into the pharmaceutical industry. But now, the last part is very undesirable to me.

I think the most upsetting thing about me having read this book is that I feel like the wool has been pulled over my eyes…by everyone – my school teachers who taught me science, my university lecturers who currently teach me science, the people who write the textbooks I use, my GP, the media…literally everyone who’s ever fed me information or given me ideas to do with science as a whole. Imagine this – being a wide-eyed student fresh out of school, or in their first year of university studying science, or as a fresh graduate from science, and thinking that the scientific working world which they’re about to enter is amazing, ethical, innovative and ‘pure’. Having so much enthusiasm for being a proper scientist about to help change the world and help people. And then you realise that actually, you’re in for a very different ride. You’re in for a ride that includes bribery, distorting data, hiding data, years of work that turns out to be unsuccessful and subsequently hidden…the list goes on.

But of course, that’s being completely pessimistic about it. Of course there are loads of people in medicine, scientific academia and the pharmaceutical industry who really are good and who really are doing proper, ethical work. I know good people exist…the problem is that a lot of bad people exist, and those bad people are often at the top of the chain and therefore have a lot more influence than the good people. The problem is that science as a whole is still corrupt and unethical, and is hurting and killing real people.

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So the first question I asked myself was this: “I know that I am a good, ethical person, but can I willingly work for a company or an industry that actively chooses to favour profit over patients, therefore causing unnecessary suffering and death to real people?”

The answer is no. Then I asked myself: “Could I work for a company or industry that does this, but make a positive difference by doing good, ethical work myself and make things better from the inside out?” But then I realised that being one person trying to good in a global industry that’s systematically bad is not very encouraging. Of course, I wouldn’t be alone – I wouldn’t be the only good scientist in the world. But it would certainly feel like that a lot of the time.

So, what is it that Bad Pharma actually says? How is science corrupt? Obviously I can’t give every example that a 400+ page book gave, but I’ll try and summarise very briefly.

Firstly, the book covers missing data – data procured from trials that isn’t publicised. One example the book gives is of the drug TGN1412, which was trialled on twelve patients in London in 2006. Rapidly (within a day) each patient deteriorated until one had respiratory failure, one stopped breathing properly after their blood pressure dropped dramatically…other symptoms were kidney failure and white blood cells disappearing. The researchers who carried out this trial had no idea these effects would happen because basically, a very similar drug was tested during 1996 which produced similar outcomes in the single patient it was trialled on. However, because the results were obviously negative, the research was never published and because scientists therefore couldn’t possibly know that a similar drug would have these disastrous side-effects, the 2006 trial happened and patients were harmed.

Another example (the one that had the largest effect on me) was the story of how GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) withheld data about whether a drug called paroxetine is an effective antidepressant. GSK also withheld data about its harmful side-effects (including increased risk of suicide). The fact that this was so troubling to me was that the people most likely to be affected by this withholding of information were children. If paroxetine was prescribed for depression for children, there was a much higher risk of said children committing suicide, because of the drug’s side effects. The fact that it was children’s lives at stake was what was so upsetting. GSK continued to withhold data about paroxetine while children died.

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So that was the first chapter (which included many more examples of pharmaceutical companies and researchers withholding negative data). The next few chapters looked at where drugs come from (including a basic overview of how a drug is developed, from first conceptions to being brought onto the market), how some trials are unethical and inaccurately presented, how some regulators are unethical, and how drugs marketing is often unethical and biased. It described how what doctors and GPs prescribe is influenced by the drugs reps they see, how that oftentimes your GP doesn’t actually know which treatment is best for you because there’s simply been no systematic reviews and evidence comparing various drugs, and how marketing in certain countries affects not only what doctors prescribe, but what patients demand (often incorrectly).

For example, in the USA direct-to-consumer marketing is legal, which is basically when you see drug adverts on TV. In the UK this isn’t legal, and as a Brit, when I visited Orlando in Florida in 2012, I was very surprised to see so many drugs adverts on TV, because you simply don’t get that in the UK (apart from of course the standard Nurofen adverts and stuff). There were so many pills being advertised on American TV and I was most astounded about all the side-effects that were reeled off very quickly at the end of each advert. To me they always seemed worse than death, like “may cause nausea, drowsiness, vomiting, depression, suicidal thoughts…” the side-effects just seemed to get worse and worse until there seemed like there being absolutely no point in taking the drug in the first place.

