First of all, congratulations to Imperial’s University Challenge team for their pwnage of St Hugh’s Oxford on Monday night! I was answering along as I watched it on iPlayer (I couldn’t make the showing in the Union because I was ill).
I said I’d do a “week in the life of an Imperial physics fresher” thing, but it’s been a bit of a funny week – as I mentioned I was ill on Monday and one of our lecturers is in Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire, I presume) this week so we have fewer lectures and classworks than normal. So, I’m writing this instead!
This blog post was inspired by a few things:
- A post on Maciej’s blog
- A conversation in which the British and American university systems were mentioned
- Getting rubbish marks back on a problem sheet and my lab continuous assessment (remember kids, don’t just write down results and errors in your lab book – you have to explain them a bit too, even though it may strike you as slightly pointless because it’s already in the lab script that you’ve stapled right next to the results. It’s all good practice for later on and you’ll get more marks. Having used a lab book while working at the University of Sheffield last summer I really should know better)
- The fact that this time last year I was applying to university and now I’m seeing UCAS candidates wandering around the department looking lost and answering questions from prospective applicants (of course, this is reminding me of my own traumatic experience with university admissions; in a nutshell, I received my rejection letter from Oxford on Christmas Eve and was originally told I was rejected from Imperial, only to be told three days later there had been a mistake. Also, I completely messed up every interview I did, even the ones that were just “informal chats”. So completely it isn’t even funny)
- Getting a spot on the 2010-2011 University Challenge team, because of/despite the fact I answered a question about the Spice Girls correctly
I’m really not cut out for physics. I don’t know if there’s a version of dyslexia that means you struggle with physics problem solving and knowing what to put in your lab book, but if there is I have a particularly severe case of it. I always think about what it would be like if I’d done what I said I’d do if Imperial rejected me: take a year out and reapply for maths. I can do maths, at least. I got a Merit in my AEA maths and no grade in my AEA physics (oh yeah, you bet I asked to do two extra exams just for fun). Still, what attracted me to physics was the fact that the fact I have to put in much more effort so it ought to be more satisfying; also, the fact that physics is mathematics with purpose (ooh, burn).
I do the Physics with Study in Europe course, and despite my complaining I enjoy it a lot; however, I wish I had the chance to get an even broader education (like in the American system), rather than studying one or at most two subjects in depth. This is one reason I’m so happy to be on the University Challenge team, besides the possibility of getting to meet Jeremy Paxman – the chance to learn all sorts of things that have nothing to do with physics!
Maybe my disillusionment is just a response to the huge difference between physics at A-Level and degree level. Potential freshers beware of this, but if you’re willing to put the work in you should do well. Later today I’ll be doing extra lab work. I love doing labs, but again they’re so different to practicals at school. It’s nothing to do with my lab partner, but I would much rather work on my own, and having different people telling you different ways to keep a good lab book is pretty frustrating.
You know what else is infuriating? Coming top in the class in the only two tests that don’t matter. Firstly, the maths diagnostic test, which was basically to check we hadn’t forgotten everything from A-Level maths over the summer. Secondly, the Thinking Skills Assessment that the College are trialling for admissions; only about half our 236-strong class took it, though, so it’s not that much of an achievement.
I promise I’ll do some recipes soon.
Also, in case you were wondering, I won NaNoWriMo! 50,036 words in 30 days… most of them completely terrible.