Intended for healthcare professionals


Techniques and applications of molecular biology

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 26 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3324
  1. Emily Shaw, specialty registrar in histopathology
  1. 1Department of Cellular Pathology, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, Southampton SO16 6YD
  1. ecshaw{at}

The techniques and applications of molecular biology course is a four day taught course held in Coventry for medical practitioners and covers recent developments in the field of molecular biology. Where possible, the techniques are illustrated with clinical examples. For an additional fee and some follow-up work, course delegates can register with the University of Warwick for a masters level postgraduate award in techniques and applications of molecular biology. The course is well established—I attended the 36th session, having received recommendations from colleagues who had been on it.

Who is the course for?

The course is suitable for any doctor who wishes to gain an understanding of molecular biology techniques. The one I attended had training, career, and consultant grade representatives from many specialties, including medicine, surgery, pathology, paediatric ophthalmology, and psychiatry.

Why did you do it?

I am a year 1 specialty trainee in histopathology, having switched from medicine after taking the exams for membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 2008; however, I haven’t received specific teaching in molecular biology since I was at medical school. While working in histopathology I have encountered topics that require an understanding of molecular biology—for example, theories of carcinogenesis and cytogenetic investigations such as polymerase chain reaction and fluorescence in situ hybridisation. I saw the course advertised in BMJ Careers and thought that it might bring my knowledge up to date. I also registered for the optional award because it led to a recognised postgraduate qualification.

How much effort did it entail?

For delegates on the taught course only, an optional reading list and the course booklet are provided in advance. The minimum recommended preparation is to revise topics covered at medical school such as the structure of DNA and chromosomes. Award candidates are also given a list of topics from which to choose one to research and present during the course. My topic was human trisomies, and I prepared a PowerPoint presentation focusing on the molecular biology techniques used in diagnosing these disorders.

Was there an assessment?

The presentation was assessed by the course leader and fellow delegates and contributed 10% of the marks for the postgraduate award. The remaining 90% of the marks came from assessment of a 4000 word essay to be prepared after the course, following further home learning by the candidate. The theme of this work is chosen by the author but must relate to molecular biology.

How much did it cost?

The course alone costs £530, and the full postgraduate award costs an extra £300.

Was it worth it?

This course was well run and appropriately paced. The practical programme allowed us to put into practice some of the techniques as we learnt about them, and it broke up the information dense lecture components of the course. I left the course feeling less mystified about an area of medicine that is changing so rapidly and is so peppered with acronyms and specific terms that it is easy to lose confidence as a non-specialist. I found this course well suited to my needs. Having spoken to other delegates, I think it would appeal to doctors in a wide range of grades and specialties. The course left me enthusiastic to learn more and contemplating becoming involved in scientific research and possibly a further postgraduate qualification—but that’s another story. I would recommend this course to others unreservedly.

Top tip

Prepare the bulk of the postgraduate award presentation before the course.

Further information

Charlotte Moonan, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL; tel: 02476 523540; email: charlotte.moonan{at}


  • Competing interests: None declared.

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