Bad Pharma was describing how these advertised drugs are usually new and expensive and are hardly better than the same, old drug, but because they’re being advertised, that’s what patients ask for. And that’s what they get. Also, obviously the drug company that makes the drug is going to make the adverts, so who knows what data they’re withholding to make their drug sound great.

So, in summary, the book describes how almost every aspect of medicine and science is polluted with bad ethics and practice. It was quite a downer. So now I’m left wondering what on earth to do. I have to apply for my PTY (Professional Training Year, which is where you take a year out of university to work in industry for 9/12 months) by November and I might be being narrow-minded, but apart from work in the pharmaceutical industry, what other options are there for a biochemist? I don’t want to go into teaching, and I can’t do very much that’s environment- or animal-related because I’m not a biologist, ecologist or zoologist. So I guess I’m just going to have to look at my options. I had planned to apply for the GSK PTY programme, but since GSK has been the subject of the biggest drug investigation in UK history, plus many other scandals about withholding data and unethical practice, I don’t particularly want to apply for that anymore.

Anyway, wish me luck in a) finding something decent to do for my PTY, and b) deciding on what to do with my future, now that I don’t particularly have much respect for the people in medicine, scientific academia and the pharmaceutical industry who make it a corrupt place to be and a non-trustworthy industry for patients. I know it’s not all bad and that science and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole has done so, so much good, but it’s still hard to ignore the bad that’s very prevalent today.

Docs and Big Pharma

Disease, Infection and Antibiotic Resistance: A Question of Politics (mostly)

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So this evening I went to Royal Society of Biology seminar called ‘Battling Infection’ at my university. It was a three-hour long discussion between a panel of five scientists (of varying disciplines), with the audience contributing questions. It was an incredibly good evening and a lot of excellent points were raised about infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance etc. Most points discussed weren’t new to me, but it was good to hear various experts’ opinions on them. I’m going to summarise some of the topics covered, because I think it’s knowledge everyone should have and I think they’re important debates everyone should know about. First though, I’m going to cover the basics of antibiotic resistance.

So, what is antibiotic resistance? It is when bacteria, most commonly ones that infect humans, become resistant to antibiotic medicines, i.e. the antibiotics become ineffective because they no longer have an effect on the bacteria they’re supposed to kill. Antibiotic resistance in bacteria occurs because the bacteria acquire genetic mutations that make them resistant. A typical bacterial turnover rate (the rate at which they multiply) is every 20 minutes. So, if you have two bacteria, after twenty minutes there’ll be four, and after another twenty minutes there’ll be eight etc. So you can end up with a lot of bacteria in a very short space of time. Now, since their turnover rate is so high, they develop genetic mutations at a very high rate. So the chance of a bacterium developing a mutation that makes it resistant to a certain antibiotic is high. So basically, the problem is that there’s an increasing number of infectious bacteria world-wide that have these mutations and which are resistant to antibiotics.

So…

The first topic discussed was that of antibiotic resistance. It was said how in the USA alone, 80% of antibiotics are used in animal feed, to make animals larger, with more muscle etc. It was said how people who have a common cold or another type of virus go to their GPs and demand antibiotics and although the antibiotics are of course going to have no effect, a lot of patients don’t understand this, so GPs just give them antibiotics to get them off their backs. These are very serious problems, because the more antibiotics that are given, the more bacteria are exposed to them and so bacteria are more likely to develop resistance to them. It was discussed how antibiotics should be used appropriately (i.e. only given to humans who are in genuine need of them). The issue of patients demanding antibiotics for non-bacteria-related illnesses then sparked a discussion about public education…

