Studying Biochemistry at St Catherine’s College

Carolyn | 4th year Biochemistry undergraduate

While biochemistry may be one of the smaller programs at Oxford, it provides excellent opportunities to challenge yourself academically, while enabling you to pursue your extra-curricular interests.

In the first three years, you have 10-15 hours of lectures a week, plus different problems classes (in first year) and tutorials (throughout the first three years). The first year lectures aim to provide a strong foundation on all aspects of biochemistry – from quantum mechanics to the metabolism of ethanol. The lectures are supported by a variety of problems classes, which will require extra reading, review of lecture notes, and the completion of problem sets, but ensure that you have a solid understanding of the material and will be well prepared for the Preliminary Examinations (Prelims) at the end of first year. You will also have tutorials, usually with your college biochemistry tutor (in first year) over a range of key topics, which will help acclimatize you to the tutorial-based educational system used at Oxford. In the second and third years the lectures increase in detail and depth, maintaining a strong knowledge base, but also taking you to the cutting edge of many different research fields. At the end of third year, you sit Part I exams – six papers, four from the different lecture modules: Structure and Function of Macromolecules, Energetics and Metabolic Processes, Molecular Biology and Genetics, and Cell Biology and Function. The two additional papers assess your general biochemical knowledge and data handling and interpretation abilities.

Fourth year in the biochemistry course provides a valuable opportunity to experience work in an active research lab, while conducting your research for your Part II project that culminates in your thesis. This research can be carried out in a variety of labs, both in Oxford and elsewhere while on exchange. The research project exposes each student to a real working research environment, to help them decide if a future PhD and/or a career in research is something they would be interested in pursuing. The Part II project also lets you explore a particular topic in depth, and enables each student to contribute to his or her field of interest. The fourth year culminates in two examined options courses, selected from a range of choices by the student.

Throughout the first three years, the lecture courses are supported by practical work, which are assessed by lab write-ups. The practical courses enable students to carry out some of the techniques they are learning about, understand how some of what they are studying was elucidated in the lab, and to be exposed to a range of different practical lab techniques, from isolating DNA to crystalizing proteins to working with various simple model organisms in the lab.

While you will receive tutorials on a wide variety of topics, some of which may not be your area of interest, you can focus on your favourite areas in your Part II project and focus on your stronger areas when preparing for exams, though it is essential to remain balanced and study a wide range of topics. This opportunity for focus, but the necessity of a strong foundation, applies throughout the entire course; ensuring students are prepared and well rounded. This also exposes students to a large range of topics, taught by world leaders and experts in their respective fields.

Tutorials can be a source of stress as a biochemistry student, as they do require extra reading, review of lecture notes and the preparation of a scientific-style essay to be handed in a day or two before the tutorial. During the tutorial, the tutor – an expert in the particular area being studied – will have marked the essays and have provided constructive criticism, invaluable when preparing for Part I exams. During the tutorial, the tutor will prompt discussion and pose questions to challenge your understanding of the material, but this takes place in a small group, and in a relatively relaxed environment so these are not scary experiences. Tutorials are one of the strongest aspects of the biochemistry program at Oxford – you get to learn about a topic from someone who is very active and involved in the field, in a small group setting. The important thing in a tutorial is to be confident and vocal with your knowledge.  Additionally do not be afraid to ask questions, clarify areas you had difficulty with, and ensure you not only know the facts, but also truly understand what they mean, their significance and how they were discovered – and confirmed! It is not the end of the world if you don’t know the answer to a question in a tutorial – it’s much better to find out then, discuss the topic with your tutor and classmates, then during an exam.

While each day will be busy with lectures, reading, a tutorial or practical work, biochemists are not restricted to spending all their time on academia. At Catz, the biochemists are involved in many different activities, from sports such as field and ice hockey, rowing and tennis, to helping produce a musical or organizing the Catz ball. As long as you have a strong work ethic and can manage your time, you can certainly partake in multiple activities while at Oxford. I have played on the ice hockey team for all of my four years at Oxford, and have been able to balance on and off-ice trainings, games and tournaments with my work. Additionally, some of my fellow biochemists are rowers and if they can manage early morning outings followed by lectures, anything is possible.

Biochemistry is a challenging program that is not for everyone, but is something that I have really enjoyed during my time at Oxford and I am pleased I selected it, even though I didn’t know anything about biochemistry when I applied. It is important to be a motivated, independent learner, but all the Catz biochemists have formed strong friendships – you do spend a lot of time with your classmates – so you can rely on them for support, along with your tutors and the older biochemists. Biochemistry at Catz has allowed me to explore my extra-curricular interests while exposing me to a wide range of topics and challenging me intellectually, but always in a supportive environment.

