Biomedical Engineering/Natural Sciences Personal Statement

Ng Eu Keat is currently a first year undergraduate reading MEng in Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London. This personal statement was part of his successful application to Imperial College London for Biomedical Engineering, University College London for Natural Sciences and Biomedical Engineering as well as University of Bath for Natural Sciences.


During my DoE Gold expedition, I camped in a cave with a colony of bats and noted their
skill of echolocation. Only knowing the basics of echolocation I decided to read ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ in which Dawkins highlights the use of the Doppler shift principle by bats to determine how far or near prey is. Additionally, bats are able to contract their ear bones to protect themselves from their shriek, a method which is applied to most sonar systems from boats to medical sonar. What made this so captivating was how it opened up a new perspective on nature-inspired innovations which sparked a desire for me to further understand the possible applications of biology, chemistry and physics.

As a person who appreciates the environment, I shadowed a group of scientists at the
Danau Girang Field Centre in Borneo last January where I developed experimental
techniques such as setting up camera traps and collecting and inspecting parasites in a
lab. Setting up camera traps was challenging as my team and I needed to consider how
the animals might respond to the traps. This required me to think inventively. All the time spent in the field had me wondering about the current situation of my country’s rainforest. In order to understand more I interviewed some doctoral students and scientist about their research. Consequently I learned about their plans for sustainable palm oil plantations which would not threaten forest biodiversity. The experience has heightened my understanding of the environment while helping me hone my communication and mediation skills: all necessary for work in research groups.

Those who spend time outside in Borneo understand the irritation of mosquitoes. Interestingly we do not feel the bites as mosquitoes have one pair of serrated needles which minimise contact with nerves, something I learnt at a talk by Dr. Moshrefi-Torbati on biomimicry. Auxiliary reading showed that the adaptation was the basis on which engineer Seiji Aoyagi created his pain free hypodermic needle. The talk made me wonder about the other instances of biomimicry in nature. Inspired, I undertook an EPQ researching the topic. An example would be the tasar silkworm, whose silk fibroin is the main component of certain heart scaffolds as the silk is biocompatible while being able to degrade safely. The EPQ has refined my ability to conduct independent research which I applied to expand my understanding on respiration. For instance, I made notes on the ten steps of glycolysis as I had not been satisfied with the simplified version learnt in class.

Being given the opportunity to learn about the workings of our world throughout my A-
level has been especially engaging. However the ability to realise practical solutions from the theories learnt is what excites me. Therefore, I read Mark Miodownik’s ‘Stuff Matters’ learning about the medical applications of bio-glass and titanium in surgery. Miodownik further explores concepts such as the transparency of glass which really stretched my understanding of inorganic chemistry; I only knew that glass was transparent and, not how that property emerged. To complement my growing interest in materials science I completed an online course on 3D bio-printing to get an insight on how personalised prosthetics are made.

Quite simply it is the interdisciplinary approach to the sciences which fascinates me and,
as an initiative to share my knowledge, my friend and I started an Instagram account
where I set aside time to point out topics of interest such as: ‘Coral bleaching’ and
‘Tissue regeneration’. It was evident from my research that the environment is degrading
due to human activity. Another problem I have observed is the growing threat of
superbugs facilitated by the careless prescription of antibiotics by Malaysian doctors. It is
my hope that one day I will be able to develop sustainable solutions for the environment,
as well as new advances in medicine for Malaysia.


DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KINDUCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

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MyBrainSc Scholarship

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Editor’s Note: Please be advised the the renditions of the MyBrainSc Scholarship from 2016 and the foreseeable future no longer sponsor students to overseas institution. However, the basic principles behind the application process for the scholarship highlighted in this article still apply. 

Are you still scratching your head to look out more scholarships desperately on the Internet? Please take a serious glimpse of this article if you wish to know more regarding the details of this scholarship. MyBrainSc scholarship is offered by the Ministry of Education (MoE), and open to all Malaysians. This scholarship sponsors successful candidates financially to pursue both undergraduate and postgraduate studies (Bachelor Degree/Master/PhD level) in local and overseas universities. For your information, only four pure-science disciplines are sponsored by this scholarship- Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. If you wish to practise Chemical Engineering, Statistics, Forensic Science, Biomedical Science or Biotechnology, then you are barking up the wrong tree. Thus, I am writing this to share my experience and equip you with ample information so that you are not far from materialising your big dreams.