It is the people who demand antibiotics for non-bacterial infections who pose a problem. It is the people who refuse to vaccinate either their children or themselves who pose a problem. It is people who don’t understand enough to take an antibiotic or medicine because they think it’s “dangerous” who pose a problem. It all stems from a lack of education about disease, vaccination and infection. The largest issue considered when deciding whether to put a new drug through trials is “what will the public’s reaction be?” If it’s known that it’s not publicly viable, i.e. people won’t take it, then the drug won’t be made because it’s not financially viable. An example is a specific bacteriophage (bacteria-targeting virus) that was distributed in Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia had no antibiotics and so this phage was their only option of combating bacterial infections. And it works. It works brilliantly. But it’s not available globally or even in the Western world because the general public are not going to want to ingest a virus, because viruses are seen as “disease-causing”. It’s an example of how people are afraid of what they don’t know. They’re ignorant, and their ignorance hinders antibiotic development.

Personally, I think disease, vaccination etc. education should be taught from primary school onwards. It should be as essential in the curriculum as maths or English. Because if it’s not taught, you end up with parents refusing to vaccinate their child because they think their child will get autism, because of course having an autistic child is so much worse than having a dead child. Not to mention that vaccinations do not result in autism (the single scientist that made that claim had his license revoked and his claim has since be disproved by many, many scientists). It’s these parents and these people that endanger entire societies. They think that their child not being immunised won’t affect other people, but it will. If you’re a parent who hasn’t immunised your child because you “don’t want to” and then another child, who can’t be vaccinated for genuine reasons, catches a deadly disease from you child, I would love to see you explain to that dead child’s parents why they caught that disease and died. “I didn’t want my child to be autistic, so sorry your child’s dead.” If I ever meet someone who hasn’t vaccinated their child, I’m keeping myself and my children away from them because no one I know is dying because of another person’s stupidity.

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Another topic of discussion was the politics surrounding vaccines and antibiotic resistance. For starters, it was said how we in developed countries (who can develop vaccinations etc.) only truly care about a disease if it threatens us developing countries. A prime example is Ebola. Ebola’s been around for absolutely ages in Africa – many decades – and yet there was only a global panic when there was a risk of it leaving Africa and entering the Western countries. Thousands of people in Africa have died of Ebola over the decades, but did you hear about it? Of course not. Only when one nurse in the US got infected did people suddenly start caring. If a vaccine or cure for Ebola had been worked on decades ago, it wouldn’t have been such a problem recently.

Another example is HIV. HIV has existed in Africa for ages as well, but people only started caring about it when it became prevalent in developed countries. When it killed many people in developing countries no one cared, but when it migrated to developed countries there was a panic. It’s horrible, but that’s the reality of things.

Another topic of discussion within this is how antibiotic resistance isn’t even a priority for most governments. Research and funding is focused on cancer and AIDS etc. The fact that only a handful of new antibiotics have been released in the last thirty years apparently isn’t of any concern. The fact that it’s a very real reality that in fifty years someone in the UK or USA could get a simple bacterial infection and die because no antibiotics work. You could get a toothache and be dead. That’s obviously not scary to politicians. One of the speakers said that the only way people are going to realise the importance of antibiotics and such medicines is when there’s a new plague that wipes out a considerable portion of the world population. Basically, because we haven’t had a plague in so long, we’re complacent. We think we’re fine. We think we have medicines that can cure everything. The truth is, we’re so close to the opposite state. We’re so close to having no available, working antibiotics. I don’t know which will come first, but it will either be that a) we run out of effective antibiotics and people everywhere die of simple infections, or b) a new plague will arise, kill off at most 50% of the population and then people will be spurred into action.

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The Spanish Flu wiped out 5% of the world’s population.

One of the final topics covered was that we live a world that’s too sterile. And it’s true. The goals these days, especially in developed countries, are cleanliness, tidiness, order and sterility. And it’s dangerous. There would be nothing more dangerous than a society or a world that was completely sterile and in which no diseases exist. Think about it, if no one is ever exposed to a pathogen (a disease-causing agent) then their bodies will never know what it’s like to be diseased and their bodies will never make antibodies (infection-fighting proteins). If someone like that suddenly had a common cold, they’d die, because they’ve never been exposed to anything like it and their body won’t be able to cope. That’s why vaccinations and letting kids play in the mud and eat rocks is so essential. It lets their bodies know what infections are like and it lets their bodies build up a stock of antibodies to fight future infections. Parents who bubble-wrap their children and force a very clean and safe life upon them couldn’t be endangering them more.

