Hello, readers! I hope you’re all having a good week. It’s an exciting time, when you’re looking forward to the next year and finishing school as well. You might be considering York, but may not have been up to visit campus, or even visited Yorkshire at all. So to give a little insight into what Biology at York is really like, I will be blogging about my degree, but also generally about my life at uni. To start off, let me first introduce myself. My name is Cecilia, and I’m a second year Biology student here at York. I am an international student from the US, but my family is British and I’ve moved around quite a bit in the past.
For this first post, I was planning on just writing about my life in general, but I quickly realised that I can easily ramble on for thousands of words about York, Biology and any cool wildlife I’ve ever seen. To stop myself, I’m going to try to consolidate my wisdom as a student 4/9 way through her degree into 5 broad pieces of advice. It’s what I would tell my little fresher past self, so hopefully it’s useful!
- Getting involved is worth it.
Okay, so this one you’ll hear a thousand times, but it’s worth repeating. Not just because you’ll make friends, but also because you’ll get opportunities you didn’t know existed. To use a personal example, in first year I signed up to work for the Biology Open Days because it sounded like fun, despite never having done anything similar before. I ended up enjoying it so much that I later worked several university-wide Open Days as well, and that was useful experience to put on my CV…which then got me a job in town last summer. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it ended up being a great choice that lead to more opportunities for me!
- You should always try to make the most of your degree.
This applies to anyone in any university, but it’s simple advice that’s easy to ignore. These 3 (or 4) years are the time to read around your subject and push yourself to become a proper scientist. One great way of doing this is by choosing tutorials you are interested in. Tutorials are very small group sessions, usually with no more than 5 students and a professor or lecturer. You can pick them in a multitude of subjects, and they are a fantastic way of delving into an area that you might find interesting. Another way to push yourself is to go on field courses. I went on the Millport field course last summer, which is 10 days on a Scottish island so small you can cycle the whole circumference in less than 2 hours. It is a large part of a module and was fully funded, and it was an amazing opportunity to get field work experience. There was also cake every day…but the important thing is it was mostly science.
- York is the best city in the world, and you should explore it.
Okay, that might be a big claim, but it really is my favourite place. It’s considered a small city, but I lived somewhere considered a small city in the US with three times as many people, so it’s all about perspective! York is a historic walled city that your grandparents will love, but that also manages to cater for a substantial student population. Central town is within the walls and is a fun Medieval maze (disclaimer: I may be the only person to think this) with no boring ‘blocks’ (as in the US) and the weirdest street names (e.g. Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate). It’s very manageable, is close to campus (20-25 min walk/10 min bus), and it’s a great way of breaking out of the uni bubble. Despite this, I’ve met 2nd and even 3rd years who don’t know the names of major streets or have never been to entire sections of town. It’s great to be involved at uni, but it’s worthwhile to integrate yourself with the city as well. I volunteer at the Yorkshire Museum and the YorkExplore library, and I have found both great ways of meeting local people and giving back to the community. Other, less volunteer-y ways can involve trying the multitude of different restaurants, pretending you’re a Viking at Jorvik, going to the Chocolate Story to “learn about chocolate” but really just to eat chocolate, or visiting one of the literally hundreds of pubs. Get a YorkCard and go to museums for free on Resident’s Festival, or take a morning to walk the walls and end with overpriced hot chocolate at a café. I will admit to being a history nerd, and this past summer I may have dragged my housemate to every Medieval church within the walls (there are 20!), but I promise you don’t have to be as enthusiastic as me to get the most out of your time living in York!
- Get out of York as well!
As much as I love York, I also love taking breaks from it and seeing other places. Take advantage of the fantastic train connections and cheap advance tickets! London is 2 hours away, Edinburgh 3, and within Yorkshire you have the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales, two beautiful national parks. As a throwback to getting involved, also try out uni-led trips! I went to Rievaulx Abbey last year on an International Student Association (ISA)-led trip, and it was a chilly but great day out to somewhere I would have struggled to get to on my own.
5. Don’t (or rather stop) freaking out.
As I sit here writing this post, I’m tempted to panic a little. I have my second-year project poster and an important practical report due tomorrow. When I submit them I will be briefly relieved, but then I have to start revision for exams next term. After that I will have even more modules, essays, practical reports, and summer internship applications to figure out, and all too soon it will be applications for grad school. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt at uni, it’s that you can’t spend too much time worrying, or you won’t have time to do anything else! I know that this time at school can be difficult as well, with uni applications and coursework. So at this stressful period in most students’ years, I just want to say- take a deep breath. Do some yoga or, if you’re like me and are terrible at yoga, get tea and chocolate and watch the latest David Attenborough documentary. November will soon be over, and there are exciting days ahead!