Sunday, October 29, 2006

Snapshots of Hell: The Cambridge Round-up, Week 3: Of Protesters, Boobs and the New UK Flag

Stephen Hawking on The Simpsons "So THAT'S how he manages to do so much!"

Ah, a week in Cambridge. Thanks to Stephen Hawking's proximity to us, time doesn't seem to pass linearly here. Weeks are over before you know it; blink an eye and suddenly you're thrust into next week, with a fresh load of lectures to pre-read, essays to write and bitchy supervisors breathing down your neck to get that obscure exam question from 1985 done before it's too late ("too late" in this context meaning "when the exam hits", which is NEXT YEAR).

And so it is that students here manage to study 25 hours in a 24-hour day, and that Stephen Hawking manages to give speeches, write books, perform calculations and get divorced repeatedly
despite running his life solely through eye winks and cheek movements.

I attempt to make sense of the past week in a university city that is never short of stories to tell.

Students hijack lecture theatre to protest top-up fees
A bunch of students, fed up with the Vice-Chancellor's blatant profit-mongering, hijacked a lecture theatre this week in a desperate bid for attention. Booking the theatre from 5pm to 6pm, the group, calling themselves Cambridge Education Not For Sale, held a 'teach-in' (whatever that means) and then, just for fun, informed the custodian on duty. The custodian, not being trained to respond in such circumstances, proceeded to wet himself, then called the University's Department of Guardianship of Pointless Ancient Traditions, otherwise known as the Proctors.

Harry Potter and a DementorA Cambridge Proctor prepares to discipline a defiant student

The Proctors, led by the Senior Provost Lord Master Doctor Frank King (his dad obviously couldn't think of a more regal-sounding first name), proceeded to barge in, assess the situation, and as usual demand that everybody get out. (Cambridge proctors are taught from birth to demand everything they want. From the biography of one of the very first proctors to stalk the halls: One of my first remembered complete sentences was "Mother! This breast is drying up. More milk, you incompetent hag! What do you mean, you can't lactate so much? Get a mastectomy, woman!")

Unfortunately, Proctors, being trained to glide along effortlessly in robes and speak in hoarse ghostly voices, don't always know what's going on. When faced with a situation like this, sometimes they don't really know what to DO. This excerpt from an article in The Cambridge Student says it all:

After clearing up confusion over the group's purpose - Dr King initially suggested that the group should have just booked the room for longer - the proctors informed the students that they were in breach of university rules, and encouraged the group to make a swift exit.
Give the man a medal!

The proctors asked the group to commit their names to paper in accordance with what one of them described as "ancient" university rules.

Cambridge ENS protest" leave now for to make my life easier!"
I hesitate to be harsh here, because Proctors can be quite slow, see. You have to give them time. The poor dears don't get much action anyway, and people don't even bother telling them that "ancient" times are over, or give them an updated copy of the University rulebook.

A local newspaper editorial a few weeks ago stated that students at Cambridge aren't pushing hard enough against the unfairI'm a racist idiocy that is top-up fees, and I personally agree. Groups like Education Not For Sale are doing what they can, but most students seem content to hold their silence. The protest organised a few weeks ago by the King's College Student Union attracted a handful of protesters, two bicycles and a lonely CUSU banner. British universities are facing a financial crisis, but for donkey's years the greedy coffer-fillers have staved off bankruptcy by taxing international medical students with fees 300% higher than those paid by local students. Then, of course, the racist morons in the British Home Office decide that they've had enough of brown-skinned doctors upstaging them in hospitals and that curry smell wafting out of hospital catering departments, so they go and implement protectionist laws that cut off universities' supply of rich international medical students. Then the number-crunchers see the profits dropping and panic. Well, if you can't tax international students, whom do we tax then? That's right, local students. (Smart reader. I can tell you're never going to be a proctor.)

I wait with bated breath to see if the National Union of Students achieves something with their National Demo against Top-Up Fees in London today. It'd be a nice if something they did was useful for once.

Supervisions with Dr Mumble
Me: But what I don't get, sir, is how exactly caspase 8 is activated in the apoptotic cascade.
mumble mumble.
Me: ...sorry, sir? Didn't catch that.
Supervisor: mumble. mumble, mumble mumble.
Me: ...uh. No really sir. Sorry, I didn't hear you.
Supervisor: mumble mumble you don't need to know that.
Me: That's a relief, sir.

Biochemistry Assessment: Michaelmas Term
25 minutes.
Question One: Describe how caspase 8 is activated in the apoptotic cascade. You are encouraged to draw diagrams. Marks will be given for detail.


An Ode to Boobs
Whilst waiting for 'The History Boys' to start in the local cinema, a friend and I caught a trailer at the start of which a woman in a field, shirt unbuttoned, slid off said shirt to expose her breasts. (You gotta give it to them, folks. No better way to grab attention.) The trailer, showcasing breasts of all shapes and sizes (and ages--watch out, you free porn addicts), encourages women to show their boobs some TLC--Touch, Look, and Check. Viewable here, the trailer is part of BreakThrough's Breast Cancer Initiative in conjunction with October being Breast Cancer Month.