Stage One – Online Application

The online application is open from December to March. Make sure you always check out the website of Portal Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM) during the period. You must meet the minimum requirements before applying for the scholarship. The documents required in the online application are softcopies of your original ICs, passport-sized photos, SPM transcripts, Matrikulasi/STPM/Asasi/IB/A-level/Diploma/SAT transcripts and university offer letters (if available).

Stage Two – Psychometric Test

In the mid of April, you will start receiving an e-mail which demands you to sit for a psychometric test. This test is implemented to evaluate your main interests in particular fields, ambitions, mentality, emotionality, hobbies, potential abilities and other psychological abilities. It is almost like the test we usually did in our secondary school to determine which field or job you were excellently cut out for. Compared to the previous years, the psychometric test has taken the place of an IQ test without doubt.

The test embodies two sections- Section A and B. Each candidate will be allocated roughly 120-180 minutes which are quite adequate for him or her to complete both sections separately. The questions are in Bahasa Melayu. Examples of the test are: “Adakah anda suka membaiki mesin dan motor?”, “Adakah anda suka mencatat, mengira, menulis dan membaca?” & “Anda dapat menerima nasihat orang lain dalam satu organisasi.” It consists of 300 questions and repetition of multiple questions occurs in the two sections. The answers are only “Yes” or “No”. The questions are not esoteric and you will be having plenty of time to complete them. I am sure you can answer the questions well as long as you possess a moderate command of Bahasa Melayu. Even so, please do not make light of this test because many candidates are eliminated from this stage either.

Stage Three – Interview

Eligible candidates will be notified of the interview through e-mails in due course. Interviewees need to attend the interviews in different states as to your respective residences. The wisest thing to do at this stage is searching for plenteous interview tips on the Internet, for example, blog spots of the scholars and interviewees, CollegeLah, ScholarStories, Lowyatnet and etc. The tips obtained are requisite in giving you an idea on how the interview is conducted and what kinds of questions will be asked during the interview.

Two candidates will be paired randomly in a group after the registration together with a panel of two interviewers. The interviewers are normally the professors or experts in the pure-science related fields. In my case, I was paired up with another guy who was doing his first-year Physics degree locally. Our interview took about 45 minutes and was fully conducted in English. We took turns at answering the same set of questions. You can round your points out to enable your ideas to be graspable even further. Moreover, keep up with current issues nationwide. I would suggest chatting with other candidates first before the interview helps to relieve your pent-up pressure and disquiet.

Speak confidently to voice your own opinions even though you are stammering sometimes throughout the interview. It is a no-brainer everyone is not like-minded in essence, thus, you must be level-headed by the time you encounter rebuttals from the interviewers. Take it as a piece of advice from them as it is just an exchange of opinions between both parties. Just be frank if you are ignorant of ideal answers to a question, it will not impinge on your overall performance. Also, try to engage them in a conversation with you as it can make you be yourself more and mitigate your apprehension.

I am listing out the following questions asked during my interview session:

 

  • Introduce yourself briefly.
  • What would you like to be besides becoming a lecturer?
  • Which department would like to join after your graduation? (Private, government or university)
  • Besides being a lecturer in university, what else do you think the lecturer should teach his students other than emphasising on the academics?
  • To study in England, what do you think you can do so that the foreigners will appreciate Malaysian students?   
  • If you get an awesome offer from the overseas company, would you like to work there or come back to Malaysia?
  • From all the activities you joined, what is the most valuable experience you have gained so far?
  • How would you promote patriotism?
  • What is your biggest strength and weakness?
  • How do you overcome the weakness?
  • Do you think you deserve this scholarship?
  • Current issues asked in my interview- GST&1MDB

 

Scholar’s Advice

I would like to highlight that the MoE is not going to help you in the university application. All procedures are kindly handled on your own. If you wish to study in the UK, all you need to do is apply for the universities through UCAS. Getting the admission of universities done before securing the scholarship is sparing with time and efforts. MyBrainSc Scholarship does sponsor students, too, to study in the US, Australia and Canada aside from the UK. The lists of universities recognized by MyBrainSc are available on Portal KPM.

