Applying to university: studying Environmental Chemistry at Edinburgh University

Interested in studying chemistry or at Edinburgh university? Sophie tells us all about her experience and whether this university or course will be right for you.

The course

I ultimately opted to study chemistry because I fell in love with the sheer logicality of it. Whilst physics was a bit too “mathy” for me, I was fascinated at how chemistry could explain everyday happenings. I want to specialize into marine chemistry because, like many of you reading this, most people have never heard of it before. A branch off marine biology, this relatively new field is going to become one of the integral players when it comes to solving global issues such as ocean acidification and plummeting carbonate levels. I am someone who needs to find meaning in the work that I do, and to me there is nothing more important than doing my part to help preserve the beautiful planet we live on.

The content

The first thing you should know about studying chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, is that it is quite broad. There is no discrimination when it comes to their teaching, you will learn everything from enolate formation in organic chemistry to the 1D particle box model in quantum mechanics. This is regardless, of which specialty you choose in the field, that will only come into play in 4th year. Until that time, you’re all in the same boat.

Now to some people that might seem daunting, to others who are less certain of their particular interest could be quite a positive aspect. What I will say is, that despite knowing that I want to get into marine chemistry specifically, I think there are significant benefits to having a solid base across all facets of chemistry. Unlike certain other subjects, chemistry is a highly connected science, and in many cases you will have to draw on multiple areas of it.

The contact hours

I am sitting on 25 contact hours a week. This does not include the time you need to invest in assignments, revising, pre-reading, and preparing for labs and tutorials. There are other degrees that have far fewer contact hours, however, these will often involve significant amounts of independent reading. Furthermore, for subjects such as chemistry, you will find that those contact hours will continue to go up, as lab experience becomes a priority. If you are someone who likes to do hands-on work, this university definitely cater to that. Labs are a must, and the experiments you will do cover a large range of skills and techniques ranging from rotary evaporation, columns, and your basic (and often infuriating) titrations. Suffice it to say, if you go to Edinburgh University you will not struggle to get plenty of hands-on experience. 

The university

Studying and investing time into work is easier when you are passionate in all your classes. However, if you are someone who is unsure about what you want to study, Edinburgh University is not particularly accommodating to this. When you apply, you have to apply to a particular degree. Most of them have at least two mandatory courses per year, leaving you with one/two elective courses. Even if you were to audit some other courses, for degrees such as chemistry you might struggle to find the time to do this. As a second year chemist currently, I take two chemistry courses, and one elective oceanography class.

But school work is not the only aspect of university. With hundreds of social and sports clubs you will not fail to find something that interests you. Most schools also offer a type of “family scheme” whereby senior students are the parents and freshmen are the children.

In terms of the city itself, you couldn’t ask for more: there is always enough going on without it becoming overwhelming. And you’ll find that the environment here is very student friendly. Student nights almost every night of the week. Discounts galore. Student accomodations scattered throughout the city… t’ll quickly become your home away from home.


Written by Sophie Z.

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