Breast cancer is a major killer of women in Britain, causing 4.5% of deaths, and affects men too, and education of this disease needs to be spread wider. Give the above ribbon a click to be taken to the American Breast Cancer Foundation website. Or go to the BreakThrough site by following the trailer link above. It's a user-friendly site light on jargon and giving you the facts that you need.

The New UK Flag
From an e-mail circulating in the University:

Says it all, really.


dearieme said...

Americans "protest top-up fees"; the British "protest against top-up fees". Got it? Simple enough for you? No wonder that chappy mumbles. Waste of bloody breath, I shouldn't wonder, don't know what.....

Anonymous said...

You really had the question on caspase 8 activation after he/she said not important? That's unfair.

The Angry Medic said...

Dearie Me: dearie me, someone forgot to take their medication today. Remember your blood pressure now.

anonymous: Yes, that was the point I was getting at. Goodness knows what goes through some people's minds sometimes. Thanks for the sympathy :)

Anonymous said...

Are you doing anything to fight fees in Cambridge Angry Medic?

- Cambridge ENS member

The Angry Medic said...

Cambridge ENS Member: I am. I was there for the KCSU protest at King's; unfortunately I had to leave early due to a lecture, and then the protest petered out. I was also signed up to attend yesterday's NUS protest in London before something came up. Though I'd like to do more. Is the ENS planning anything else?

PaedsRN said...

"Breast cancer is the number one killer of women in Britain"

Hrm, really? In most developed countries it's heart disease. Let's ask the almighty Google...

Yup. Ischaemic heart disease, followed by cerebrovascular disease, followed by breast cancer. (Source: UK stats from 2002.) But nevertheless a worthy cause, and certainly the cause of the most deaths from cancer in the UK (closely followed by lung cancer, which doesn't get terribly good press.)

We never see anyone on the street corners asking for donations to help fight heart disease in women. Wonder if that'll change?

The Angry Medic said...

PaedsRN: Dang. You're right about it not being number one, but apparently it's not number three anymore either. Wonder where I got that from. (My source was flawed! It's not my fault! It's NOT MY FAUUUULT...*rips out hair*)

Anyway, from these 2005 stats, breast cancer's dropped to number seven. Lung cancer, despite not being sexy enough to get good press, has finally overtaken it. Maybe NOW it'll get some press.

And, uh, all the British Heart Foundation volunteers I've seen in Cambridge are women. Wonder if that counts?

origin said...

AM, I love your blog - even though I rarely comment (that's because you do such a good job that I am too awed to respond! :-).

I'm intending to add you to my blog roll as soon as I get back home . . . my computer works properly . . . we have world peace . . . Just teasing. I will add you soon.

Keep up the good work my friend.

mushroomate said...

That condom thingy's a real howler but I suspect that I'll be laughing a fair bit more when I see you playing the part of Romeo. I wonder if tights will be called for...

Anonymous said...

I was the sympathetic post who seemed to miss your point. But...I DID know you were saying that it was unfair; my original post was a bit lame because I was desperately restraining myself from explaining how they work, as I assume a) you've done that for yourself now OR b) you don't want to know NOW! :-)

medstudentitis said...

I think that exact same caspase 8 question was on one of my useless exams and in one of my useless lectures in which the professor spent the whole time mumbling with his hand held over his mouth. Go figure, two continents, same gigantic and complete failure in the teaching of medicine - both because the lecturers suck and because the material isn't relevant to actual practice.

By the way, I love how your term is called the "Michaelmas Term", how british. Now, Oxford's two other terms are called "Hilary" and "Trinity", what are yours called? I wish I went somewhere that didn't just call our semesters "fall" and "winter". I feel so unimportant.

Dan said...

lent and easter

The Angry Medic said...

anonymous: Thank you for the restraint. Really. I have a gun somewhere near my room, and Cambridge has the highest rate of med student suicides in the world.

Medstudentitis: my neighbour-in-Hell Dan is right, the other two terms are called Lent and Easter terms. I dunno if their origin is as British as it is Christian, but who really gives a rat's arse; the important thing is that they sound cool :) And spot on about the transatlantic med school failure thingy. When will they realise that the total number of times in your medical career that a patient will walk in and say "Doctor, I have a problem. How are B-cells in the bone marrow tolerised?" is NEVER?

Anonymous said...

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14/12/06 07:03 from Breast cancer blog from
A clinical trial of a new targeted breast cancer drug, led by
physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer
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Calavera said...

Haha, this is hilarious! I feel your pain with the Caspase-8 question - I literally spent two hours trying to write an abstract for a paper on Caspase-12.

Bloody apoptosis.

Got to your blog through Doc. Crippen's - makes for a very entertaining read! Keep blogging!


Anonymous said...

» International Trial Of Novel Breast Cancer Drug
14/12/06 07:03 from Breast cancer blog from
A clinical trial of a new targeted breast cancer drug, led by
physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer
Center, has begun enrolling patients. The TEACH (Tykerb
Evaluation After CHemotherapy) trial will investigate ...

For useful content on breast cancer under 30, breast cancer need to know and early breast cancer detection: check
the url is

gmc insider said...

dr john crippen (nhs blog doctor) is a gmc (general medical council) spy who freely shares information about medical bloggers with the gmc , so please be very wary of him.

Prickatron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.