Third year Maths and Physics labs
One of the defining features of my degree (Maths and Physics) is that I don’t do labs. Unlike someone studying straight physics, we don’t have regular labs in first and second year. This gives us the time to study all our lovely maths modules instead.
For me, this was a bonus. I enjoyed the practical elements of labs at school, but found the sessions ultimately frustrating. Temperamental equipment and not-quite-perfect conditions have the tendency to effect experiments, even when you know it work. This, coupled with my love of maths, put me off doing straight physics at university.
Since being at university, I have never felt that my lack of lab experience has been detrimental. Instead of being in the lab for hours at a time, I have learnt lots of interesting maths, which I would much rather have been doing! However, for third year students enrolled on the 4-year Maths and Physics course, in Term 2 there is a compulsory laboratory module.
To start with, being in labs was a bit of a shock to the system. The idea of spending a day a week, for three weeks, working on an experiment, and then having to write a report before the next lab session, was daunting. Having not been in the lab environment since college, I felt like I would be ill-prepared and would not enjoy the module.
Yet, taking away the uncertainty of not knowing why things don’t work the way we expected, I have been having a lot of fun! We work in small groups, which means there are other people to help figure out any issues. We also write the report together, so although we have a tight deadline, we can share the load out between us. It turns out too that doing an experiment is actually quite good fun. I have found getting hands on and stuck in to something which isn’t a maths problem or physics concept very refreshing. Sometimes, I even have to wear gloves (but no white lab coat unfortunately!)
Ultimately, I am enjoying being able to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn lots of new skills. As well as working in a group, continually solving problems and thinking about how the theory relates to the experiment, we also have to keep a lab book, complete a data analysis worksheet and give a presentation at the end of the module. These are all great skills to be able to talk about in interviews and applications. Overall, being in labs is a lot more interesting (and less scary) than I expected!