Starting the Fourth Year Physics Project – OurWarwick
OurWarwick

Starting the Fourth Year Physics Project

It feels strange to be in final year. Suddenly, all of those things I have been putting off (looking for graduate jobs being the main one) are imminent concerns and that’s slightly terrifying. However, one thing that has helped is getting back to some in-person work this year and feeling like I have a regular schedule again.

A big part of that has been the fourth year project. My work is in high resolution spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres which I knew I would enjoy just from the title. Even if the work was tedious, the context would see me through. Fortunately though, the work itself has been very enjoyable too and there hasn’t been a dull moment yet.

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The project this year has been a great way to break up the monotony that got me down last year. We still have lectures in fourth year physics but the project runs parallel to them throughout the year. That means I have three days a week to get through course content and then two days dedicated to trying to make progress in the project.

Not only has this returned some sense of a normal schedule as I have already mentioned, but also, it has given this year a much more obvious sense of achievement. Every time I make progress in my project, no matter how small and insignificant that progress may be, it feels a lot more rewarding than just ticking another lecture off the list.

There were several types of projects on offer: theoretical, experimental, computational and experimental data based. I’m not the biggest fan of labs and purely theoretical also seemed like a bit of a daunting concept so my project partner and I ended up choosing a project which is a mix of working with existing data while developing computer programs to process and analyse that data. (It’s worth mentioning that this was the format of most of the astronomy options so it was somewhat inevitable that I would end up doing a project of this type!)

At the start of the year we had an induction meeting giving an overview of the project format and the tasks between now and the end of the year. We’ve only passed a couple of these intermediate markers so far. The first was having to submit an initial risk assessment (fairly simple for a computer based work environment) and then we have also had monitoring interviews to make sure we were underway with work and getting on well with our supervisors, partners and the content itself.

A big part of the project is trying to engage with the latest scientific research. We keep regular log books of work done (mostly coding in my case) and alongside this I have a page for notes on papers read. This again adds to the experience. I can see how what I am doing slots in alongside cutting edge research and this year it really feels like we are closing the gap between student and researcher much faster than ever before.

There have been slow days working on the project filled with hours of staring at code as though I can fix the errors through pure strength of will but they have all been worth it for those breakthrough moments.

Working with a partner also keeps it interesting. Unlike last year when I felt very isolated, I have been working alongside others almost everyday this year and never more so than when doing project work. I have always dreaded the idea of group work in the past but my partner and I get along very well and have spent some very long but enjoyable days coding and progressing (even when that progress was moving along at a snail’s pace).

Now that we’re approaching the end of term the next thing approaching is the interim report. This is a halfway report that we have to produce over Christmas to show the progress we have made so far, how our work fits in with research and where we hope to take the project in term 2. While this is quite a large and intimidating task, it also sounds quite exciting to look ahead and speculate on the implication of my achievements and work done up to this point.

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Overall, I would just say to anyone doing the four year physics course that the project is definitely something to look forward to. The list of possible project titles this year was fascinating and we really struggled to narrow down the selection to our top five. It’s the most rewarding work I have done so far and I can’t wait to see where it will have led me by the end of the year!

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