So yeah, that was some of the major, most interesting topics covered in the seminar.

It was probably one of the best-spent three hours of my life.

New Year, New Books

First of all, welcome to 2015! I hope you all had an excellent Christmas (or an excellent holiday if you don’t celebrate Christmas) and a brilliant New Year! I was nice and warm in bed when the clock struck 00:00 on New Year’s and it quite a productive evening for me. In order to fill the hours leading up to midnight I finished my book, Eugene Onegin by Pushkin, and evolved my Zubat on Pokémon Ruby, which was great because Zubat’s bloody useless until it’s evolved into Golbat, i.e. something decent.

Anyway, for Christmas, my Dad gave me a £50 Waterstones voucher, which was good because you can buy quite a number of books for £50. So, a few days after Christmas, my Mum and I went to Oxford because she wanted to go around the Ashmolean Museum, and the Waterstones in Oxford is bloody massive, which was ideal for me. I already knew one book I definitely wanted to get, which is Lamentations by CJ Sansom. It’s the latest book (just released) in the Matthew Shardlake series which I really like. So, after picking that up on the ground floor, I headed straight up to the fourth floor, which is where the best section is…the Philosophy section. The great thing about the Waterstones in Oxford is that its Philosophy and Popular Science sections are not only next to each other (which is very convenient) but both sections are massive.

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Look at that big, beautiful building. And all it contains is books.

So, after flitting between the two sections, scanning the bookshelves and picking up certain books for about half an hour, I’d made my choices. Altogether I ended up buying: Lamentations, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks and The Logic Of Scientific Discovery Karl Popper. The Selfish Gene is a book I oft-quoted in A Level Philosophy, so I thought it’d be interesting to read. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is by a fellow schoolmate of Jonathan Miller’s (Beyond the Fringe) and what it’s about is interesting (people with neurological disorders who experience things such as phantom limb pain and who can’t feel their limbs etc.). The Popper book sounded interesting and I know Popper from A Level Philosophy because of his arguments against logical positivism. So I thought it’d be interesting to read some of his stuff.

So that was my book haul that day. I already know a few books that I’m going to buy with what’s left on my Waterstones gift card (about £15 I think) so I’m looking forward to getting through these books so I can go out and buy more books.

Anyway, on a slightly different note, let’s talk poetry. Now, I’ve never really enjoyed poetry. I’ve never been into it and when we did the poetry module in GCSE English, I began to almost despise poetry, because we analysed about four poems to absolute death. And I mean it. We analysed the living shit out of these four poems and the whole nature of poetry became so analytical and clinical that I just didn’t like it. It’s like when someone explains a joke, hence ruining it forever. Once you analyse a poem, it’s ruined. It’s no longer a poem. It’s an intricate web of hidden meanings, metaphors, similies, emotions, moral messages…it’s like solving a scientific problem, like deciphering a code. It’s just not fun.

So doing GCSE poetry analysis kind of killed the whole thing for me, but I thought I’d try and read Eugene Onegin anyway. It’s a ‘novel in verse’ and I thought I’d give poetry another try and in all honesty, it was the first work of poetry I’ve actually genuinely enjoyed reading. It was just masterful. A bit weird, but brilliant all the same. Basically it’s a bit sad because Onegin and this young poet guy, Lensky (who’s Onegin’s friend), challenges Onegin to a pistol duel because Onegin was being a dick and flirting with the woman Lensky was engaged to. Anyway, this duel happens and Onegin shoots Lensky in the chest, killing him. It’s all just so futile, really. But that aside, the actual poetry was great. This is the stanza immediately following Onegin’s shooting of Lensky:

His hand upon his breast he presses

Softly, and falls, as, misty-eyed

His gaze not pain, but death expresses.

Thus, slowly, on a mountain-side

A mound of snow, already teetering,

Descends with sunny sparkles glittering.

Onegin, shuddering, swiftly flies,

To where young Vladimir lies,

He looks and calls…but there’s no power

Can bring him back. The youthful bard

Has met an untimely end. Hard

The storm has blown, the finest flower

Has withered at the morning’s dawn,

The fire upon the alter’s gone.

