A leap into the unknown

Monday 5 April 2021
So I’ve decided to take the plunge. I applied to three MSc courses in London for the academic year starting in September 2021. Fairly quickly I got two unconditional offers, from King’s College and Birkbeck, plus an interview request for a bioinformatics course at Imperial College.
I decided that King’s was the better choice for a number of reasons. Firstly, the course I applied for there is a general foundation in neuroscience pitched at people of all backgrounds. Although I might end up doing bioinformatics, I think a general course will give me more options. Secondly, the research there is more aligned to what I would like to get into, particularly around study into neurodegeneration. And thirdly, the Denmark Hill campus where neuroscience is taught is only three miles from my home. Given that King’s is ranked around 15th in the world for neuroscience and is almost on my doorstep, the decision to accept their offer was a no brainer (no pun intended), and I declined the other two.
And so, I have paid my deposit, told my boss I will be retiring at the end of August, and braced myself for the more frugal lifestyle I will have to adopt for the next three years until I can access my pension. I’ve been saving hard over the last decade or so, and can afford to stop work a few years early and pay for a Master’s – but only just.
I’m somewhat apprehensive. I will be packing in a job in which I am experienced and respected, and that pays well, and will be exchanging it to go back to being a student in my fifties. I will be the old guy in a lecture theatre full of twenty-somethings, struggling to keep up and to assimilate new concepts and remember new facts.
Having Parkinson’s will also make things difficult. I emailed the disability support group at King’s to inform them that I have two particular challenges. The first is that I more or less cannot write any more (though, when properly medicated I can still touch type fairly well). So when it comes to written exams, I will need a special exemption to be allowed to instead type my answers using a laptop. The second problem will be my ability to perform lab work – I assume one needs a steady hand to slice up a brain specimen, for example. I’ll just have to figure out how to manage on a case by case basis.
Will I even be able to pass the course, I wonder, let alone actually move into the sharp end of medical research at the end of it? Will I simply be too fatigued from the Parkinson’s to keep up?
I figure I’ve got nothing to lose. The worst case is that I don’t take it any further, but at least I will have spent my early retirement doing something new and interesting, rather than just playing online Scrabble and pottering in the garden.
I draw inspiration from the course video: “… the start of a fantastic journey where you will learn how the mind and brain works… the magic is to have students from all backgrounds and countries working together…”
I conclude that the best case is I really do embark on an incredible journey and, maybe, just maybe, in some small way, end up making a difference.
This is indeed a leap into the unknown. But it’s a leap worth taking.


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