Hi there. So I’m the new student blogger for natural sciences at Leicester. This October I’ll be going into the third year of the Msci course, which if the last two years are anything to go by should make for pretty interesting reading! To start with I thought it might be helpful to go into a bit about the course itself, especially in light of the recent changes, and then why I decided to become part of it.
Firstly, you may have seen the undergraduate courses offered referred to as both interdisciplinary science and natural sciences. Basically, the courses are undergoing a name change and from September 2014 they’ll be known as a BSc or Msci in Natural Sciences, largely to make it easier for prospective students to find them if that’s what they’re looking for, with the course content remaining the same.
So why was it called interdisciplinary science to begin with? Well, the core modules are designed to explore the many areas where the different sciences overlap, such as astrobiology, drug design and nanoscience, meaning you’re not just learning bits of single discipline degrees. The courses are also research-based (as opposed to lecture-based), so rather than being talked at in a lecture hall for most of the year you’re actively tackling problems, producing reports, presentations etc., a kind of learning by doing approach. A nice example of this was in the biophysics module, where we were given the task of building a website discussing what the limitations were to human speed. Quite easy you might think; it’s probably just the rate of muscle contraction! But is that limited by the diffusion of ATP, or is it the rate of ATP synthesis in cellular respiration? Then what are the limits on diffusion and movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide around the body? How much stress can bone and muscle take? If we model locomotion as a pendulum or spring, what are the inherent limitations of those? What about running styles and the different materials used in running shoes? And you can quickly see how soon it becomes an advantage to think across disciplines! Personally, I think it makes the whole process a lot more interesting, and a lot closer to what being a scientist is actually about! You can find more information about the undergraduate courses on the department’s website, or just post a comment below and I’ll try my best to help.
How I Found Myself at Leicester University
After GCSEs I actually went to music college for two years. Following a year or so of teaching music to 11-14 year olds (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I started thinking about university. I had always enjoyed science, but was slightly sceptical from the ‘learning for exams’ approach I had found at school. I was also pretty set on doing a course that encompassed several of the sciences (polymaths like Buckminster Fuller and Boris Vian being some of my heroes at the time), but I was worried a lot of the natural sciences courses I looked seemed too broad and just parts of other degrees thrown together. After attending an open day at Leicester I realised what they were offering was just what I was looking for, so much so that it was the only course I applied for! And after a foundation year I enrolled on the Natural Sciences Msci course and haven’t looked back.
For me, the most interesting aspect of the course is that you’re given the space to push yourself as far as you want to go. In each module the leading questions posed rarely have simple answers, with many taking you to the edge of current research (if you’re willing to put the work in!). The number of students are also kept lower than other courses I’ve seen (up to about 30, compared to 80 to even hundreds), allowing time with professors to move from traditional one size fits all lectures to interactive discussions. But that’s enough about that. Again, if you want to know more, just ask! You can also read about another student’s experience in picking the course here. Outside of the course I’m a big fan of amateur astronomy, literature and music, playing guitar and piano whenever I get the chance. I also enjoy running and regularly attend the badminton society.
So that’s a bit about me and the course I’m doing. The aim of this blog is to give an impression of what it’s like studying at Leicester, and over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about what I’ve been up to so far this summer (from rocket building with A-level students to developing new fingerprint techniques in the chemistry department), as well as some of the highlights over the past year (especially the field course in Kenya over the Easter holidays), so look out for that!