Preparing for each year of your chemistry degree (part two)
This is my second post on what to expect academically from each year of chemistry at Warwick. The first post was about first year and second year so this one will cover third year and fourth if you are doing an integrated masters.
Third year is the year in your degree that can vary a lot for everyone. Some people decide to do a year in industry with distance learning, some do a year in industry but with it is an intercalated year so do not need to do any exams, some do an international placement in term three while others just complete the year with exams followed by lab based work. I, which I have spoken about in a previous blog post, decided to do an international placement in term three so this is what I have the most knowledge about and will be speaking about.
Firstly though, even if you decide to do a placement in term three or a year in industry with distance learning, you will still need to do year three exams at the end of term two. Those who are in industry only have to do the core compulsory modules which are organic, physical and inorganic chemistry while others will also have to do analytical chemistry and an additional three modules which you select yourself. In my third year, I chose to study bio-organic chemistry, coordination chemistry and polymer and colloid science.
Some advice I would have is that If you have to select modules, I would recommend finding out how spaced out your exams will be depending on the modules you pick as I remember having five exams in one week which was a very stressful situation! In terms of exam preparation, I would recommend to start note taking as soon as you can, your first term will be very intense as your content will need to be taught to you as quickly as possible so you will have a very full timetable. Try to keep up with note-taking as best as you can and use the Christmas break to finish those and begin the revising process. This exam period was a very strange one as you find yourself having to knuckle down a lot earlier than friends who study different courses as your exams are much earlier. Try to keep in mind that you need to be prepared a lot earlier than they do, therefore, even if they are more laid back, try to stay motivated and concentrated to enter your exams feeling prepared!
Once you finish your exams, you then will have labs which I unfortunately don’t know too much about but I do know that they differ from labs in year one and two. Each experiment/ investigation last longer than one day so it is worth asking about the lab process to familiarise yourself more on this!
I completed an international placement so this involved a research report from my placement as well as a poster presentation. My placement project was worth 30 CATS so quite a lot of the year and the final project grade is a mix between your report grade as well as the grade your placement supervisor gives you. Luckily, you have until the beginning of year four to complete your report and poster so you can have all of the summer break to finish. However, I wouldn’t leave it until too last minute and I would really utilise the help you have from your supervisor/ mentor when you have them with you. When I was writing my report, I made sure to at least start my introduction and methods while I was at my placement so that I didn’t forget what I did and why I did it and then over summer built upon that. It is also a good idea to ask your supervisor for recommended reading which will give you a good start on your report introduction. Finally, the poster presentation occurs at the beginning of first term of fourth year so I prepared this as I was finishing up my report. The preparation of the poster was quite straightforward as you can use a lot of what you’ve written in your report to create it and two assigned academics ask you questions about your project to assign you a mark. One thing I definitely remember thinking is that I was way too nervous than I needed to be as the presentation was not so formal and more of a discussion of your work.
Year three is definitely a tough one and requires organisation and preparation for an intense first term and exam season but just keep this in mind and try not to be too hard on yourself, everyone finds third year tricky!
Out of all my years of my degree, my favourite has been my fourth year in terms of what I was able to learn and the progress I’ve made. Fourth year allows you to be a lot more independent as you choose all the modules you take as well as your research project requires a lot of your own efforts to get in the lab and make sure all of your work is done for your dissertation. Year four comprises of half of your years grade from your research project and the other half from your four modules you take.
In third year, you have to fill out a form giving preference on the type of research project you want and academic you wish to supervise you. Once you start your year, you begin in the lab quickly and normally have to go into the lab for about 3 days a week for term one and two to enable you to obtain enough results for your write up. The days you go into the lab need to be discussed with your supervisor and hopefully can work around when your lectures are. This is very different to labs in previous years as you are working solely on one project and have to organise and plan out your own experiments and aren’t as closely supervised during your experiments. I really enjoyed this as it allowed you to think more about what you were doing, analyse your results and report these to your supervisor where you can them discuss.
On top of this, you have to select four modules. For fourth year I selected: organic synthesis, electrochemistry and nanotechnology, macromolecular and medicinal chemistry. Before selecting your modules, I would recommend finding out when these modules start and their duration. Some start in term one and some in term two so you can organise them how you want them to be laid out. For me, I had two modules during term one and two during term two so they were spread out nicely. I really enjoyed all four of my modules and when selecting them, I kept in mind my research project and what modules I could pick that would best compliment this. I began revising in second term and then more intensely over the Easter break to be ready for my exams in term three.
After exams in term three, you have time to write up your dissertation ready for hand-in. I would suggest that even before this step to have part of your report written up such as the intro and experimental to prevent the time between your exams and report deadline to be too stressful. After your hand-in, you finally have a presentation and a viva, which are both part of your research project module, to finish off your degree. The presentation needs to be about 15 minutes long just outlining what you did and the results you got followed by 5 minutes of questions from your two markers and other students in the presentation (normally about 5/6 others). Finally, the viva is 30-45 minute discussion with two markers where they will ask you questions related to your dissertation and where your markers want to test the limit to your knowledge in this subject area. Normally you will be asked why you used certain methods or materials etc and what other ways you measure certain things related to your results. Make sure you prepare for this and know exactly why you did everything and ways you can improve your methods as well as the basic theory and chemistry behind your project. I was quite apprehensive about my viva especially as it was type of assessment I have never done before but once again, it isn’t as formal as you would think!
Please message if you have anymore questions and want me to go more in depth about anything in particular! I hope you all enjoy whichever year you are going into and make the most of it. Good luck!