MathsPhys Fourth Year Projects
A large part of the fourth year of a Maths and Physics degree is the research project. This is a project, usually conducted in pairs, that aims to further explore a current research problem. The research is done in the first two terms of the year. We are assessed on our “work done” throughout the year, by an interim and final report, a poster and a viva.
We were prompted to start thinking about what field we wanted to do our project in towards the end of third year. Around this time the physics department released a list of all the possible projects and potential supervisors. Projects can be either experimental, computational or theoretical. Being Maths and Physics students, we also had the option of choosing to do a maths project. For this, we had to approach potential supervisors ourselves and discuss any project ideas they had. We ranked our preferences for several projects, and found out after exams which project we had got. I decided to do a project within the field of fluid mechanics, in the maths department. If you are thinking of doing a maths-based project, I would advise you to look into supervisors and their research field. Using information online for maths students can also be helpful. Most academics are happy to meet and discuss in person if you email to arrange a meeting.
After exams, we were encouraged to meet with our supervisor to further discuss what the project will involve and any work that needs to be done over the summer. I ended up doing lots of background reading and read relevant journal articles. It is important to be confident with the theory of your project, as well as up to date with current research papers. This is especially important if your project builds heavily on recent research.
For our research project, we were given a lab book. This was used to record our research and results. I found it helpful to jot down ideas, sketch out my reports and generally organise my work inside my book as well. The projects officially started in term 1. Things often didn’t go to plan, but that is to be expected for a true research project! Personally, the work I did in Term 1 proved unsuccessful, but I learnt lots regardless. Over Christmas, we wrote an interim report. This included an introduction and theory which could be reproduced in the final report.
Once term 2 came around, we continued to work on the project. After ironing out any major problems at the start, this is the time where the main body of research was often done. By end of term, we had to have a final report to submit. My final report was around 30 pages long. It was very satisfying – and a little scary! – to have consolidated all my research into one lovely report. Next term, to conclude the project module, I will have a poster presentation and viva.
The project has been extremely stressful, and at times has completely overwhelmed my waking thoughts. However, it has taught me invaluable skills and overall has been a fascinating experience. We managed to get some pretty cool results, which hopefully can be used in future research that may even end up being published in an academic journal!
Third year BSc students can also undertake a research project as an optional module. It was compulsory module for us fourth years. More up to date information can be found on the physics department webpages.