Something that’s becoming increasingly apparent is just how much the fourth year is geared towards preparation for the world of research. Every other week fourth year natural sciences students present their progress in project seminars, where peers and staff discuss what direction to head in next. This can be really useful in giving points of reference for your own work, making you realise you are actually getting somewhere and not just getting lost in the details! In addition to this, my project supervisor organises weekly meetings with all of his fourth year students, where we can again present our progress to each other, but this time in more technical detail as we’re all working in similar areas.
In this way projects feel much more inclusive. Solutions to a given problem are often solved together, and the fact that we’re actually being marked on our work feels secondary to what we’re discovering, and where we should be heading next.
Outside of our own projects, students are also increasingly encouraged to attend seminars hosted by different departments. In the chemistry department (where my project’s based), they host weekly lectures throughout the year from researchers in different universities, working in areas such as biochemistry, nanotechnology, and drug discovery. Although the science in these talks is familiar from the last three years, what’s different is seeing it applied in novel contexts, giving an insight into the transition from undergraduate to graduate work.
Lastly, my project is within the Spectroscopy and Dynamics group, and they also have their own bi-weekly seminars! This time it’s split between PhD and masters students. I’ve mentioned before about the need to increase communication between undergraduates and postgraduates, and this is definitely one way to give undergraduates an idea of what their department is up to. It’s also a great way to find out what staying in this area after your project might be like.
To me, the best thing about all of this is the move away from exams and problem sets, and the move towards being a scientist, and it’s pretty exciting!