You are not alone


#endweek5blues Frog mechanics muscle Natsci

There’s one particular class that should stick in the minds of medics and bio-natscis: The Mechanical Properties of Muscle.

During the three hour session, students are required to give a frog muscle electric shocks and record what happens. To begin with the pink flesh jolts at the lightest spark, even quivering if you breathe on it. Full of energy it performs your experiments nicely with gusto, proving you are indeed a scientist, and a good one at that. As the class wears on the traces on your computer screen begin to look more languid. You up the voltage to get it back to how it was, but things are not quite the same. Eventually it becomes clear the muscle is dying: shock after shock have taken their toll, reducing it to a quivering mess.

Look familiar?


During the mandatory debrief, the ever charming Dr Matt Mason steps up and points this out as an example of the variability of biology: how can you trust your results if your frog is on its last legs? At the time I busily scribbled down his explanation, keen for knowledge and to do well in Cambridge.

Now looking back on that practical, I see it no longer as an example of how to do experimentation, but more as a metaphor.

Since I have left school I have felt myself, like the strung up sinews in the physiology department, get more and more tired. It seems as if the effort required to do work and the work load itself are increasing, with no end in sight.

I worked hard to get into Cambridge, I am working hard while I am here and I’ll work even harder and for longer when I start a job. Soon I’ll be a useless pile of flesh, discarded into a biohazard bag. Perhaps the frog had it easy, only having to last for a couple of hours.

My destination?

Morbid I know, but it is easy to sink into depressing thoughts given sleep deprivation, deadlines and exams. However, unlike our amphibian, the outlook is not so bleak. To appreciate this you need to look no further than the your local pond.

Firstly our frog muscle was alone, divorced form its natural habitat: no lungs, lymph or blood to sustain it. We are buoyed by family, friends and pastoral care, all you need to do is seek them out.

Secondly, in our metaphor the experimenter has complete control; just one click of a button and fibres contract. You are the master of your own actions. So what if you don’t hand an essay in this week? Your grades and your degree are artificial constructs, right?

Thirdly frogs, like us, are of varying size and strength. Comparing yourself to busy body peers or ‘morning people’ isn’t going to help you get out of bed in the long run. Again you set the terms of your own action, which should be measured as such, not by what other people can do.

Have you had enough of the metaphor yet?

Life, like week five, is hard. Dealing with it is about finding long-term solutions to your own problems, not trying to gain a reading week. Yes Cambridge is demanding, but it is unlikely to be the hardest thing you will do. You will despair, be at your wit’s end and probably cry while you are here, but it is not that bad.

You are not like frogs in a lab. You are autonomous and have support.

You are not alone.