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Biomedical & Biomolecular Sciences

Biomedical & Biomolecular Sciences Blogs

In this section, students and graduates of subjects from the common entry Science degree in Biomedical and Biomolecular subject areas will share their experiences in UCD. 

 UCD graduate Courtney Greene describes why she chose Pharmacology. In addition to the post below, you can watch a short Q&A with Courtney about why she chose Ireland, UCD Science and Pharmacology as well as a discussion about her career choices after graduation.

Coming into UCD I knew I wanted to study Science. I chose to study biomedical and biomolecular sciences because I was passionate about research and the human body. During, first year, I explored modules from organic chemistry to biomedical Sciences as a result of UCD Science’s flexible first year Science curriculum. It was at the end of first year that I knew I wanted to pursue a Science largely related to medicine and the human body. With that, I decided to focus my studies in Second Year on Pharmacology, Neuroscience, Microbiology and Physiology. 

Early in Second Year, I knew I would eventually pursue Pharmacology. I chose it because I'm infatuated in the research of drugs and the treatment of diseases. Pharmacology is at the forefront of both biological and medical research, a career choice that has ample opportunities for both innovation and success, not just in science and medicine, but business as well. 

Pharmacology is often confused with pharmacy, and it is important to understand just how different these degrees are. In pharmacy, you are studying drugs and their actions, but with the end goal of becoming a pharmacist, working in patient care settings and working with the administration of drugs. Pharmacology itself looks more at the understanding and research of drugs and thus is the branch of biology concerned with drug action. More specifically, it is the study of interactions that occur between a living organism and the chemicals that affect their biochemical function. The degree here at UCD largely focuses on different aspects of how drugs act on the body and how the body responds to the drug, appropriately termed, pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics. With that said, third Year primarily focused on advanced foundation modules like ‘Cell Signaling’, ‘Drug Action in Body Systems’, ‘Chemotherapeutic Agents’, and ‘Toxicology’. It’s with that basic fundamental understanding that we then were able to apply these pharmacological principles to more advanced modules in third and fourth Year like ‘Advanced Cancer Pharmacology’, ‘Advanced ‘Neuropharmacology’, ‘Advanced Renal Pharmacology’ and ‘Advanced Cardiovascular Pharmacology’.

The degree itself is very interactive and hands on. In third Year, we broke into smaller class sizes, allowing us to really engage with our professors and lecturers. In addition, we had anywhere from 3 to 4 labs a week that really tried to enforce knowledge for different aspects of lab skills that would be necessary for the real-world research setting of Pharmacology. These skills varied from the use of animal organ baths, to the manipulation of cancer cell lines, and to virtual computer aided labs.

In fourth year, you choose to pursue a 15-credit group research project or a full time, 3-month 20 credit individual research project carried out under a supervisor and their team of researchers. My work focused primarily on ‘oral peptide drug delivery’, using the colonic mucosae from a rat model to pursue my research on. Using a fluorescent peptide model in an apparatus called an ‘Ussing Chamber’, the objective of my studies were to see if a permeation enhancer on this peptide model was able to alleviate the grip of tight junctions in the colonic mucosae which inhibits the drug from reaching its intended target. This is the result of the large bulky size of peptide molecule drugs, like insulin! That is why insulin for diabetics cannot be taken in an oral tablet form, it is too large to cross intestinally. My research was exciting to watch unfold, and an important addition to the research of my lab group where publishable data was attained.

I had an avenue of options to pursue following my four year completion of the degree. Many students go on to pursue industry work or a full time career in their respective degree discipline, many go on to pursue further education with great opportunity and success. For example, coming out of my pharmacology degree the options were multifold with myself and my classmates all taking different routes. Many went right into a fully funded PhD, some into a research masters, and some into work and graduate programs. A few even went on to pursue Graduate Entry Medicine. I went on to pursue a masters in UCD’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in the related field of ‘Biotechnology and Business’. As my future desires for work laid in regulatory management and approval of drugs, a joint business degree was crucial for my future success in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. With modules ranging from corporate finance to regulatory affairs and medical devices, my completion of the course has made me a well-rounded applicant for my future endeavours. 

After working in the clinical research area of drug regulation and safety in clinical trials for a couple of years, I then moved onto directly working in pediatric clinical trials on site in CHI Hospitals. I am currently based primarily in Temple Street where I work directly with the Cystic Fibrosis multidisciplinary team carrying out phase III clinical trials and research on the young pediatric cohort. Switching to a hands-on, patient facing role has been extremely rewarding and purposeful. 

In addition to the happiness I found in UCD Science, I can’t neglect to show appreciation to the state of the art campus, faculty, and student life in UCD which have been so welcoming over the past few years. The experiences, lessons, friends and education I have taken away from my time in UCD has undoubtedly crafted me into the adult I am today. I’m not sure whether my future journey will keep me in Dublin, Europe, or America but I know I’m ready for wherever my Science journey takes me, always carrying with me the experience and lessons my time in UCD has taught me.

Courtney Greene, UCD Pharmacology Graduate

Meet UCD Microbiology graduate Emma Cullen...


Image: Vincent Hoban (UCD Media Services)

  • 19 May 2017: My final undergraduate exam in the RDS.
  • 19 June 2017: My first day in work at Glanbia.
  • 8 September 2017: Receiving my scroll in the O’Reilly Hall for a BSc in Microbiology. 

