You currently hold an offer from us to commence study on the MSc Reproductive and Developmental Biology (MSc RDB) programme in October 2020, and we are looking forward to welcoming you to the Department at the start of the new academic year. In our capacities as the Head of Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction, and the Programme Directors for the MSc in Reproductive and Developmental Biology, we are writing to update you on our plans for delivery of the MSc RDB programme in academic year ahead.  

Programme Delivery  

As outlined by the College, and during our virtual offer holder’s event on the 25th June, we will be delivering the MSc RDB programme through mixed-mode teaching during Term 1 (October to December). This means that you will have a combination of on-campus teaching, which will include workshop-style group learning activities and a laboratory practical class, and a remote teaching component, for example, e-learning activities, live-streamed lectures and webinars and online tutorials.  We have carefully planned our teaching to ensure that the approved module and programme learning outcomes are delivered whether you attend the course on-campus or study remotely.  Activities will be either synchronous (at the same time) or asynchronous (at different times, depending on where you are around the globe) and will be clearly labelled as such. 

While we hope you will be able to attend campus in person for Term 1, if you are unable to move to the UK in October due to travel, visa or public health restrictions, you will still be able to work and interact with your course colleagues as all on-campus teaching will also be delivered remotely, and where possible will be run synchronously with the students attending on campus. For Term 2 (January 2021 onwards) we expect students to be in London to attend in person, unless UK or your home country’s public health guidance precludes it.  In this instance, Term 2 content has been designed to take this into account to ensure that there will be no impediment to fulfilling the learning objectives. All on-campus teaching will take place on the College’s Hammersmith Hospital campus, in rooms that have been selected to ensure appropriate social distancing can be maintained.  Where it is not possible for students to travel to the UK to attend teaching in Terms 1 or 2, we will endevour to schedule live online teaching sessions for the mornings (UK time) to enable students in time zones ahead of the UK to engage fully in these activities.  

The information below outlines how we hope to deliver the course from October 2020, and is correct at the time of sending (August 2020).  However, it is important to note that as the delivery of the MSc RDB programme is subject to the requirements of UK Public Health guidance and College Health and Safety measures, the arrangements for course delivery may be subject to change at short notice, should the situation regarding Covid-19 change in the coming weeks.  

Building a community in your MSc RDB cohort: we recognise that one of the attractions of study at postgraduate level is the opportunity to meet, engage and work with people from diverse backgrounds and locations, who share similar scientific interests to you. We have planned both on-campus and remote inductions (both social and academic) in the first week of term for you to meet us, your fellow students on the programme, and your tutors. We will continue with these opportunities to socialise throughout the year, alongside the extensive team-working opportunities built into our curriculum, and hope that together these will help you feel part of our MSc community, whether you attend Term 1 in person or remotely. These induction sessions will also be an opportunity for you to familiarise yourselves with the online platforms and tools we will be using to deliver the MSc RDB programme over the coming year, and for all of us to set expectations around the programme and online/on campus learning and teaching.  

Preparing for postgraduate study: to help you make the transition to postgraduate study, and maximise the opportunities that undertaking an MSc will afford you, the Faculty of Medicine has prepared two online learning packages. The first of these, Adapt to Postgrad (ATP), is an online, non-credit bearing short course designed to support you in your transition to Master’s study in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London.  ATP will provide you with key information for your study, direct you to support and resources across the Faculty of Medicine and wider college, and prepare you for what to expect of Master’s-level learning. ATP consists of 3 ‘units’, the first of which (Unit 1: Preparing for Master’s Study) you will be expected to complete in advance of commencing your Master’s programme. The second course, Attributes and Aspirations (AA) is an interactive, practical, flexible online short course that supports you to decide on, and plan for whatever you want your professional future to be.  You’ll have a chance to develop key skills to help with your Master's study and that you’ll be able to use whether you choose to move to a PhD or to a job in industry after you graduate. For an introduction to AA please visit the AA webpages.