Picture above: Carolyn, 4th year biochemist, receiving the MVP award at Varsity from Diana Carney, Oxford and ice hockey team alum

Visiting Oxford

Accommodation is sometimes available in College for alumni, parents and friends. For more details, please contact Lizzie Andrews on 01865 271 701.

Below you will find a selection of hotels in Oxford, listed with their distance from the College. For more options visit


Bath Place Hotel | 4 and 5 Bath Place, OX1 3SU | 01865 791 812 | 0.4m

Eastgate Hotel | High Street, OX1 4BE | 01865 248 332 | 0.5m

The Old Black Horse | 102 St Clements, OX4 1AR | 01865 244 691 | 0.8m

The Old Bank Hotel | 92-94 High Street, OX1 4BN | 01865 799 599 | 1m

The Randolph Hotel | Beaumont Street, OX1 2LN | 0844 879 9132 | 1.1m

The Old Parsonage Hotel | 1 Banbury Road, OX2 6NN | 01865 310 210 | 1.1m

Cotswold Lodge Hotel | 66A Banbury Road, OX2 6JP | 01865 512 121 | 1.2m

St Michael’s Guest House | 26 St Michaels Street, OX1 2EB | 01865 242 101 | 1.3m

Harris Guest House | 307 Iffley Road, OX4 4AG | 01865 242 101 | 1.6m

Best Western Linton Lodge Hotel | 11-13 Linton Road, OX2 6UJ | 01865 553 461 | 1.7m

Malmaison Oxford | 3 Oxford Castle, OX1 1AY | 01865 268 400 | 1.8m

The Galaxie Hotel | 180 Banbury Road, OX2 7BT | 01865 515 688 | 1.9m

Royal Oxford Hotel | Park End Street, OX1 1HR | 01865 248432 | 1.9m

Hawkwell House Hotel | Church Way, Iffley Village, OX4 4DZ | 01865 749 988 | 2.1m

Oxford Spire Four Pillars | Abingdon Road, OX1 4PS | 01865 324 324 | 2.8m

Premier Inn | Garsington Road, Cowley, OX4 2JZ | 01865 779 230 | 3m

The Oxford Hotel | Godstow Road, OX2 8AL | 01865 489988 | 3.4m

Holiday Inn | Peartree Roundabout, Woodstock Road, OX2 8DJ | 0871 942 9086 | 3.8m

Nicanor Parra Celebrates 100th Birthday!

Alumnus and Honorary Fellow of Catz Nicanor Parra is celebrating his 100th birthday today, Friday 5 September 2014.

Nicanor is one of Latin America’s most influential contemporary writers and one of Chile’s greatest modern poets. In 2011 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish-speaking world.

Catz Alumni Compete In World Rowing Championships

Congratulations to Catz alumni Andy Triggs Hodge (2004, Geography & Environment) and Zoe De Toledo (2010, Experimental Psychology), who both competed at the 2014 World Rowing Championships held in Amsterdam from 24-31 August.

Zoe De Toledo was selected to cox the GB Women’s Eight, which finished sixth in the Final. Andy Triggs Hodge rowed with the GB Men’s Four, which won gold in the Final ahead of the USA in silver and Australia in bronze. The Men's Four just missed out on a world record, but clinched the gold medal winning in 5:40.24 finishing a length ahead of the USA.

Awinnia Inusa

I’m a 3rd year engineering student at Catz. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to get more involved here, including being on the JCR committee and serving as an access ambassador for the College. I’m excited to be participating in the Telethon and I’m looking forward to chatting to alumni and raising money for current and future Catz students.

Sarah Mathews

I'm a 2nd year studying History of Art at Catz. When I'm not poring over paintings, I play netball for college and take part in university drama productions. I'm really looking forward to finding out more about the College from Alumni, during the Telethon. It will also be great to raise funds for current and future Catz students! 

Sarah Lyons

I'm just about to start my second year studying PPE at Catz. When I'm not in the library, I enjoy running, playing football for the College and volunteering as a tutor in a local school. During the telethon, I will enjoy helping to fundraise for the benefit of Catz students, and I also can't wait to hear stories from alumni about their time here. It’ll be interesting to see how things have changed!

Nikul Vadgama

I’m a second year Engineering student. In my spare time, I serve as the Basketball and Squash captain for Catz. I know current students enjoy and appreciate Catz tremendously. A big part of what has made Catz what it is today is the alumni, so, it’ll be great to talk with them. I also look forward to raising funds that will aid the College in developing further.

Michael Tai

I'm a 3rd year at Catz. I study Medicine and dabble in a variety of things including Taekwondo and Good Samaritan phone-lines. I also started my own guided meditation society in College, which alumni should, of course, feel free to drop in to any time they are around. The prospect of speaking to alumni and finding out what's happening with the Catz diaspora is very exciting, as is telling them all about the cool stuff we have going on in College and how you can support us!


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