What is the structure of the course?
The year is split into core modules, each of which is five weeks long. The first four weeks are where the learning takes place; if the module’s topic can be easily divided into the ‘core sciences’ (biology, physics, chemistry) then the weeks will be split between them. If the topic itself is not easily divisible, such as forensics, then the weeks will be fully interdisciplinary. The final week is dedicated to the deliverable, where most of the marks are. This can take almost any form, from a video to a poster, or a more traditional written essay. They are group projects, with the group usually being 3-4 people. There are exams in January and June for the core modules covered in the semester, as well as a maths exam in the summer.
Alongside this, there are side modules: computing teaches you how to use common scientific programs, such as R or Maple (the first year module) as well as skills like programming (Python, the second year module). The coursework is a set of questions due in at the end of the year, with one two-hour session every fortnight where you can get help from an expert.
Mathematics starts at A Level and carries on to more advanced material by the end of the second year. This is intended to allow any students who did not take maths to catch up. All of the weekly questions are available ahead of time and you know the material you can hand in as much of the work at once rather than submitting one per week – you can even do the whole year at once! Handing in work ahead of time excuses you from that week’s sessions, so if you are strong in this area it is advised to do this so you can use the time to work on other projects. For those who enjoy extra challenge, there are optional questions which give credit that are intended to stretch your mind and give real-world examples of the material.
Communication is intended to help people build skills such as structuring a written report, citing your work clearly and correctly, giving presentations, and so on. The module works through different ‘soft skills’, intended to help you not only get good marks in your coursework but do well in a real work environment. There is usually no coursework, as it is more of a support module.
Laboratory work allows practice in keeping a professional-grade lab-book, usually in one or two four hour labs per week, with the lab script due in the following week. These give you practice for research work or other lab work, as well as your third-year project.
Finally, there are optional modules – while these are not actually optional, you get a list of options to choose from. These are very small modules, usually four two-hour sessions per module. Topics are usually environmental science, scientific communication, mathematical modelling, and management. While each subsequent module builds on the previous ones in the given topic, you can mix and match as you wish without needing to have taken any of the previous ones.