Frances McDonald – Alumni25 July 2018
Here you can find out a bit more about the individual experiences of some of our students, why they chose Cardiff University for their postgraduate study and what they enjoy most about Cardiff!
Name: Frances MacDonald
Postgraduate Course: Cancer, Biology and Therapeutics
Institution where you did your Undergraduate studies: Cardiff University
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why did you choose to become a postgraduate student?
I am an outgoing and enthusiastic person who loves getting involved with sports, exploring local culture, and of course- keeping up to date with the latest in science! I’m the sort of person who loves to be constantly busy- outside of university I fill most of my evenings and weekends with playing netball, long distance running, going for walks in the Brecon beacons, or exploring the independent businesses in the local area. My best feature is probably my ability to put in the hours and persevere to reach personal goals. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, which is good in the scientific industry as attention to detail is key to accuracy in experiments!
My friends often think I’m a bit strange for saying this, but I really love learning! I was definitely not ready to stop learning after my undergraduate degree, and after being particularly inspired by some seminars from leading researchers in Cancer Stem Biology based in Cardiff, I decided to pursue this interest in Cancer research to postgraduate level. The school of pharmacy had also just decided to start a new masters course titled ‘Cancer Biology and Therapeutics’, and I just knew it was the one for me! I had decided that working in clinical trials would be the area of work I’d like to pursue, and since Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, this is a particularly important area to identify and develop novel therapeutics for. By studying at master’s level this would set me apart from other candidates when applying to postgraduate roles.
Why did you choose Cardiff University for your Postgraduate studies?
Cardiff University conducts world-leading research into Cancer, one of the main reasons I decided to stay in Cardiff, as well as being in love with the City! I had been really pleased with the standard of teaching as an undergraduate as well as the calibre of research that happens in Cardiff across so many disciplines within life sciences.
How have your postgraduate studies helped you to achieve your career goals? Why?
The job market is so competitive these days! Quite naively I assumed I would be able to walk into a job straight away as a scientific postgraduate. Although it took a lot of hard work indeed, having a special interest in a particular area of life science definitely made me a more attractive candidate to employers. Specifically, I am just about to start working for a scientific publishing company in Bristol that reports on the latest developments in pre-clinical or clinical science; science for scientists essentially! Since cancer can affect every type of cell in the body, cancer research features very heavily in most Biomedical Journals- hence my specialist academic and practical knowledge (including knowledge of the different techniques used in the lab) meant that I was selected for interview. The interview stage involved a presentation of a hot topic in science, and having a lot of practice at this throughout my masters, I was able to confidently present to the senior staff interviewing me. Being a science communication role specifically, networking with scientists is a particularly important aspect of the role. Therefore, having an extra year of research academia had expanded my experience of contributing to group meetings and liaising with scientists across the department, and was key to getting the job!
How did you fund your postgraduate studies and how would you advise offer holders to go on about researching or finding funding for postgraduate studies?
Due to my success at getting a first at undergraduate level, I was successful in achieving the Master’s Excellence Scholarship. With the full loan available to postgraduate masters students, this enabled me to afford to pay for the fees (reduced to half with the scholarship) and to pay to live.
Which accommodation did you stay during your postgraduate studies at Cardiff University? What advice would you give to Cardiff University offer holders who have to find accommodation themselves?
I was lucky enough to have friends from university, also staying on for a further year. Together we were able to organise private accommodation through a letting agency, so this worked out quite well! In my experience, accommodation is quite easy to come by in Cardiff. There is a post-graduate housing fair in August where you can meet like-minded postgraduate offer holders and arrange private housing. Alternatively there are always spare rooms going in houses- one of my friends was able to find a room from a landlord who lets out rooms specifically to postgraduate students. On top of this, there are so many university residences available to postgraduates, and the University has its very own letting agency!
How was your postgraduate life at Cardiff?
Start of your course
The beginning of my course was surprisingly easy-going. We had students from all manner of backgrounds and I think the degree coordinators had the aim of getting everyone up to speed within the first term. I’m sure this is something that is quite common to master’s courses, so don’t worry! Of course you have to put in a lot of work still, and the level steps up again in the second term, but on the whole the tutors and lecturers tend to be really accommodating of varying backgrounds and experience. One of the main differences was the size of the lectures- I had only ever had lectures in huge great lecture theatres with at least 100 other students. This was something I truly relished coming in to postgraduate study, as it enabled more one to one communication between staff and students.
Level of studies
As a Biomedical science graduate I had studied a lot of the Biology of Cancer, so this was all relatively familiar to me. However, half of the degree was studying the clinical aspect of Cancer treatment; learning about the treatment of cancer with the added complications of the human body in the way! This was completely new to me as a scientist rather than a clinician, but something I found enormously interesting! Again the teaching was fantastic and the smaller class sizes meant that learning new concepts was made much easier.
Cardiff University Letting Agency, all the library staff and facilities are fantastic, and the IT service.
Life in the City and Wales
Everyone has to go and visit the Brecon Beacons! They are so beautiful and a MUST if you are living in Wales. If you’re up for a challenge- try the horseshoe route! Also, about 7 miles out of the centre of Cardiff is a hill called Garth hill. I climbed Garth Hill at sunrise for a gorgeous view of Cardiff and beyond. I absolutely loved exploring the independent business scene in Cardiff- Castle emporium is full of independent retailers selling their handmade products and vintage fashion! If you’re a coffee drinker and enjoy discovering the local food, then there are some amazing little coffee shops and eateries in Cardiff. My personal favourite is Uncommon Ground coffee shop in one of the central arcades. Finally, you must go and watch a rugby game in Cardiff, tickets don’t have to be expensive, and the atmosphere is phenomenal!
I hope to pursue a career that maintains my involvement in science, and specifically cancer research. With the specialist knowledge I have developed from leading researchers and experts in their field I will have an edge to my academic credentials that many other graduates will not have. Studying at postgraduate level shows you have the drive to continue with higher study and a true interest in your chosen subject. Postgraduate study will also diversify your skill set, making you even more competent in written and communicative tasks for example. Finally, many employers find the title of your masters really interesting and if they ask about it in interviews it’s a great way to show how involved, passionate, and enthusiastic you are about a particular task or topic.
What best piece of advice would you give to a Cardiff University offer holder who is about to start their course at Cardiff University?
First of all, I’m very jealous you’re just about to embark on a course in such a fantastic City- make the most of your time here- it goes VERY quickly. So get out and enjoy the vibrant, cultural, city and all it has to offer. Look up local businesses on social media, or Cardiff bloggers- that’s a great way to find out about quirky events! Also, take full advantage of what a fantastic students union we have. The Taff is great, Y Plas is a fab night out too! If you’re struggling with any aspect of work, make sure you contact your personal tutor, they’re also great to speak to about career advice/opportunities, and if you form a good working relationship with them they are handy to use as a reference for future employment.
What best piece of advice would you give to a prospective student considering postgraduate studies at Cardiff University?
Research what the specialisms of the staff in your department are. That’s what attracted me to studying cancer Biology in Cardiff- the calibre and experience of the research staff in my department. Each course is tailored to the knowledge and specialisms of the staff that teach, so look at what your department has to offer. Also, come and visit Cardiff for a day or two. Stroll through the parks, go shopping, and explore the arcades- see if you think Cardiff is somewhere you can imagine yourself living!