Plus, you will need to come back and serve Malaysia for 5 years upon completion of your studies. The job prospects offered are becoming lecturers or researchers who will be affiliated with educational institutions and research centres in Malaysia. You should leap at this golden opportunity without scruples provided that you have an eye to Pure Sciences. The interview results shall be set forth approximately around the UPU results week.

Truth to tell, I have been harbouring a hope to study in England come what may. Finally, I have come across this scholarship which can bring my dream to pass and let me head for my dreamland, England. Perseverance is the key to achieving success and goals. To err is human. I do sail through trials and tribulations which have dampened my spirits. However, it takes courage and faith to begin the first step of everything you embark on. After going through a bad patch, you will see light at the end of the tunnel. Be a go-getter, and keep in mind that success does not come easy for any warrior. I truly hope that the information shared here will come in handy for you all in time to come.


Ka Chong

Ngui Ka Chong is a scholarship holder who will be pursuing his Biology degree in The University of Manchester under MyBrainSc Scholarship 2015. He loves making new friends everywhere, listening to music, reading novels and being a zealous writer. The motto of his life is “go confidently in the direction of dreams, live the life you have imagined.”

Biochemistry Personal Statement

This Personal Statement was part of this student’s successful application to study  Natural Sciences at University of Cambridge and Biochemistry at Imperial College London, University College London, University of Manchester and University of Edinburgh


When I was nine, I saw my grandmother pass away in bed. I never really grasped the implications of the situation then. But as I grew older, I found out she had died of colon cancer. I realised that her life could have been prolonged if only we had known how to deal with this terrible disease. I thought that there must be some way to fight off this threat. And after learning more about science, I realised that there was more than one way. Scientists and researchers spend nearly their whole life in diverse fields for a solution to this problem. For me, I see Biochemistry as a highly reliable route for preventing cancer, as cells and molecules can now be manipulated effectively.

At school and college, I have been constantly fascinated by the way molecular structures and bonding affect the properties and functions of cells because these are the areas I believe can be used to treat cancer and other diseases. Furthermore, organic chemistry amazes me as its wide scope opens up many possibilities for the hybridization of drugs to produce more effective medicine.  Mathematics too is a very enjoyable subject for me. I have been quite capable of understanding the methods required in solving maths problems relatively quickly and remembering the formulae necessary to solve them

Reading is an important part of my life. Literature in any form, has taught me to have an open mind. To appreciate many different perspectives. To view things accepted as ‘truths’ in a new light. My interest has never been limited to a single genre as reading materials about science, history and culture are among those I peruse. ‘The Origin of Humankind’ by Richard Leakey, has successfully instilled a culture of enquiry in me with its wide discussion covering various points of views. In this way, my passion for reading has improved my understanding of the world and how science has come to affect civilization. It has also given me the ability to be critical and analytical when dealing with a variety of situations.

Representing my secondary school in a national science competition known as the Mighty Minds National Challenge has led me further into the realm of science. This competition taught me that the route to science does not consist of just information, but creativity, innovation, and consistent questioning of the processes that are used to solve a problem as well. Furthermore, my participation in the Yokohama Science Frontier Forum for International Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) has provided me with a first-hand experience of different cultures and international perspectives with respect to scientific progress and research from a country respected for its ground-breaking technological advancements. In preparation for that forum, I spent two weeks with a local scientist in her laboratory where I learnt how to use equipment such as a drying chamber which was used for supercritical drying of the aerogel I made for the forum.

After five years in a boarding school, I feel I am very capable of adapting to living abroad independently. Also as a prefect, I have learnt to be responsible for my actions, communicate effectively and work under pressure. Apart from that, my involvement in rugby has instilled a strong sense of teamwork and dedication into me. Additionally, being in the school orchestra has given me a high level of discipline, commitment and attention to detail, preparing me for the rigours associated with completing a degree.

In due time, I believe that a qualification in Biochemistry in your university will help better prepare me to solve the challenges that our world will face in this era of mass production, environmental hazards, scientific progress and shared responsibility for our Earth. I look forward to contributing as much as possible and working together with the members of your esteemed university to improve humanity’s quality of life in a sustainable and efficient manner.


DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

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Biomedical Science Personal Statement

This Personal Statement was part of this student’s sucessful application to study Biology in Imperial College London, Natural Sciences in University College London and Durham University as well as Genetics in University of Edinburgh.


What happens if chloroplasts are injected into your bloodstream? How can a human breathe underwater? What happens if you jump into a hole drilled through the earth’s core? These are some of the intriguing questions asked by my younger brother. These are not questions which answers can be found in textbooks so I have to rely on logical reasoning to answer him. Of course, these questions are impractical in reality but I enjoy trying to solve the unsolvable. After a period of intense questioning, I myself developed this peculiar habit of asking why and what. I consider this to be my greatest strength because it allows me to look at science from a different perspective. History shows us that the biggest discoveries are not those with the biggest answers but those with the biggest questions.

Most people will define science by its three main subjects; biology, chemistry and physics. However, my view of science is that there are no rigid boundaries separating the subjects. Learning only one of the subjects is inadequate because those subjects are related in a thousand and one ways. For instance, the chemical composition of purines and pyrimidines is what allows the precise replication of DNA. Even mathematics can be found reappearing in nature as the Golden Ratio. Throughout my studies, it has always been a thrill to be able to apply concepts I learnt from one subject in another. Not only does this enable me to understand the subjects better, it gives me an immense satisfaction of being able to connect them; like same-coloured tiles of a Rubik’s cube coming together.

My particular interest in biology has leaded me to do a hospital attachment. I witnessed a gastroscopy and a biopsy being done to test for H. pylori. One branch of biology which intrigues me more than the others is genetics. Genetics is more than just the study of genes; it explains how one’s phenotype arises from the complex relationship of its genotype with its environment. The idea of nurture vs. nature and which has the upper hand in determining an organism’s characteristics appeals to me. Darwinism and Mendelism complement each other so beautifully and the unification of both theories is something I want to learn to greater detail. Genetics immediately caught my attention when my high-school teacher taught us about DNA replication and transcription. The way free nucleotides which have no sense of order at first, could suddenly line up next to the exposed DNA strands in a precise arrangement is simply elegant; order from chaos. When I read The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean, I stumbled upon transposons. Further research left me in awe because these “jumping genes” further prove that something as inanimate as DNA could do as much as something living, if not more. The way transposons work raises many questions, so I am eager to learn more about it at a higher level. I even requested for an interview with a local geneticist to find out more but I am still waiting for a reply.

During my schooling years, I consistently top my batch in exams and was awarded with numerous top-in-subject awards especially in maths and science subjects. I was also named the Top 50 Best Scorer in Malaysia for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM). I took part in many maths and science competitions to try a different approach in learning these subjects. As a result, I found out that I enjoy the challenges set by the competitions and gained a lot from them. An example of my achievements is I was awarded a High Distinction in the National Malaysian Chemistry Quiz. I also emerged second for the KDU’s Maths and Science Competition. Badminton and squash is my forte and I took part in tournaments. Debating was also a passion of mine in secondary school and it had taught me to think critically and analytically, which are important assets in the science field. I gained leadership experience by being the Assistant Head Prefect and I was also the Vice Captain for my school’s Blue House.


DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

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Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge

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Before you start reading about my experience, I do have a reminder. Personally, I think that some parts of my experience should be an example of what NOT to do throughout the application process, as opposed to what you SHOULD do or CAN do.

CHOOSING A COURSE

Many students have a problem deciding what to study because they are not sure if they are suitable for that particular course or if they are interested in that field. I myself had a hard time trying to decide which course to study. My decision to study Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge was actually a last-minute decision. Before I made my final decision, I talked to two of my lecturers who did similar courses to the ones that I was interested in and also had discussions with my dad. From those conversations, I understood more about those courses, including: in-depth information about the course outline and content (which may or may not be available in the university website), the obstacles I may face as a student in that particular course, the job opportunities available for a fresh graduate and a rough idea of the expectations of employers. I finally made up my mind and decided to go for Biochemistry.

