10 Oxbridge Medicine Interview Questions

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Here, we present ten example Oxford Medicine questions. More questions can be found in our Oxbridge Medicine Interview Question bank.

Oxford Medicine Interview Questions: Human Biology

How true is it to say that the modern meal is the culmination of a long journey away from biology?

I would say that this is fairly true, for the ‘typical’ modern meal. We must first consider what pure ‘biology’ would be. It would be one foodstuff, eaten raw. This might be berries, meat, fish, etc. It would be gathered or hunted. It would not have been cultivated.

We then consider the modern meal – it is a variety of different foodstuffs, prepared in a variety of potentially complex ways. The foodstuffs have likely been preserved and frozen. They are likely to have been genetically modified, or to have been raised or grown in a highly artificial way – if livestock, to have been given a variety of steroids and hormones, and if plants to have been subjected to a variety of pesticides.

The meal is likely eaten quickly with very little thought given to it – a far cry from the ancient humans, who would have spent their day hunting and foraging, making the meals themselves the highlight of the day. 

What is DNA fingerprinting and why is it used in forensics?

DNA fingerprinting is a process used to produce a pattern of DNA bands from a given individual’s genome. Non-coding DNA regions contain VNTRs, or variable number tandem repeats. These will vary in length and in the number of repeats at different locations. The probability of two people sharing the same VNTRs is minute. As such, they can be used to differentiate people – or, in the case of forensics, to see if a suspect’s DNA is a match. The process involves extracting DNA and amplifying it using PCR, then using restriction endonucleases to digest the DNA to leave the VNTRs intact, separating the fragments using gel electrophoresis, then using DNA probes to view the banding pattern.

How many litres of blood does your heart pump in your lifetime?

  • (Assuming you can use a calculator)

    To estimate this, we might consider a resting heart rate of 60 for a fit and healthy young person, and for the simplivity of the calculation carry this through from both your youngest years (when your heart rate would be much higher, especially as a baby) and as you age. We will assume that the heart therefore pumps 3600 times in an hour, or 86,400 times in a day.

    Let us assume that we live to be 90. 90 years is 32850 days. 32850 * 86400 = 2,838,240,000

    We need to then multiply this by the output of the left ventricle, which is around 80ml, or 0.08L.

    2,838,240,000 * 0.08 = 227,059,200L

    (Without a calculator, for a quick figure)

    60 * 60 = 3600 in an hour
    Simplified – 4000
    4000 * 20 for a daily estimate – 80,000 beats per day

    Estimates for lifetime – 400 days per year, 80 years – 32,000 days

    Further estimates of 30000*80000 = 2,400,000,000

    Estimate output at 0.1L
    = 240,000,000L
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Oxford Medicine Interview Questions: Biology

What would life be like without enzymes?

Impossible; it would not exist. There is no way that life could occur without enzymes. An interesting study by an American professor found that an essential biological transformation necessary to create the building blocks of DNA would have taken 78 million years. He has since found a reaction that would take 2.3 billion years to occur without an enzyme. Enzymes catalyse almost every reaction essential to life in nature. They allow us to digest our food, produce the DNA that is our very code, or break down ATP to fuel our energy requirements. Another interesting question is to consider how enzymes evolved

Describe what happens when a neuron is excited and an action potential follows.

A stimulus triggers sodium ion channels to open, so that sodium ions diffuse into the neuron down an electrochemical gradient. In order for the resting potential of -70mV to become an action potential, a threshold value of -55mV must be reached. This triggers depolarisation. At this point, the voltage-gated sodium ion channels open, and sodium ions pass into the axon. They then reduce the potential difference across the axon membrane, in a process called depolarisation. This triggers more channels opening, which causes more depolarisation. Eventually, a value of around +30mV is reached. At this point, repolarisation occurs – sodium voltage gated channels close, and potassium ion voltage-gated channels open, which returns the potential difference back to a value of -70mV again.

Are parasites bad?

Let us first define parasite. ‘An organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense.’ In order to benefit at the expense of another, we might assume that parasites are therefore bad by definition, and certainly the word parasite is a negative one – when used in a biological sense or in common parlance. However, we should consider that some parasites help their host species – not by their own design, of course. For example, the flora in our gut are of use to us – they can prevent colonisation by more harmful microbes. This can also be seen in insects, where the bacteria that infect them protect them against worse infections, and even in some bacteria that carry viruses that damage other species of bacteria. Additionally, some species have been able to colonise areas through carrying a parasite to which they are immune, but others are not – like grey squirrels in the UK being able to largely supersede red squirrels due to their carrying a virus to which the red squirrel is susceptible, but they are not.

