It’s been several years in the making, but last month the first issue of Frontier went on offer for free across campus. Run by postgraduates, the magazine aims to showcase the many areas of research going on at Leicester, pitched at an accessible level for those outside the discipline. The idea here is to encourage communication not just between postgraduates in different departments, but to undergraduates too, giving a first-hand account of where their degrees could take them and offering a tangible link between what’s seen in lectures and published research.
As an undergraduate I think it’s a really great idea, and the breadth of topics covered across the social and natural sciences in the first issue is impressive. Although postgraduates often take part in assisting in lab sessions or the occasional tutorial, in my experience beyond actually asking about their research the two worlds are generally kept separate. A good illustration of this is many undergraduates assuming the university is either closed or quiet outside term time, without realising half of all students here are postgraduates!
I’d also like to think that projects like Frontier have wider implications for student culture at Leicester in general. When I first came to university, the immediate impression was that doing a degree was largely centred on student nights out (displayed almost as a parody in the selective editing of The Secret Life of Students…). And although this perceived view of student life is partially self-fulfilled, it’s not surprising considering nearly every table in the student’s union is littered with promotional material for club nights and little else. By primarily promoting this view of university life, I think the academic side of university beyond your own degree course is diluted, which is a shame considering not only the wide variety of public lectures offered (GENIE is a great example), but also the level of interdisciplinary research at Leicester, which means there might be areas for you to apply your degree to that you hadn’t even considered. From talking to students at events like Headstart Summer School or Dynamic DNA, what always comes across is the fascination and enthusiasm for anything to do with science. But more often that not, when walking around campus, promotion for events encouraging this is almost always dwarfed by the next opportunity to go clubbing, reinforcing the perception that that’s what being a student is.
Having a magazine like Frontier is important not only in providing a voice for postgraduates to the wider community at the University, but also in promoting the excitement of research here in general. Knowing that there are researchers just down the corridor from you developing novel approaches to cancer treatment or theories to explain galaxy formation is not just something to consider when applying for PhDs in your last year; it’s interesting! And I think there needs to be a bigger push in promoting the many opportunities available to undergraduates, not just in where the next bar crawl is, but where the next opportunity is to engage with those pushing the boundaries of science.