In this blog, we spoke to Italian student Carola Bigogno, who graduated in July 2018 with first class honours in Biomedical Sciences after joining the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in September 2015. She talks about her journey at QMUL, living and studying in London and her future at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
What was your experience of studying at QMUL?
Being at QMUL has been an incredible honour and an amazing experience. It has been full of ups and downs indeed, but I couldn’t have asked for a better university experience – I have studied at a top university, lived in an incredible city and met many friends, some of which truly became my family away from home.
I lived in halls in my first year, which was perfect and gave me the chance to really experience campus life. I had my own room and bathroom, but I shared the kitchen with four other people, two from England, a girl from Pakistan and a guy from Cyprus. We all studied different things, and coming from different places was a great opportunity for all of us to get to know other parts of the world and other cultures. I moved out at the beginning of my second year, to a students’ residence in central London. Here, I shared the house with several girls from different countries and studying a variety of courses at different universities. I really enjoyed living there as lots of cultural events are organised each year.
During my three years at QMUL, I have been part of many societies and social committees. I have been involved in the Catholic Society and I have founded the Red Cross on Campus with some friends. Being part of societies has also been an incredible opportunity, as it gave me the chance to meet people and build on my professional and interpersonal skills. QMUL truly values societies – there are many of them, for every passion! If you can’t seem to find a place where you belong, the Students’ Union makes it very easy to create a new society and helps you reach out to other students with similar interests as you, which is what happened to us in the Red Cross on Campus society!
Overall, studying at QMUL has been an eye-opening experience. I was able to get out of my comfort zone and I really learned a lot about myself and my strengths.
Why did you choose to study Biomedical Sciences?
I studied Biomedical Sciences because I have always been deeply interested in the clinical aspects of science, and the course was a perfect combination of my interests – a mixture of Biology and Medicine. My favourite subjects were Human Anatomy in first year, where we learned everything structural about the human body, and Clinical Pharmacology in third year, which combines many important aspects of the medical profession.
Through my time in high school, I always knew I wanted to study something science-related, but I kept changing my mind – Medicine? Biomedical Engineering? Biology? Studying Biomedical Sciences was the perfect fit for me at the time, since it gave me the chance to deepen my knowledge of Human Biology and at the same time I found many chances to volunteer and gain work experience in hospitals. It has been an exciting time, where I was able to put my knowledge into practice and mature both personally and professionally.
What topic did you choose for your dissertation?
During my final year, I was honoured to be chosen for one of the few research projects offered by the Immunology group. I started in the lab last summer, working on whether the treatment outcome of patients affected by Hepatitis C would be affected by certain genetic modifications in the virus. It has been an incredible experience. I worked with professionals and I experienced the importance of combining all aspects of science and medicine when helping patients.
Working on my dissertation topic was rewarding, as well as challenging. The people I worked with taught me the most common techniques to extract the virus from blood samples and analyse it. The experience also taught me a lot about perseverance (many times the experiments showed unexpected or unclear results!), as well as time management and organisation skills to keep track of my readings and results. All the hard work paid off, as I was awarded a First! But more importantly, I learned that Medicine and Science are not necessarily separate subjects - many doctors work in research, and many scientists work in medical research, which is exactly I was looking for.
What are your plans for the future?
I am so proud to have been accepted at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and I will start Medicine in September. Studying medicine has always been my dream since I was a little girl. However, my motivation weakened during high school, and I kept wondering whether I’d be a good doctor. As I mentioned, Biomedical Science has been an incredible opportunity to learn more about the topic I love, which is Human Biology, as well as giving me the time and chance to volunteer and do work experience in hospitals. During the past three years I really matured as a person and as a student, and my motivation and desire to pursue medicine strengthened.
The most important reason for this has been the work experience I gained in cardiothoracic surgery at Barts Hospital, which fired my passion for surgery, and in general surgery at GOSH, where I rediscovered my interest in paediatrics. I am not sure yet which specialisation I would like to go into. I am very passionate about paediatrics as I consider it an incredible way to help children. However, I am starting this new chapter of my life with an open mind and heart, knowing that medicine really is my vocation and I will work as hard as possible to make the most of this opportunity.
Any advice to other students?
If I were to give an advice to other students, I would definitely say to keep an open mind at university, and to always push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. University is the first step of your adult life, so you should focus on your studies full time, of course. However, it is also the time to experiment, so take advantage of everything QMUL offers! From societies, to work experience and volunteering opportunities, do not be afraid to explore your interests!