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‘Onegin and Lensky’s Duel’ by Ilya Repin.

It’s greatly tempted me to try some more poetry, but I know every poet’s very different and there’s a high probability I won’t like their stuff, but you’ve got to try these things, haven’t you? I might try some more 19th/early 20th Century Russian poets, because Russian literature of that era really does it for me.

So I’ve Actually Learned to Cook for Myself

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For anyone who doesn’t really know me, I’ll tell you right now that I am not a fan of the kitchen. Unless it’s for going in the fridge to get food, that is. I don’t like cooking and I couldn’t even tell you the name of half the utensils in the kitchen at my house. Before coming to university in late September, I’d cooked a total of three, perhaps four proper meals for myself (proper meals being anything more complicated than baked beans, tinned spaghetti and soup). So you could say my parents didn’t exactly have high hopes for me being able to fend myself food-wise upon leaving home.

For the first week I was at university, they were right. I was reluctant to actually cook a meal in the kitchen, so my food for the first week consisted of Uncle Ben’s rice, ready meals, toast, fruit and cereal bars. Not the healthiest diet, I’m sure you’ll agree. By week two however, even I was beginning to see the flaws in this kind of diet, so I wondered what options I had available to me and came up with these three:

  1. I continue on this diet of ready meals and snack foods and see how long it takes me to either run out of money or die
  2. Don’t cook for myself at all and starve to death
  3. Actually pull myself together and learn how to cook

So naturally, because I like to think that I do have some degree of intelligence, I chose option 3. So, the Monday of week two, I decided to go out and do a food shop for the week. Now this was a very daunting task for me because I’d never had to go on a full shop for myself and buy enough food to last me a week. However, after calling in a little of help from the mother and boyfriend (who’s been through university and therefore knows the do’s and don’ts of student shopping) I managed to complete this task.

For my first attempt at cooking for myself, I decided to set the bar rather low and start off with something elementary, i.e. pasta. With the advice from one of my flatmates, I managed to cook myself a decent meal. Nothing was burned, nothing set on fire and nothing was inedible, so in my mind I did a rather good job. Since then (it’s been nearly about two and a half months since I’ve started university) I’ve managed to perfect nearly all kinds of pasta dish and cook some other meals to a fair degree of deliciousness. For example, I cooked myself a miniature roast yesterday and since I’ve done that a few times now I managed to get the timings for all the various foods almost bang on.

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FullSizeRender3 This book (bestowed upon me by the bf) has been quite useful. It contains simple meals ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert and sorts the meals into ones which are cheap, impressive, spicy etc. I’d say a student cookbook like this is pretty essential for a student. Below is an example of what a recipe looks like. For each recipe they also have a photo of what the finished product looks like.

When I went home for the weekend a few weeks ago and told the ‘rents that I’d actually been cooking for myself (and had cooked such things as a roast) my Mum firstly asked if I was joking and when I told her that I wasn’t, she still didn’t believe me. To be honest, I don’t blame her. I’d find it quite difficult to believe that someone like me, who couldn’t even cook pasta until two months ago, was making roast dinners. But eventually I persuaded her that I wasn’t lying and that I was in fact maintaining a fairly balanced diet.

So the lesson here, ladies and gentlemen, is that even the most hopeless case can actually pull of some surprising things when the alternative is bankruptcy and/or starvation. I think all I needed is a kick up the arse, really. I needed to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.

On another note, we received our January exam timetables today and I have to tell you, I’m not looking forward to exams. I’m going to have to revise my arse off over Christmas if I have any hope of passing.

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Five exams. Some people I know on different courses don’t even have January exams. It’s pretty rubbish, really.

Anyway, have a great Christmas, everyone! Auf wiedersehen!

