Things to Consume: Passive Learning

Active thinking can be quite unpleasant and sometimes – despite not being the best way to learn – it’s nice to just sit back and absorb information.


If you’re looking into Natural Sciences or a discipline within it, then there are some really great books out there to give you some insight into your subject. Books nominated for The Winton Prize (now mundanely called the Insight Investment Science Book Prize) tend to be pretty solid choices, in my experience. For example, Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik is a brilliant book that won the prize. It tells captivating stories that give lessons about materials science (relevant for all natural scientists, I’d say).

The Disappearing Spoon, The Particle at the End of the Universe and Life Ascending were all useful reads for me when I was wanting to read about chemical, physical and biological topics separately.

Whatever subject you are pursuing, I’d recommend Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell as it’s a nice, short book that, like all good books, tells brilliant stories while bringing clarity to what achievement requires. When a book is about success like this one, you might expect it to be a super slushy-mushy, advice-giving book but Outliers is really just an interesting book on why people succeed.

Things to Watch

Online videos

I love YouTube. I watch far too many YouTube videos but at least I feel like I can make some good recommendations on where to find interesting stuff.

University of York’s very own Tom Scott is a great place to start. If you like fun facts and finding out about cool things then take a dive into his channel.

You probably know about TED talks (here’s a good one that’s sciencey), but you might not know about TED-Ed. TED-Ed is good and here’s one of their videos about reproducibility:

I could go on for a while so let’s compress this down:

  • Want to be fascinated? Vsauce.
  • Studying maths and want to be able to understand it visually? 3Blue1Brown.
  • Want to see cool physics phenomena that you didn’t know about explained wonderfully by a man named Devin with a slow motion camera? SmarterEveryDay.

And if you want more: minutephysics, minuteearth, numberphile and Veritasium (who I linked to at the very start) are all excellent channels for scientific videos.

There is life outside YouTube, of course, and last week I escaped the screen for a bigger one to watch Hidden Figures. The film is about the African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during America’s and Russia’s space race and, while not entirely accurate, is an inspiring film.

Open lectures

Something to make the most out of while you’re at York is the open lectures that you can attend for free; I only realised this academic year how much I had been missing out!

If you like going to open lectures like this and you know you’re going to be visiting London then definitely try to go to a talk at The Royal Institution. I’ve gone to see some amazing talks here (my favourite being one of Jim Al-Khalili’s Quantum Biology events which you may be able to find on YouTube). It’s an amazing place: 10 chemical elements were found there and the discovery of the electron was announced in their lovely, pink-seated lecture theatre.

What to listen to

This year, I’ve got very into walking to campus while listening to the audio version of The Economist or to a Radio 4 podcast I’ve downloaded. There’s not loads of time in the day, which is why I am such a fan of the practicality of audiobooks and podcasts.

Radio 4 may seem – to us students – to be exclusively for middle-class old people, but The Life Scientific is certainly worth your time if you endeavour to become a researcher.

As for The Economist: it does cost money but, in the end, I was convinced by the combination of a student discount, audio editions of the newspaper and undeniably interesting articles.

That’s plenty of stuff to get absorbed into and it all carries slightly less guilt than a Netflix series, at least! Just try and get your work in on time still.

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Hey, I'm Finn! I'm a second-year Natural Sciences student, studying the Chemistry-Maths-Physics pathway. I'm from East Sussex but decided I wanted to go to uni in the cold, cold North. I'm playing lots of squash and trying out the various places to eat in York at the moment and I also quite enjoy making little videos of trips, saying hello to dogs and consuming hummus.