Thus, we can conclude that whilst a parasite is by definition seeking to benefit from its host rather than benefit it, it can benefit its host through a variety of mechanisms. Thus parasites could be seen as, at times, unintentionally good. 

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Oxford Medicine Interview Questions: Left-Field Questions

Is nature ever as beautiful as art?

This is clearly a subjective question that perhaps relies on both how one defines beauty, and how one defines art. Art is widely seen as something that holds a communicative or aesthetic goal. In the context of this question, we would be expected to see ‘art’ as a typical piece of art; a Canaletto perhaps, rather than a piece of modern art in which the ‘beauty’ might be rather harder to find. Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder; but there are typical notions of beauty which hold true throughout centuries and throughout cultures. In general, one will find that much of the classical art that would be seen as beautiful features landscapes, people, or animals – think of Stubbs’ Whistlejacket, a landscape by Constable etc. In other words, it features nature. Therefore, we must conclude that nature can be as beautiful as art – if not even more so. I would argue that there are few people that would claim that the natural wonders of the world are any less beautiful than our most revered pieces of art. 

If a psychologically ill person commits a crime, are they a criminal?

This is a much more nuanced question than it appears at first. A ‘psychologically ill person’ could be anything from someone with antisocial personality disorder, to someone with severe schizophrenia, to someone who is depressed. Clearly, we would therefore need to consider cases individually. As it stands, people can be found ‘not guilty’ by reason of mental illness – equally, some people’s mental illness may be found not to allow them to avoid a guilty verdict. It should be immediately apparent that someone who has a severe exacerbation of their schizophrenia, such that they murder someone due to a false belief and a mixture of delusions and hallucinations telling them to do so, ought not to be treated like a common criminal. On the other hand, someone with mild depression who murders another person is clearly a criminal. This is apparent, and is part of our legal system. 

I will therefore highlight a slightly more interesting question – which is that, if someone is deemed to have a psychological illness that leads them to want to commit crimes, is it their fault that they are a criminal? Can we blame someone who has a particular problem, like antisocial personality disorder, for their actions, given that they are ‘hardwired’ in that way? I personally would argue that we must retain some basic moral laws, or risk beginning to fall down a very long and difficult slippery slope – and that when someone who is aware of their actions commits a crime, then we must treat them as a criminal.

How would you measure the weight of your own head?

I would approach this by assuming that the average density of my head was similar to that of the rest of my body. I would then place my entire body in water, in the bathtub, with the water filled perfectly to the rim. I would measure how much water was displaced. I would then repeat this process with my head only, and again measure the water. I would then take the ratio of the two, and multiply this by my bodyweight, to get a relatively accurate estimation of the weight of my head.

What would an alien most need to know if its species wanted to take over our planet?

To answer this question, we need to consider the potential dangers that the species will face, and how it might ‘take over’ our planet. Let us assume that the species will not be able to take over the entire planet without some form of human resistance – i.e. that it cannot take over the entire planet diplomatically. I believe this is a fair assumption, and it seems necessary therefore for the species to know that humans have a tendency for war. The species would therefore need to be aware of:
i) Human hazards
ii) General hazards
iii) Other information

Into the first category, I would highlight that the species needs to be aware that we have nuclear weapons. I doubt an interplanetary species would be concerned by the rest of the human arsenal of weaponry, but would assume that nuclear weapons could be a concern even for very advanced theoretical alien species. The species would need to be aware that humans would likely be willing to sacrifice themselves in the fight against the invading species – i.e. that they might seem to act irrationally or without logic in defence of the planet.

Into the second category, the species would need to know that there are a vast number of circulating diseases that the invading species might have no immunity to – the issue that of course fells the invading species in HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. It would also need to be aware of the pressure on our planet, and the makeup of our atmosphere – both of which may be different to their own. It might also need to be aware of the temperature and levels of UV, as these too could be radically different to levels in their homeland.

It would need to be aware that humans are land-based rather than water-based, and that we are (as far as we are aware) the only advanced species on the planet. 

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