Third year, arguably deemed the hardest year of our four-year pharmacy course. I, for one, certainly had a steep learning curve to overcome. As I entered the third year at UCL School of Pharmacy, I braced myself for the challenges to come; with infamous Course E (fraught with STD’s, parasites, not to mention a whole (yes… a whole!) module dedicated to cancer) to wade through, what in fact was possibly my biggest mountain to climb was the nefarious 10 000 word dissertation which was the ‘beginning to our Master’s degree’.

Now, to you, the reader, whatever stage you are at; whether it be you eager fresh faced first years ready to enter the wonderful world of pharmacy or those who are seasoned pharmacy undergraduates about to enter fourth year; my experience has taught me one thing and one thing only. There is no substitute for hard work. Plain and simple. As hard as it is to hear (and believe me there have been many who have road tested weird and wonderful methods of revising and approaching exams) nothing beats good honest blood-sweat-and-tears hard work. Burning the midnight oil, grinding the mill, whatever you will, I learnt this the hard way.

From first year, I seemed to have developed the reputation of ‘go to girl’; the one with all the answers to problems ranging from deciphering the tyrosine kinase cascade, G-protein coupled receptors, to giving advice to the girl that secretly crushed on that guy. This developed a sense of responsibility in me which I followed through each semester and proved to be a successful way to keep progressing, if I do say so myself.

However, third year proved to be a different ball game. On the first day, we all received the same spiel about working from day one, being consistent and dedicated to the course and so forth. Yet I did not pay heed to this 100%. Fast forward to five weeks before the exams, to be taken at the end of January, and I spent more time focussing on controlling waves of panic rather than revising, because I had not used my time wisely. The content itself, by no means was easy, but what took me the most by surprise was the sheer volume of material which needed to be covered. This is why it is ESSENTIAL to make sure that you all budding pharmacists-to-be, manage your time efficiently; I cannot stress enough that effective time management is instrumental in being successful.

I think where I had learnt the most, in particular about myself, was during the second semester, where we had to complete a 10 000 word dissertation on a title which was provided for us from our chosen subject. In a nutshell, I had to research, design and chemically synthesise a novel drug compound to be developed as a treatment of a specific type of leukemia. It was incredibly demanding, in many ways. Having to sift through reams and reams of clinical papers and journals from top databases such as PubMed and Ovid, to name a few, having started on day one seemed to still leave me in a massive rush in the last week. With the approaching deadline mid- May, and with one week remaining, I found myself in a position where of the 10 000 words to be submitted I still had a remaining 8000 to go. Hand on heart, I can honestly admit to these 7 days being the most difficult I had faced in my entire academic life. Not to mention the litres (yes litres…I kid you not…) of caffeinated drinks I consumed. I think I singlehandedly kept that Tesco Express afloat with the amount of Red Bulls and Mountain Dews I had purchased. So all in all, not only did I only get an average of 7 hours sleep in 8 days, drink unnatural amounts of caffeine, I certainly (and pleasantly) surprised myself at my endurance and sheer stamina to just keep going.

Any words of advice? It really is a simple thing; working hard is great; never underestimate good ol’ hard work but what really is the secret to navigating such a challenging degree? Working smart. Working smart really is the answer to all your prayers. This includes effective time management, putting in decent hours.and of course enjoying these timeless moments; it really is true when they say the years of your youth are the most priceless years of your life.

Syeda Miriam Shah – UCL School of Pharmacy (Fourth Year Student)