Being A Student Is…

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As a new (UK) university student, you learn to quickly adapt to the student way of life because, a) the only adult supervision you have is that of your personal tutor, who you only see for half an hour every two weeks, and b) everyone else around you is integrating into uni life, so why not give up your old, healthy habits and join them? So for me, as a first year scientist, being a student is…

  • Putting at least two mattress protectors on your new bed because you’re not entirely sure what those stains are
  • Making the most of Freshers’ and staying mainly sober so that you can enjoy watching everyone else getting completely wankered
  • Knowing which nights to spend at the Students’ Union, because other nights the DJs are awful
  • Going to Tesco Express at half eleven at night in your pajamas and a hoodie because you realise you don’t have any vegetables to cook your dinner with
  • Not even feeling self-conscious about going to Tesco Express at half eleven at night because you know the cashiers are more than used to disheveled students who’ve partly lost control of their lives coming in at all hours of the day and night

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  • Having to get used to the smell of food during lectures, especially from that guy who brought an entire three-course meal to the lecture and is eating chilli con carne from a Tupperware pot
  • Finding it extremely difficult to get out of bed in time for 9 or 10AM lectures, even though you had to get up earlier for school
  • Finding it extremely difficult to not fall asleep during 9 or 10AM lectures, because you’re actually barely half-conscious
  • Developing an unforeseen coffee addiction to help with the aforementioned problem
  • Keeping your own toilet roll in your room because when the main communal supply runs out, you’re not going to be left up shit creek without a roll
  • Standing outside in the cold at two in the morning because the fire alarm had gone off due to someone burning toast
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Actual photo of a university lab professor when demonstrating in front of students

  • Leaving your results and analysis to fill in when you get home because it’s a Friday afternoon and you just want to get out of the lab
  • Constantly reminding yourself to eat at least one piece of fruit a week in order to avoid scurvy
  • Telling yourself during the first week that you’ll keep up with lecture notes and revision, but by week 8 you’ve missed at least three lectures and haven’t gone over what material you did manage to get down
  • Accepting the fact that it’s useless trying to take notes from some lecturers because they go through the PowerPoint so fast you could blink and miss an entire section on the role of Ca²+ as an intracellular signalling molecule

So as you can clearly see, university is a fun place. All this on top of cooking for yourself, doing your own laundry and generally having to maintain an acceptable standard of personal hygiene makes your first year especially fun. Not to mention waking up to find that some unknown drunk people had stuck an uncooked burger patty to your kitchen window with tape the previous night.

University life is full of surprises – most of which are pleasant – and it is like leaving home and entering a different world, where people take subtle sips of a whisky from a flask during a 9AM lecture just to take the edge off their hangover, and leave broccoli in the fridge for weeks so that it has a nice covering of mould. University is a glorious place…a place to pick up bad habits and good memories and retain them for the rest of your life.

I Am Still Alive

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Despite what you may have thought, this three-month radio silence wasn’t because I died. I am not typing this from the afterlife (although, if there is an afterlife I fully expect there to be computers and Wi-Fi). If you’re expecting a reason for why I haven’t posted since July 1st then I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you down, because I don’t have a reasonable excuse. It has really just been a combination of not having anything to report, laziness, and, lately, business. The past month or so has been rather quite hectic, so I’ll give you a short summary of what’s transpired since my last post:

  1. I got into Cardiff University to study Biochemistry, so I’m here now.
  2. I have a boyfriend. That guy I mentioned in my last post? Yeah, well that happened.

Obviously the move to university and all that has taken up most of my time and thoughts, but it’s still not a good excuse for not having posted in over three months. So I apologise. I apologise profusely for my blog neglect. I think this is probably what would happen if I was to ever have a child…I’d be really into it for a year or two and then all of a sudden I’d forget about it for three months.

Anyway, university. Firstly, this is my room:

Photo on 15-10-2014 at 21.29 #2I moved in September 18th, so I’ve been here a while. Basically, I’m in a flat with four other people; two girls and two boys. They’re all very nice and we get on well. Fresher’s fortnight (which is just a two-week period before term officially starts when all the first years go partying, get drunk and generally build “great memories”) was alright. I went out a few times but I didn’t get too drunk, because I don’t drink. The only time I’ve been in a horrific state was when it was my best friend’s birthday (she goes to university on the other side of Cardiff) and I drank slightly too much and came home and was sick eight times. It was vile and I felt like death. I do not recommend.