My suggestion is:

If you really do not know which course to do, you’d first have to figure out exactly what your interest is and shortlist a few courses that you will have the passion to study for the next 3 or 4 years. Then, gather information and understand more about these courses (the university website and brochures will be a great help). Up to this point, if you still cannot make a decision, try talking to a senior or a teacher/lecturer who studied the course and has personal experiences. This helps a lot in determining if you are suitable for that particular course, especially if that person knows your potential really well. Of course, you have to keep this in mind at all times:

YOU ARE THE ONE WHO MAKES THE ULTIMATE DECISION.

No one can make that decision for you because that is your future that we are talking about.

UCAS APPLICATION

Before I continue with my own experience, I would like to share a friend’s case. He applied for two different but similar courses in the same university in his UCAS application, which means out of the 5 university options, 2 of them were the same university but different degrees. You can only upload ONE personal statement so if anyone of you decides to follow his path, make sure that you seek advice before you do so (the counsellors from MABECS are very helpful). You wouldn’t want to simply waste a chance, would you?

My UCAS application was rather easy, credits to Taylor’s College Placement Centre. The most difficult and tedious part was definitely my personal statement (PS). Now please be aware that this is one of the parts where future applicants should NEVER EVER FOLLOW. As I mentioned earlier, my decision to apply for Natural Sciences in Cambridge was a late decision. When I started looking into application deadlines, it was about two or three weeks from Taylor’s College’s internal deadline for Cambridge applications. I had not even started writing my PS at that time, and I totally freaked out. So PLEASE DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.

I wrote about applying for Biochemistry in my PS since I plan to choose Biochemistry as a specialism for my Cambridge Natural Sciences degree. For my first PS draft, I followed the guidelines provided in the UCAS website as I had no idea where to start. (UCAS PS guide: ) I emphasized a lot on ECA and personal qualities, and only mentioned a bit about my passion in Biochemistry and how I maintained it. Until today I cannot forget what the counsellor from MABECS said to me after reading my first draft:

‘Dear, your PS is actually very good and strong for all the universities, except Oxbridge.’

She gave me some ideas on how to change and restructure my PS. Her advice was:

  1.       Shorten the part on my ECA and personal qualities;
  2.       Elaborate on my passion in Biochemistry;
  3.       Apart from telling them how I enjoy science and its classes, I have to show that I am doing extra work outside of class that relates to my interest in Biochemistry, such as participation in activities and most importantly, extra RESEARCH (reading scientific journals for example). That is extremely important as the university wants to see that you are doing extra work in keeping up with your passion (She said something like that; I don’t remember the counsellor’s exact words).

Those were basically the guidelines for my following PS drafts. Every time I corrected my PS, I sent it to MABECS, my dad and a few of my lecturers for checking and advice. After I had my PS done, I moved onto completing the application details and submitting my application.

And just to mention a bit about English qualifications, I did not include any other English qualifications like IELTS or TOEFL in my UCAS application. All I mentioned was my English 1119 result. I decided not to take the IELTS test until I received my conditional offer (CO) as my college counsellor mentioned that if the university wants me to have other English qualifications besides English 1119, they will state it as a condition in my CO and it will not be too late to sit for the test then. What matters the most at that point were my results, forecasts, testimonials and so on. It turned out that in my CO they did not require me to sit for other English qualifications.

Suggestions:

Always keep track of application deadlines and spend more time on your PS (I am an EXTREMELY BAD EXAMPLE in this case). If you do not know where to start, refer to the general writing guidelines provided in the UCAS website. Get different people to read your PS (they can be counsellors from MABECS, your teachers/lecturers, parents, seniors etc.). They can give ideas about how to improve your PS and correct any possible grammar mistakes (there must be zero/minimal grammar mistakes in your PS). And the golden rule: it must be YOUR OWN WORDS. Don’t even think about copying a single sentence or phrase from other sources, that is the biggest taboo. Also, avoid referring to other applicants’ PS if you’re worried that you might copy their ideas or sentences unknowingly.

As for the application details, I think it will be good to go through it first and find out what information/additional documents you may require. You can complete the online application form within a day if you have those information ready. Before submitting your application, you can ask a counsellor from your college to check your application details, just in case there are any mistakes (that was what I did).

