Studying for an intercalated BSc externally
Making a success of studying for an iBSc
- By: Ashton Barnett-Vanes, Joseph Shalhoub
The United Kingdom has 33 medical schools. Each offers the standard undergraduate medical course lasting five years. However, certain medical schools, such as Imperial College London and Oxford, now integrate an additional (intercalated) BSc year into the standard programme to make a compulsory six year course. Other medical schools, such as St George’s University of London and Birmingham, offer a non-compulsory additional BSc year, which students can elect to take after the second, third, or fourth year of study (depending on the institution). The intercalated BSc (iBSc)—and the reasons for and against undertaking one—has been well covered.   
Some universities give you the option to study for your iBSc at a different university—a so called external intercalated BSc (EiBSc). The EiBSc has received less attention, but we think that if it is approached well, it has the potential to improve your personal and professional life; give you greater control over your study; and open the door to opportunities that might not be available at your university.
How should I choose where to study?
Check that your university permits medical students to intercalate externally. If it does, you should think about what you want to get out of an EiBSc. You might want to study something that your university does not offer or experience a new place. Collate and assess the courses offered by universities that accept external students for intercalation. Certain websites exist for this purpose—for example, www.intercalate.co.uk. Analyse the course content, structure, and additional features such as research project options and secondments.
Pay attention to the university offering the course. You might want to consider its size, location, and reputation. Accommodation is important to think about. Will you need to relocate? Also, be aware of the travel commitments of the course you choose—for example, teaching might be split across different sites.
Consider your career aspirations when applying for an EiBSc. For example, if you want to become a leader in neuroscience, you might want to apply to institutions with strong research profiles in this field. This approach could strengthen your personal statement or interview for specialty training by demonstrating commitment to your chosen specialty.
Be investigative and contact people at the institution you are applying to—for example, course organisers, tutors, current students, and former graduates. Get in touch with someone else who has intercalated externally at your chosen institutions. They will be able to give you insight into the experience. Explore the ins and outs of the course, and ask what opportunities would be available, including funding and scholarships.
What do I need to consider when applying?
Once you have chosen the courses and institutions you want to apply to, the application process can be a logistical challenge. If your university allows students to externally intercalate, there will be a procedure to follow, which you should inquire about as soon as possible. This will involve requesting permission from your medical school to intercalate externally, and permission to do so can be subject to meeting other requirements, such as passing exams first time, achieving high examination scores, or passing your current year of study. Examine your institution’s and the external institution’s course syllabuses so you can pick out the differences—this will help you build your case for intercalating externally.
In addition to this, you will need to coordinate your application with the external institution. Deadlines for these come around quickly, with many in November or December of the previous academic year, so start early. Applications are likely to require personal statements, academic transcripts (a list of all your results from your home institution, which are available on request), and academic references (these can take time to obtain). When asking for academic references, choose the people who can comment in relation to what you are applying to study. Other requirements might include a curriculum vitae or interviews. Don’t get carried away with the applications process though—you’ll still need to pass your current year of study.
What should I do when I arrive at my new institution?
Arriving at a new institution will be exciting, but it is natural to feel anxious at first. These feelings will probably be amplified if you have moved house as well as institution. The first step to settling in is to get accustomed to your new environment. Go on an introductory tour at your new university if there is one. There might be induction schemes for new students, even specific ones for EiBSc students as you are unlikely to be the only EiBSc student there. Making this transition takes time and can be speeded up by making an effort to be social. Most iBSc courses have less intense or introductory weeks or modules at the start of the course, which you can use to socialise and orient yourself within the receiving institution before study becomes more intense. It is also important to familiarise yourself with the support systems in place. You might be allocated a personal tutor and or peer “parent” or “buddy.” Both will be able to give you advice on the course and institution, from a staff and student perspective, and this can be invaluable. Some universities will not offer this kind of support to external students—if this is the case it is important to be proactive and ask for help.
How can I make the year a successful one?
External students are at a disadvantage in some respects—you are new, and while many students are already settled, you are a relative novice. Turn your weakness into a strength. You have the advantage of fresh eyes, and can use this to seek out opportunities. Look out for talks from institution or visiting lecturers, and openings of new centres or departments. If these interest you, try and get involved, whether attending a lecture, opening or other event, or contacting a principal investigator about a new research field. These can lead to opportunities or connections you might not expect. Aim high: a range of institutional and medical society prizes are available to intercalating students.
What else should I consider?
An EiBSc can be expensive, particularly if you have to relocate, so look for funding options early. Several scholarships and funds are available for iBSc student from internal and external sources. Useful sources of information include your university finance officer and student financial support websites. Money 4 Med Students (money4medstudents.org.uk) is a good resource for seeking out grants and bursaries.
Extending your stay
Transferring or extending your stay is possible for some EiBSc students and is likely to occur within the context of a research scenario. For example, students who conduct laboratory projects and impress might be able to complete a Masters or PhD in a particular area. This scenario is beyond the scope of this article, but note that certain universities run transfer programmes for medical students who want to complete a BSc and a PhD (MB/PhD), including Cambridge University and University College London. 
One experience of a medical student who intercalated at an external university
Mena Farag, fourth year medical student, St George’s, University of London, email@example.com
After completing my second year of medical school at St George’s, University of London, I pursued an intercalated BSc in neuroscience at King’s College London between 2011 and 2012. I took myself away from a small hospital in the vibrant and ethnically rich suburb of Tooting and found myself in London Bridge, a place dominated by a crowd of pin striped suits and London’s best budget eateries. Settling into life on campus was much easier than I had anticipated.
At King’s, intercalating students are taught with third year students on standard entry BSc programmes. Within a degree specialty, students can choose from a wide variety of modules relevant to their course. As such, each module comprised students from various backgrounds, both internally and externally, which helped me to integrate because new social groups were formed every term.
One of the challenges I encountered during my year was playing catch up with the knowledge base expected for students on the pre-existing three year programme. The nature of the year itself, however, is self directed so taking a pre-emptive and proactive stance in such circumstances is encouraged.
My intercalated BSc provided high quality research training that I would not have gained at medical school. By the end of the year, I became proficient at using a pipette and quite the Drosophila melanogaster “dissector extraordinaire,” having dissected hundreds of flies’ brains as part of my laboratory research project. Two years on, my project has provided the platform for me to present my research internationally at a conference in San Diego. The undergraduate teaching and research training experience I gained during the year was invaluable and ultimately allowed me to explore clinical sciences in greater depth and make my unique contribution in science research.
- Competing interests: None declared.
- Provenance and peer review: commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
1St George’s, University of London and Imperial College London, 2Imperial College London
Correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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Cite this as: Student BMJ 2014;22:g2194
- Published: 28 March 2014
- DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.g2194