Anyway, one of my flat mates, Lewis, is an absolute animal and I kid you not, he went out every single night of Freshers. And he’d always bring stuff back from his nightly, drunken adventures. One morning I went into the kitchen to find two traffic cones on the table, another morning I found a half-eaten piece of bread and the end of a pitch fork. One night he dropped his keys down a drain and had to buy a small magnet the next day and tape it to the end of a spoon to retrieve them because he didn’t want to pay the £20 to get his keys replaced.

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The traffic cones

Other than Freshers, nothing much exciting has happened. The fire alarm went off at 11PM once because someone burnt their toast, but that’s about it. The Monday after Freshers finished, we were launched straight into our courses and I tell you, the people doing Arts and Humanities courses do not know how easy they have it. The two other boys in my flat are doing Chemistry and the two girls are doing History and Modern Languages. The girl doing History has a four-hour week most weeks. That’s more than I – and everyone else doing Science degrees – do in a day. I have a few 9-5 days, but other than that they’re 10-2, which isn’t too bad.

For my course all the Biosciences students have a common first year, which means students doing Zoology, Biochemistry, Genetics etc. are all together this year learning the same stuff. It kinda sucks because it means I have to do modules in Anatomy & Physiology and Ecology and stuff like that. I mean, I came here to do Biochemistry, you know? But the point of having a common first year is that we get to have a taster of all the Biosciences degree courses in case we want to change our course next year. That’s pretty good, because if someone’s not enjoying their original choice of, say, Ecology, they could switch to Neuroscience or something.

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My very own lab coat!

So I have a lot of work at the moment. Our practicals are every Friday and they’re three hours long, we get pre- and post-practical online tests, we have module assessments, essays, and group work projects. So it’s a handful. But I’m managing at the moment. My autumn essay title is:

With reference to named amino acids, write an illustrated account of the various types of covalent and non-covalent bonds between amino acids. How do these bonds contribute to the secondary and tertiary structure of a protein and ultimately its function?

It’s not due in until December, but I’m about half way through it already. The only difficult thing about it is citing and referencing sources, which takes a lot of time and effort and which I’ve never had to do properly before.

Anyway, enough of this boring stuff. You know what’s really sad? The fact that I haven’t written anything new since FEBRUARY. How horrific is that? I did literally nothing over the summer holidays, which is just plain awful. NaNoWriMo is looming next month, but I very much doubt I’ll be able to do that on top of university work. I feel like a need to start something new just to have an escape from everyday things, but I literally have no ideas. I feel like my writing juice has completely dried up. I just seem to be brain-dead by about five everyday, so I just sit and watch Netflix for most of the evening. It’s so bad.

If any of you are tackling NaNoWriMo next month I wish you the very best of luck!

Anyway, I shall go now. It’s felt good to type this up and I apologise again for my lengthy, lengthy absence! Auf wiedersehen!

Well Strike Me Down with a Ham Sandwich

I have a date.

When I told my Mum her first response was “with a guy?”

I was like “yes, Mum. With a male of the species.”

I think it’s safe to say a fair amount of surprise registered on her face.

So anyway he’s 21 and a civil engineer and because I don’t know him that well yet I’m doing a Safety Date, which is where me and him are going out to dinner, but my two friends will also have a date at the same place. It’s just so that I have two people there, really. It’s almost sad that as a woman I have to take so many precautions when going on a date, but then I think that I’d rather be safe then show my defiance against the patriarchy. So my friend’s picking me and my other friend up, I’m meeting him at the restaurant and then he’ll drop me near my house (not at my actual house, obviously).

So yeah. I don’t even know how this happened really. But anyway, his sense of humour’s right up my street and I’m fairly sure he’s a gentleman. But, as my friend said, you can never be sure. I actually have a contingency plan for if things go weird when he’s dropping me home and my Mum’s given me some tips because she used to date every guy under the sun, some of whom were quite dodgy. I might try and subtly gather info about his views on feminism and women’s rights in general, because that’ll be a strong indicator of whether he’s decent or not.

So yeah, that’s an update on my life right now. Exams went well, I just have to wait until mid August for my results now. It’s going to be a nerve-wracking wait so I’ll have to try and not think about it too much.