Fourth year is getting pretty hectic at the moment. When I am not in the computer room tinkering with the code for my project, I can be found in the common room pouring over set questions from my modules ‘General Relativity’, ‘Quantum Fields’ and ‘Cosmological Structures’. Although on the whole the questions set seem less daunting in year 4 than in year 1, I still seem to spend a large portion of my time staring blankly at foreign-looking formulae!
I helped out at a UCAS day on Saturday and I got talking to one of the visitors about what made her choose to apply for a degree in Physics. I still remember writing my own UCAS applications and checking the UCAS website for updates hourly (I’m pretty much the same over PhD applications right now). Deciding what to study was a pretty tough choice even then, without the added pressure of rising university fees. To be honest I didn’t really think it through very thoroughly, I just went with what my school thought would be good for me – Medicine! Anyone who was good at science seemed to be steered towards this choice and I didn’t see any reason not to follow suit. I researched the course, put together a half-hearted personal statement and waited for the acceptances to start flooding in. And lo and behold – 4 rejections!
I’m so glad it happened now, however at the time it was pretty hard to take. Although maybe I wasn’t as disappointed as I should have been, which really should have made me twig Medicine wasn’t the choice for me! Instead I accepted my offer from Leicester to study Chemistry – best decision I ever made, for very roundabout reasons! Again, I didn’t really put enough thought into the university I’d be studying at over the next 3 years. I’d heard good things about Leicester and it seemed friendly enough so I just accepted. Now I know I was incredibly lucky with my decision. If I had taken the time to get to know the university properly I’d have noticed its emphasis on career development, or the fantastic open door policy at the Physics department. Maybe I’d have been interested in the hundreds of societies I could join, or the cosy campus and the close proximity to the National Space Centre. But – I didn’t. Maybe you will instead!
So, in 2009 I arrived at Beaumont Hall (in Oadby Student Village) on an MChem course, having never been away from home for more than two weeks! I realised pretty early on I wanted to swap to Physics, however it wasn’t until the next year that I did change and I haven’t looked back since! To be honest the thing that made me want to study Physics most was for the challenge. I had grown up reading popular science books by authors such as Brian Greene and Marcus Chown and I never thought I would be clever enough to study any of the fantastic concepts they covered. So when I got to university and visited the Physics department it suddenly seemed achievable – and I jumped at the chance to follow what I now realise is my passion.
Though I’m not sure if my story will help anyone wondering where to go or what to study at university, I can at least give you two tips. Number one; don’t be afraid to second guess your initial decision on what to study; did you know it’s a pretty simple process to swap between departments once you arrive at university? That is, provided you do it in the first few weeks and have the required subject/ grades to do so. Number two; if you are really stuck on what to study, perhaps take a gap year. They look great on the CV (provided you do something constructive) and you’ll save yourself from wasting a year’s worth of tuition on a subject you are not interested in. Plus you’ll be happy when you end up with a better grade doing a subject you love.