Any keen readers of the MyTutor blog over the last year may remember a piece on why physics can in fact be cool. The author? Yours truly. I’d recommend reading it first if you’re considering physics. Then if you’re still keen, come and read this more gritty description of life as a physicist.
I chose physics mostly because I didn’t know what to do. As such, I continued my best A-Level at university level. There was a dose of realism thrown into the decision too, however. I was regularly told when I was younger to do what you love. My true love was Ancient History. Nonetheless, if I had studied this at University I know I would have really struggled. As much as I enjoyed it, and could describe many different events in great detail from different perspectives, I could not structure an analytical essay to save my life. So I picked physics as a subject that I both enjoyed and that I knew I could be able to handle at a higher level.
I would say that my favourite part of the course is the various astrophysics modules I take. I’d struggle to choose one as I love learning how much we still don’t know about the world outside of our blue home, whilst also marvelling at the unbelievable things that we do know about our cosmos. Outside of the work itself, if you enjoy a spot of mathematician or engineer bashing, then physics lecturers won’t let you down. These opportunities to laugh at lesser mortals often convince us that we are indeed real during a particularly mind-bending section of quantum mechanics.
That one is a bit easier. I’ve never been one of a hands-on, practical persuasion. Thus I find time spent in the laboratory to be rather tricky. I’m sure many of you considering a physics degree will have seen the memes that point fun at how nothing goes right in the lab? Well that describes me pretty well. Many physicists also find the scientific writing style that goes into writing up the experiments far from enjoyable to construct.
My personal workload each week has changed year on year. In first year I probably did about 20 hours of uni work each week, rising to 25 in second year. My third year I spent abroad in New Zealand (I strongly recommend this to everyone), so my workload is difficult to compare to anything in this country. Now in my fourth year, I do about 15 hours a week again. Firstly, I would like it noted that I am not an ideal student. It is a far better idea to do considerably more work than this. In first and second year, you are assessed by problem sheets every week, so it is important to spend time outside the lectures consolidating your understanding. This isn’t the case in third year, so it is easier to cruise (though not recommended). In final year, you have fewer written modules, but this is compensated for by Masters project work, the amount of which varies a lot depending on how much effort you want to put in, and the demands of the project. I probably spend about 10 hours a week on this, whilst others may be nearer 20.
I’m not sure what my expectations of university were like before I arrived anymore. It’s not much like the TV programme ‘Fresh Meat’ (which is probably where my expectations would have come from). I probably do less work than I thought I would need to. I think I’ve found some topics easier than I thought I would, and some harder. But overall the whole experience has been very enjoyable!
Written by Harry M.