Now that A-level results are in and many are confirming their place at university for the next three or four years, it seems apt to give some advice for those about to start natural sciences here. So here’s some things I wish I had known back in 2011. (Bear in mind this is just my opinion based on my own experience!)
Useful things to have
The first thing you’ll probably notice in your welcome pack is a pretty extensive reading list, some of which are worth buying depending on what you did at A-level, but a lot of the time you can get what you need at the library. One book that probably is worth buying regardless is Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Tipler. Although there’s quite a few of these at the library, due to its size it’s not the nicest thing to carry back and forth across campus, and it’s one of the books you’ll be using throughout most of your degree. If you haven’t done physics before (I hadn’t), College Physics is a nice introduction to new concepts, but I think you’ll find yourself switching to Tipler quite quickly. Similarly for chemistry and biology, Chemistry3 and Biology are good books to have if you didn’t study the subjects at A-level, which, although only being first year texts, are a nice reference to keep in your room in those early hours of the morning before a problem set is due and something’s not clicking…For mathematics, along with the recommended text, a book I found very useful during my foundation year was Core Maths for Advanced Level. If you haven’t studied the subject since GCSE, this is the book where calculus really clicked for me.
If you do decide to buy textbooks, before heading online or to the library bookshop it’s well worth checking nearby charity shops, as graduates often give their books away (in particular Loros on Queens Road just on the other side of Victoria Park – I got a fairly recent edition of Biology there for £5!). Be sure to check the library website too, and see how many copies of a book you need are available. In my experience the library are very receptive to demand of certain books so chances are you should have access to most things you need throughout your degree.
Aside from books, handing in weekly math problem sets, core module problem sets, and lab reports means a scanner is pretty vital. Scanners are available at the library and in department but, if you catch yourself working late into the night, the last thing you’ll want to do is wake up early and come into university to scan it in before the 9am deadline! Lastly, with a degree heavily rooted in research, note taking isn’t something to take lightly. I only discovered Evernote in my third year, but with all its features and the ability to access your work from any computer, I can’t imagine using anything else. For referencing, programs like Mendeley provide a great way to quickly record and store journal articles, which will become increasingly important as you get further in the degree.
With this course being smaller than most, the Interdisciplinary Science Society plays an active role in bringing all the years of the degree together, the central hub of which is the I-Science Society Facebook page, so come join! For the last few years the society has also been running a buddy system in collaboration with the department. This places new students in a group with several students from across the degree, so if you have any questions throughout the year you’ve got plenty of people to help out!
Starting a research-based degree
My biggest piece of advice in starting this degree is to not treat it like A-level. Natural sciences isn’t based around going to lectures, taking notes, and revising for exams; it’s about actively researching and tackling open-ended problems, and engaging with researchers in the field. This isn’t something you can do passively, and it’s not always an easy transition. But I think that’s what makes the course so exciting, so hopefully you’ll think so too!