Part II Pathology

by Eva Bongards (Part II Single Subject Pathology in 2011/2012)

Part II Pathology consists of five options, of which you need to choose two:

  1. Cancer & Genetic Diseases (formerly Cellular & Genetic Pathology)
  2. Immunology
  3. Microbiology and Parasitology
  4. Virology
  5. Dynamics of Infectious Diseases

The only combination you cannot choose is options A and E together, but otherwise everything goes.

There is a difference between ‘Single Subject Pathology’ and ‘BBS Pathology’, in that ‘Single Subject Pathology’ involves a two-term research project, whereas the BBS course involves a minor subject (in addition to the two major options listed above), as well as a dissertation instead of the research project. I will talk mainly about the Single Subject Course, since it is the one that I did myself. Bear in mind that some of the things I talk about may have changed since I did the course in 2011/2012.

The Course

You will have 1-2 lectures a day, unfortunately including Saturdays for Cancer & Genetic Diseases (9am) and Immunology (10.15am), as well as the odd seminar. Furthermore, there is about one tutorial a week, given by lecturers to go a bit deeper into what they told you in the lectures, and for you to ask questions if you wish. You may think of the tutorials as large supervisions, to which the entire class may turn up and completely overcrowd the seminar rooms, but they tend to be very useful. Speaking of supervisions, Part II is nothing like Part I, in that you have to organise all of your supervisions yourselves. You have to contact the lecturers, and they tend to be more than happy to supervise, as long as you organise yourselves into groups of three to five people, and don’t contact them individually.

Lecturers also tend to be very happy to mark essays you have written, but most of them won’t set you any, so it is all up to your own initiative; except for a few lecturers who won’t supervise you unless you hand them an essay. You can see that it is very easy not to write any at all for the first two terms (or even not to have any supervisions) and then get to Easter term and panic, so don’t fall into this trap! You should really make yourself practise writing essays all the way through, because they are what the exams are all about – there are no more MCQs or short-answer questions! There will also be a practical exam at the very end, but let me come back to that later. So, I would advise you to write as many essays as you can before Easter, because that will make your life a hell of a lot easier. You don’t need to write three a week like you’re used to, but one a week would be ideal. However, practically, you’ll probably only be able to write about four per term in Michaelmas and Lent (unless you’re exceptionally well-organised and disciplined), because of your project.

The Project

Your research project will start in Michaelmas. You will be expected to be there whenever you don’t have lectures, so pretty much all day – i.e. 9am-5pm. Sounds terrifying, I know, and at first it really is. However, once you get used to the work and get to know your lab, it’s be a lot of fun! The one problem is that it is very easy to spend 90% of your time on your project, and neglect the lecture work, when the project is only worth 20% of your final grade. The essays based on the lectures are worth 65%, and the practical exam is worth 15%. So, try to balance what you do, and don’t overdo it on your project, even if your supervisors want you to. Of course, you do have to put in a decent effort and be enthusiastic and willing, but don’t JUST focus on the project. Despite this, there will be the occasional day where you’ll have to come in at 7 or 8 in the morning, because your particular experiment will just take all day. All in all, however, doing a project is a very valuable, fun and rewarding experience! It is especially useful if you want to do an MB/PhD, in which case you would be highly disadvantaged if you did the BBS course.

You should aim to finish the lab work of your project about two weeks into Lent Term, and start your writeup then at the very latest. Ideally, you should get your introduction done during the Christmas holidays. The writeup took me AGES, so do NOT start writing it too late! It is essentially structured like a primary research paper, with an introduction, a materials and methods section, a results section, and a discussion. As far as I remember, the discussion will get you the most points, but this is something you should talk to your supervisor about.


Your project will require you to read lots of research papers around the topic – primary papers are best and you will be expected to quote those in your references, but reviews are a very good way to obtain an overall understanding of your topic. You will also be expected to read papers tying in with your lecture work: a) your lecturers are frontline researchers that give you their most up to date material, which has therefore not yet made it into any textbooks, so research papers are your only way of consolidating your knowledge, b) the handouts tend to be fairly minimal (powerpoint slides with lots and lots of graphs), so you need to read papers to complement them, and c) you will need a lot more information for your exams than is given to you in the lectures – at least if you are aiming for a first. However, even if you’re not, you’ll still need to read a least a few. I’m sorry to be labouring this point, but it really is an important one…

Essays and Exam Preparation

As I’ve already mentioned, it is rather difficult to write as many essays as you might like until your project is out of the way (right at the end of Lent Term), so you should aim to write a lot of them during exam term. I made lots and lots of essay plans (using past papers to know what sort of questions MIGHT come up) and ended up revising from those – it’s impossible to know absolutely everything you’ve been taught and that you may have read about. Instead, try to tactically choose topics that you want to revise: topics that are likely to come up, topics that you enjoy, and topics on which you can write a decent essay. Having said that, do NOT make the mistake of revising too few topics – you have to have a good range in order to have backups in case your favourite topics don’t come up (which is fairly likely, unfortunately). Aim to revise at least 2/3 of the course, and do it properly. Know these topics inside out.

You should also aim to handwrite your essays in exam term: a) to train your hands, and b) to practise not being able to change things around like on a computer. Furthermore, it is advisable to write at least a couple of timed essays (under exam conditions) so that you know what the timing is like and what you can get onto a piece of paper in the 45 or 90 minutes that you’ll have in the exam.

The essays are slightly different than in Part I: you will have four three-hour essay papers: two papers that require you to write two 90-minute essays, and two papers that require you to write four 45-minute essays. Both types of paper require different preparation, so bear this in mind when revising.

The Practical Exam

About a week after the essay papers you will have a “practical” exam (one paper for each of your options), which differs quite a bit between the five different options, but essentially involves problem-solving exercises based on experiments and experimental data. You will receive a few seminars to prepare you for this part of the exam, and it really isn’t as scary as it sounds.

Good luck choosing your Part II and good luck once you’ve chosen it! :)