We are writing to you in our capacity as Head of Department of Infectious Disease, Wendy Barclay, and as Programme Director, Michael McGarvey. You currently hold an offer from us to commence study on the MSc Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses in October 2020 and we are looking forward to welcoming you to the Department at the start of the new academic year.  

 

General Information 

We are contacting you with the final plans for our MSc Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses programme for the Academic year ahead. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to ensure that your programme of study can be delivered safely, our Autumn term delivery of the programme will be online by multi-mode means. This will require you to have access to a computer and a reliable internet connection and you will need to cover any associated costs for these. At all times, the programme will be subject to the requirement of the current UK Public Health guidance and College Health and Safety measures.  

The programme will start in the first week of October 2020 and we have planned online inductions sessions in the first two weeks for you to meet us, your fellow students on the programme, and your tutors. Further details will be provided nearer to the start of the programme. These induction sessions will also be an opportunity for you to familiarise yourselves with the online platforms and tools we will be using in the year. Your College IT account will provide you with free access to the Office365 suite of tools and Microsoft Teams which is necessary for the remote delivery of course content. Further information about how to use Microsoft Teams and other systems and software will be provided during the programme induction.  

Some on site in-person teaching will still be delivered at the St Mary’s and Hammersmith campuses. However, if you are unable to travel to the campuses for the Autumn term you will still be able to study the programme remotely and you will not be disadvantaged in your learning experience over the course of your programme. No changes to the module learning outcomes have been made as a consequence of moving to the multi-mode delivery format. We are not anticipating changing the schedule of when particular modules will be taught and we anticipate you will be able to complete the programme within the timescale previously advertised i.e. the end of September 2021. 

 

Social cohesion 

Throughout the year, we will have opportunities to socialise and feel part of our MSc cohort. To this effect, we will organise several online group work sessions, with some with our group tutors, as well as regular social events. The two weeks in the teaching laboratories (Module 3) will also be a great opportunity to strengthen these bonds amongst you and with us.  

 

Programme Delivery 

  • October 2020 – December 2020, Module 1 (Molecular Biology of Viruses). 

Module 1 will be delivered fully online. The MSc team has prepared an exciting programme for you to investigate the principles of the Molecular Biology of Viruses. There will be work that each of you will need to do outside of the virtual classroom and in your own time (asynchronous) to prepare for the live face-to-face (synchronous) interactive sessions with our academics. We have timetabled these activities along the week to help you organise your work effectively, with most face-to-face sessions taking place in the mornings. On average, each week will have around 20 hours of timetabled activities which will be a mixture of synchronous and individual and group asynchronous activities which you will have to complement with individual work. Importantly, this approach will provide you with opportunities to develop your knowledge and skills of viruses at the molecular level, individually and in teams. Although all of our sessions will be online some of these may also have an option for students to attend them on-campus, with the appropriate safety procedures (as described for Module 3), if the situation allows for this, though this will not be a requirement to fully participate in the activities of this module.  

  • January 2021 – March 2021, Module 2 (Viral Pathogenesis and Evolution). 

Module 2 will cover key aspects of viral pathogenesis, virus evolution and the emergence and spread of new virus diseases and will be delivered online by a combination of asynchronous and live face-to-face synchronous interactive sessions in a similar manner to Module 1 (on average around 20 hours each week). Some of the synchronous sessions may also have an option for students to attend them on-campus, with the appropriate safety procedures, if the situation allows for this, though this will not be a requirement to fully participate in the activities of this module.  

  • December 2020, Module 3 (Mini-Research Project),  

The Mini-Research Project will start with preparation time in pairs, online. This will be done with asynchronous and synchronous tutorials, pair work, and submission or various activities on which we will provide you feedback that will support your learning. The two weeks of full-time laboratory work of Module 3 will be delivered on our Hammersmith campus in December 2020. For this, we have secured space and put in place procedures to ensure you and our staff will be as safe as possible at all times. This notably includes 2m physical distancing, provision of PPE and a process to ensure a use of corridors, facilities and access to the labs that follows the College regulations. Should you not be able to join us on the campus, you will be paired with a campus-based student to work on all aspects of the work, apart from the lab bench work. You will be offered lab bench catch up sessions in the Spring term, providing campus access is possible. Should campus be completely closed in December 2020, Module 3 will be delivered in January or February 2021. Should we not be able to run the module at all, we will be able to provide alternative course material that will be delivered remotely.   

  • October 2020 – March 2021, Module 4 (Research Evaluation and Communication)  

This will run in parallel to Modules 1 – 3 with a variety of synchronous and asynchronous sessions focussing on the development of critical research and communication skills. These will be online though, as for Module 1 and 2 there may be opportunities for students to be present on campus for some of these sessions while they are being carried out simultaneously online.  

  • March 2021 – September 2021 Module 5 (Research Project),  

We are not anticipating major changes to Module 5. We expect all students to be able to have an on-campus laboratory project based on a wide range of topics in virology. The projects will be carried out between March and September 2021, mainly in our research laboratories at the St Mary’s and Hammersmith campuses but also with some project available at associated institutions. These plans assume that you will be in London during 2020-21 as your attendance at our campuses will be required. Should physical access to laboratories be limited, and the full range of projects on various aspects of virology was not possible, we will provide projects based on SARS-CoV-2 and as well as alternative non-lab based projects which will allow you to strengthen skills such as communication, organisation and negotiation with additional lab experience based on SARS-CoV-2 work. 

You will also have the opportunity to attend the 2021 Microbiology Society Annual Conference on Virology which is now scheduled to be delivered online. This conference is an excellent opportunity to further develop your professional and scientific identity by engaging with the scientific community.  

 

Programme Assessments 

Most of the course assessments for Modules 1- 4 are individual in-course assessments that are submitted online via our Virtual Learning Environment. There are closed book exams for Modules 1 and 2 (late February/early March 2021) which will be adapted to be delivered as timed remote assessments if access to the campuses is not possible at that time. In addition, there will be an oral (viva) exam for Module 5 in September 2021. While it is planned for this to be in person, if necessary, it will be held online. Details of individual assessments will be provided in the Programme Handbook. 

 

Student Experience 

Your experience at Imperial goes beyond just your academic studies. With the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), Imperial has been working with your Union to ensure that we are able to provide, enhance and facilitate all areas of your student experience under all eventualities.  We identified key pillars of the wider student experience:  academic experience; research culture and environment; amenities and accommodation; student community; wellbeing support; co-curricular activities and extra-curricular activities.   Information on how we will deliver these, along with information on our Library Services, considering current social distancing restrictions, as well as a full lockdown, are set out on our website

 

How we can answer your questions 

As always, should you have any questions, please contact us and we will be delighted to talk to you and explain further any points that you are not clear about. Thank you for choosing Imperial as the institution to undertake your postgraduate studies. We are enthusiastic about you joining our outstanding student body, and look forward to welcoming you in the Autumn, online! 

 

Prof Wendy Barclay & Dr Michael McGarvey 

Head of Department & Programme Director 

MSc Molecular Biology and Pathology of Disease in the Department of Infectious Disease