After four exciting years of undergraduate preparation in UCD, it certainly was a busy few months building up to graduation day. While carrying out my thesis in UCD, I applied to the Glanbia ‘Pure Ambition’ Graduate Programme and that is where I have found myself today. A previous internship with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in the summer of third year had sparked an interest for the food industry so I couldn’t think of a better experience than a hands-on graduate programme with a global nutritional company.

I am currently working as a QA Food Science associate in a Glanbia dairy and am involved in assurance of the quality of milk from raw milk intake to final product despatch. My analytical style of thinking developed throughout my degree with UCD is vital for my role, working with large sets of data. The programme is two years in length with a rotation for the second year either in a new role or to a new geographical location or both. I would love the opportunity to try R&D as part of my rotation, something different but I’m sure equally as challenging as quality assurance.

Emma Cullen graduated from UCD with a BSc Microbiology in 2017 and works for Glanbia. This post was first published 8 February 2018.

I have had a lifelong passion for science, so choosing to study Science in UCD was the perfect choice for me. Being able to study so many different subjects in the first two years of my degree was a brilliant way to learn about diverse subject matter and discover the area of science that best suited me.

Genetics was by far my favourite subject, because it is such a fundamental area of study for all of biology. Modules offered to you in genetics range from studying microbial genetics, evolution and phylogenetics, human genetics and disease, and my personal favourite, plant genetics. Another aspect of this course that was very appealing to me is that you have the opportunity to do a mix of “wet lab” practical work, and bioinformatics, so you develop a wide range of up-to-date skills for further research or industry work. I am now pursuing a PhD in plant genetics in UCD, and I use the skills and knowledge I obtained from my undergraduate degree every day.

The summer after my second year, I had the great opportunity to complete an internship in UCD with Acclimatize, a research project part-funded by the ERDF, studying how climate change impacts bathing waters in Dublin Bay. There, I discovered my passion for working in the lab and conducting research, and decided I wanted to pursue research after my undergraduate degree.

Grace Pender, Graduate

Many students pick electives in their degree area in order to increase their knowledge on chosen subjects. I however, opted for electives outside of my field of choice in areas that I have an interest in. While I generally remained within the Science building, my electives introduced me to areas I would never encounter studying microbiology alone for four years.

Food Diet and Health was my very first elective as a fresher. Covering topics like Food Science, Food Safety and Public Health Nutrition caught my attention, in keeping with my scientific interest. I am passionate about food. I love to cook and bake and I am constantly experimenting in the kitchen. Along with my sweet tooth, I like to eat healthily but could never get my head around fad diets. This module gave me an insight into the world of the Atkins Diet and other popular crazes, highlighting the results and potential consequences of such slimming plans.

Outside of college I am an avid gardener so the opportunity to study something in the field of horticulture really appealed to me. Plants and People is an elective that covers the use of plants by humankind. Throughout the module, areas we focused on included the design of private gardens, parks, sports pitches and golf courses. The production of foodstuffs such as mushrooms were traced as well as current and new techniques for better plant production, for example the making of a vertical garden for locations with limited ground space. Plants and People offered a chance to discover some of the hidden gems on campus such as the Millennium Oak Walk, the Lamb Clarke historical Irish Apple Collection and the highly coveted secret lake!

In second year I managed to secure a place in the Introduction to Massage module – places are highly sought after among sports fanatics. A core module for physiotherapy students, this elective introduces the student to a range of basic techniques used in sports therapy. I loved the practical aspect. It was so different to my previous practical lab experiences with test tube in hand. Every week for two hours we would spend the afternoon practicing techniques on each other. The class group is split into pairs to practice and towards the end of the semester a practical exam took place, accounting for roughly half of the marks. Theory lectures aided the practicals, teaching about basic functional anatomy, muscles, various trigger points as well as the psychological effects of massage.

My current elective is the UCD Symphony Orchestra module. Providing a break to students stressed about assignments and text book learning in the library, this module is entirely based on practicals. Orchestra provides such a great opportunity to meet other students from different disciplines as you are constantly mixing with new players. To get into the orchestra you must go through a straightforward audition process. I did my audition at the start of second year playing the Vivaldi Concerto in A minor third movement on my violin and was required to sight read a short orchestral piece too. The level in the orchestra is generally grade seven and above.

When I first joined I played in the UCD Symphony Orchestra as a hobby but realised soon after that I could get credits for playing in it. This was an elective I just had to add to my list of modules. The orchestra regularly go on trips, many of which are abroad. Last March they travelled to Uppsala in Sweden – not something that regularly occurs in microbiology modules! The chance to perform in great Dublin venues such as Christ Church Cathedral, the National Concert Hall not to mention our own Astra Hall really appealed to me as I’m sure it would to fellow musicians. After a long Monday in lectures and labs it’s nice to pick up your instrument and play, sitting beside an arts student, in front of an engineer and behind a radiographer all while earning credits for attendance and participation.

Through the elective programme I’ve learned so much about areas both related and unrelated to science. Most importantly for me the modules with collaborative and practical aspects have allowed me to meet and make friends with a variety of people I would never have met if I didn’t branch outside of the UCD O’Brien Science Centre. I have always wanted to study Microbiology but the opportunity to take electives has really complemented a subject I love.

Emma Cullen, UCD Microbiology Graduate

UCD College of Science

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