Biology for you

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What is an analogy?
The body
Before birth

If you have chosen to study for a career in healthcare, then biology will become a part of your life. After all, you will need to know where to insert that syringe needle, what it is you are injecting, and what the intended (and less desirable) consequences may be. You will need to know how to promote good health - not only in others, but in yourself too. You will be developing an understanding of the needs of others and yourself as living beings, and developing the skills to help restore a healthy balance when this has been lost through accident, illness, or age.

Beginning to study biology may seem daunting. It’s a bit like windsurfing - the early days of falling off, fighting the wind, and being upset by the unpredictable movements of the board, are all recipes for exhaustion. But if you hang in there, pretty soon you will find that the wind is there to help, the board can be controlled, and the exhilaration of skimming across the water is now yours to enjoy. Start slowly with your study of biology, be prepared to make mistakes, encourage yourself to question those things that are unclear, and soon a firm foundation will be in place on which to build.

Yes - biology is a complex subject, yes, - there is an overwhelming quantity of information to confront and select from, and yes - the language used by biologists and clinicians can seem like a foreign language (in fact many biological words do come from Latin and Greek). But beneath it all there is a pattern that I believe we can all understand and feel confident about, and see the value of in our own lives and work. That ‘deep’ pattern is what we are going to look for now. With this framework in place, you can then build on the detail according to your interests and needs.

Aristotle once said this - he was talking about embryos at the time:

"It’s as if Nature is at work like an artist, first sketching in the outline and then adding all the colours and textures and hardnesses."

This is a useful strategy too for many of the things we are about to study - start with a simple overview and then add further detail. Lifelong learning! Well, so it should be - be sure to nurture that curiosity that was so strong in you as a child. You don’t want to end up in a chair later in life, disappointed and bored to tears!

The conceptual framework we develop now will be in no way static - we shall have to check the foundations from time to time to make sure that everything is still in harmony with our expanding knowledge. Biological knowledge is developing, evolving, and experiencing revolutions in just the same way that life itself does, so be prepared for changing ideas and try not to be frustrated by them. It is highly probable that some (many?) of our beliefs today about living systems are to some degree false, and will need modifying in the future. That has been the course of science so far, and to my mind it is one of the positive aspects of being a scientist - having your most cherished beliefs challenged from time to time by new observations and interpretations.

You may never have studied biology before. Or perhaps you have, but that was several years ago. Either way, put your apprehension to one side as we try and work things out from everyday experience as much as possible, and rely on our ‘common sense’ to help us build an understanding of contemporary biology.

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