COPA and SAQ

All Malaysian Cambridge applicants are required to complete the COPA after submitting their UCAS applications. COPA is similar to the UCAS application, but it has additional questions which are not included in the UCAS application, such as your financial sources, extra PS etc. I mostly wrote about my ECA achievements that I did not include in my PS, and talked about my ambitions in detail.

Also, you are required to explain why you chose to apply to that particular Cambridge college in your COPA, unless you put in an open application. So here’s the second BAD EXAMPLE from me. Last-minute decision meant that I didn’t really have much time to research on the colleges. Of course, I did look into the colleges in Cambridge earlier before I had that dilemma of choosing a degree, but that was more of a general understanding rather than in-depth research. So when I read more about the colleges within that limited time, I couldn’t decide which college I prefer. In the end, I put in an open application. Of course, I was very lucky as I was allocated to a college which I think has great facilities and tutors (and location too), but it will definitely be good if future applicants can choose a college. Even if you are not accepted by that college, you still have a chance to enter winter pool.

And another tip for completing the COPA: although there are some questions that are not compulsory to answer, it is advisable that you try your best to answer every relevant question. Therefore, spend some time completing the COPA as it is slightly different from normal application forms. In a way, I thought that it actually felt like writing a second personal statement. So do not rush over the COPA, as it obviously plays a significant role in your application to Cambridge. And same rule – try to ask someone to check it before submitting it. You definitely do not want any unnecessary mistakes.

As for the SAQ, Malaysian applicants are required to submit it, but technically there is nothing that you need to do. All you have to do is provide your COPA reference number (or something like that), which is given to you after you submit your COPA. Also, you are required to submit your High School Transcripts – a certified copy of your SPM certificate (if you sat for the SPM), both the original copy and a translated copy. You can get the translation template from your college counsellor if possible (Taylor’s students can get it from Placement Centre). Or if you want you can drop me an email at nicole_shujing@hotmail.com and ask for it.

INTERVIEW

Cambridge conducts one-to-one interviews in Malaysia, so most Malaysian applicants are interviewed here as long as you put your preferred interview location as Malaysia (although some colleges do require you to go to Cambridge for the interview, it really depends). As a matter of fact, I got to know that Cambridge tries their best to interview as many applicants as possible, so every applicant has a high chance of being invited to an interview. Although the email regarding the interview is only received a few weeks before the interview, you can still properly utilize that two to three months to prepare for your interview. Continue ALL the extra research that you’re doing and if possible, start new ones too. For those two months before my interview, I continued reading journals and news articles and watched documentaries on Youtube.

Cambridge interviews are fully academic-based, I will say. Before going for the interview, you have to be very familiar with your current syllabus and you will have an advantage if you have extra knowledge or more in-depth understanding of what is not in your syllabus. Like many have said, the interviewer tends to push you to your limits and ask you questions that may be out of your syllabus, but don’t worry, it’s totally normal. I believe that what the interviewer wants is to see the potential in you, to determine if you are suitable for the tough academic system and syllabus in Cambridge. If you really get stuck and fail to answer the question, just tell the interviewer that you do not know the answer and they will guide you from there. And another tip, if you’re unsure about the question, ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Don’t simply say something that is not what the interviewer is asking for. The interviewer may give extra explanations about the question, so feel free to ask the interviewer if there’s anything that you want to know or would like further clarification on. What’s most important is to try to calm down during the interview and give it your best shot. It doesn’t matter if you can’t answer the questions, you might still pass. Oh yes, and about dress codes. Even though they mentioned that you can wear whatever you are comfortable with for the interview, I think you should dress smart and comfortable. It is still an INTERVIEW.

I was lucky as my interview was dated a day or two after my Biology and Chemistry papers, so whatever I had to know was still fresh in my mind. I did go through the topics that my lecturer covered for A2 syllabus, just in case. My interviewer, Dr. Richard Barnes started the interview with a simple self-introduction and briefly explained how that interview was going to be like. He then asked me to introduce myself, followed by some general questions like my studies and interests, along with a question or two regarding what I wrote about my future plans and ambitions in my PS.