 

Digital literacy skills: required for online study, however we do not foresee expectations for these skills as being more complex than in previous years.  We will provide detailed guidance for each workshop and assessment that requires you to generate a digital ‘outcome’ (e.g. scientific poster, slide presentation etc).  If you require further guidance such as using Microsoft Teams for class discussion, we will direct you to the relevant College supported resources. Week 1 will feature a session on accessing the College’s library resources, and we will direct you to further College learning resources, such as graduate school academic skills training during the course.  Remote and asynchronous teaching activities will require you to have computer and stable internet access (minimum 1.5Mbps download speed) for most days of the term.  Depending on your exact location, you may encounter some restrictions on access to some of the sites and platforms used in the course. Students (particularly those engaging in remote study) are expected to check and assure they can manage these restrictions and appropriately engage in the degree programme and learning experience. 
 
 
Module 1: Gonads to Gametes (October – November 2020): the first module will be delivered using the mixed-mode approach, and explores the origins, development and functions of the gonads and gametes. Each week will comprise a combination of pre-recorded lectures and self-directed study activities, embedded into our Virtual Learning Environment, Blackboard Learn.  In addition to these asynchronous, self-directed learning activities, each week will feature an on-campus workshop session, in which students in work in teams to investigate an aspect of a topic in more detail, with the face-to-face teaching session used to integrate the findings of each group into a holistic view of the subject.  The workshops require some team-based preparation, and we have set time aside in the timetable for you to work on these activities.  We are also planning some additional live remote (synchronous) teaching sessions each week, to enable you to engage with the faculty members who deliver the online lectures, to reinforce the material you have covered in your offline independent studies, and provide opportunities for you to clarify any uncertainties you may have.  The weekly on-campus contact time will be approximately 4-5 hours, with a similar amount of time given over to live remote teaching (synchronous), plus the usual expected (20-25 hours) asynchronous study time. 
 
Module 1 will also feature a laboratory practical class in in the third week of October exploring signalling pathways in gonadal cells. This too will be delivered on the Hammersmith Campus, and we have put in place procedures to ensure the safety of students and staff, including 2m physical distancing, provision of Personal Protective Equipment and a controlled use of corridors, facilities and access to the labs to ensure compliance with College regulations. Should you not be able to join us on the campus, you will be paired with a campus student to work on all aspects of the lab work, minus the actual bench work. 
 
 
Module 2: Eggs to Embryos (November 2020 – January 2021): explores the development of the embryo from fertilisation to implantation and how stem cell biology interfaces with embryology and developmental biology.  Module 2 runs in the second half of Term 1, and resumes in January following the Winter break.  Module 2 will be delivered in a similar fashion to that outlined for Module 1 above, with a mixed-mode combination of on-campus workshops, and live-remote webinars, supported by asynchronous, self-directed and team-based learning activities
 
 
Module 3: Bumps to Babies (February - March 2021): we are currently planning for this module to be delivered on campus starting in February 2021. Should access to campus be limited in Term 2, or other health restrictions be applied by governments, the module will be delivered in a blended way, combining online and limited face to face sessions, as modules 1 and 2 above.
 
 
Module 4: Research Project (March – September 2021): we are currently anticipating no major changes to Module 4 (Independent Research Project) which will be delivered on in our research laboratories on campus between March and August 2021, and for this module your attendance on campus is required. In the event of a suspension of on-campus activity at this time due to an escalation of the current outbreak or a new outbreak of COVID-19, we will adapt this module for mixed-mode delivery, using either dry (computational/data-based) research projects, lab-based experimental research experiences to be conducted in teams, or alternative research-aligned assessment activities (the latter being subject to amendment of the learning outcomes).  These activities will be supported with online and in-class resources that allow you to gain familiarity with these techniques and their application throughout the course, and will be an added opportunity for you to strengthen skills such as communication, organisation and negotiation.  
 
 

Assessments 

All of the assessments on the MSc RDB are individual or team-based activities that require online submission of an output (e.g. poster, experimental plan, paper critique), and we do not anticipate any changes to these for the forthcoming academic year.  Two of the assessments in Modules 1 and 2 also feature a presentation component, which we hope will be possible on campus, but which can be readily adapted for online delivery if required.  

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 clarify any point(s) that might still lack clarity. 

Lastly, may we 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 to the programme in October! 

 
 

Prof Mark Thursz, Head of Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction 

Dr Mark Sullivan, Course Organiser, MSc Reproductive and Developmental Biology  

Prof Kate Hardy & Dr Andrew Childs , Course co-directors, MSc Reproductive and Developmental Biology