Then the ‘real’ interview began. Since I was still at AS Level during the time of the interview, Dr.Barnes assured me that he will give questions accordingly. I can’t remember the exact questions that Dr.Barnes asked, so these are only based on my memory. He started with a question about organic compounds. He gave me a molecular formula and asked me to draw the displayed formulas of all the isomers. That was where Dr.Barnes started to push me to my limits. Ether was one of the isomers, but it is not included in both AS and A2 syllabus. I still managed to list out all the isomers, including ether, thanks to my Chemistry lecturer for his detailed explanations in class and his patience towards all my annoying Chemistry questions.

Then Dr Barnes continued with a question about alcohol. If I remember correctly, a few of the isomers are alcohols, and from that he asked questions about the oxidation of each of alcohol, chemical reactions involving alcohol, testing methods etc. I do remember him asking about the methods to test for aldehydes though, because I remember giving answers about the changes and observations using 2,4-DNPH, Tollens’ reagent and Fehling’s solution. Dr.Barnes even replied me by saying ‘I would prefer using Tollens’ reagent,’ in a light tone. So as you can see, the interviewers are actually really nice and try to make the atmosphere more comfortable for the applicants.

Dr.Barnes continued with a question about esterification. That was the point where he started to link Chemistry with Biology (just a reminder, in my PS I wrote about applying for Biochemistry). He started asking questions about triglycerides and the importance of triglycerides in the human body. From triglycerides, he extended the question to phospholipids, and asked about roles of phospholipids in cell surface membranes. He then discussed with me the fluid mosaic model. I got stuck at some parts when I was answering the questions, especially when he asked me to derive and draw the displayed formula of an organic compound that I have never learned before, but Dr.Barnes gave me tips and guided me when I had trouble answering his questions. He even showed me how to start the displayed formula and let me continue from there.

Overall, I managed to answer all the questions given by Dr.Barnes, once again thanks to my Chemistry and Biology lecturers’ patience towards all my weird questions. My interview ended in about 20 minutes, and frankly speaking it actually felt like it was less than 20 minutes. I guess it was because I totally enjoyed the interview, although I thought it was more like a lesson or an academic discussion with a really experienced person. It was not a typical one-sided interview where he asked questions and I answered them. I did ask for some clarifications about the new organic compound that I learnt, though I don’t remember what it was. I was very nervous when I first entered the interview room, which was a lecture theatre, but as the interview went on I felt more relaxed and comfortable since Dr.Barnes was very nice and acted more like a lecturer than an interviewer. Of course, I did bring in something that always calms me when I’m nervous – my jacket.

WRITTEN TEST

My written test was two days after my interview. I sat for the TSA test, which consists of two parts. The first part consisted of multiple choice questions about logical thinking. They were mainly on relating evidence, calculations and so on. I found that part quite easy since I took AS Level Thinking Skills in college, and the question styles were quite similar. I did not finish all the questions and simply guessed the answers for the remaining four or five questions, but the invigilators said that it is OK if you cannot finish all the questions, just make sure that you do not leave any BLANK ANSWERS. To prepare for this part, I did the sample paper provided (I think there is a link to download it), and also did some past year Thinking Skills Paper 1.

The second part was an essay question, where we had to choose a question from a list of questions given according to the course that we applied for. I chose the question about the importance of water in life, and just wrote down everything that popped up in my mind. I wrote about the role of water in regulation, cell content, the importance of water to plants, water as habitats etc. My essay was approximately one and a half to two pages long. There’s really not much advice that I can give about the essay questions, as it really depends on what course you apply for and you can’t predict the questions. So I think just treat it like the exams you sit for in school and try your best.

After the application process, interview and written test, all you have to do is wait for the college’s reply. I got my CO some time in early or mid-January 2014, before my AS results were released.

OK, that is all that I can share with whoever is reading this article. Thank you for your time and effort in reading this long article, I hope that my experience can help you and somehow reduce your fear of applying to top ranking universities. If you really want to study in these top ranking universities, don’t worry too much and just give it a shot. Who knows? You might just be the one that the university is looking for, and there’s no harm in trying. That’s what my principal, Ms. Lauren always says. And last but not least, ALL THE BEST TO YOU GUYS 😀 !!


Nicole Chung

Chung Shujing will be pursuing a degree in Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge. She loves going on vacations, and is crazily in love with the Eiffel Tower. You may contact her at nicole_shujing@hotmail.com