Just as Biosciences are at the heart of the study of life, the Department of Biology at York is at the heart of the study of any student who is a part of it. From sitting in lectures, to working in labs, to getting involved in the societies, it can be surely said (with only a slight hint of bias) that Biology is the best and most enjoyable department within the entire university!
When I first arrived, as any new first year is, I was gut wrenchingly nervous about the entire thing – I’d only just been introduced to my college and now I was standing in T block of the Biology building, wondering how on earth I was ever going to find my way around a building that had to go to T to fit all of it’s rooms. What I hadn’t anticipated was that all the staff and current students were aware of how nervous we were, and did their absolute best to make sure we settled in as soon as possible. Shortly after a talk from the Chair of the Board of Studies, the lovely Richard Waites (no really, he is lovely!), we were introduced to our peer mentors. After only 15 minutes speaking with Alice and Matt, 5th and 2nd year Biochemistry students, I already felt that even if I didn’t know where I was going or what I was supposed to be doing, I at least had someone to ask who did know where were going and what they were doing. Of all the things they did to help us settle in, this was the most comforting.
Once I’d learnt the basics of where my lectures, labs and workshops were held, more of my brain was available to focus on my course – I’m doing Biochemistry so there is a lot to take in. Having sat in some fantastic lectures, and discussed those topics in both small and large groups in tutorials and workshops, the most fascinating part of any Biosciences course may well be the laboratories. The huge step up in equipment, independence and understanding in the labs lets you experience the theory you learn in lectures – from observing cell division, to mixing enzyme solutions, to carrying out those expensive and complex procedures you only dream of doing in secondary school, labs are some of the most exciting and intense sessions I have done so far.
Even if you don’t enjoy labs as much as I do, though I highly doubt it – everybody loves them – the variety of activities you do provides so many ways to learn. I started my module on the first law of thermodynamics (included in Biochemistry), and was not totally enthralled by it at first – thermodynamics didn’t scream excitement to me. Yet after doing problems in small groups of 5 friends, watching practical demonstrations of theory and working through real situations in workshops, I can’t wait to learn about the second law next term, now I’ve realised its importance. In secondary school, I was wholeheartedly not a fan of Chemistry and couldn’t wait till the lessons were over – now there are so many different ways to learn, if one doesn’t suit you then it’s almost guaranteed that another will!
I’ve mentioned a lot about academic stuff so far, but what about the social side as that is really the most important to students. You’ll be glad to know that the Biosciences department has its own social society run by students, appropriately named BioSoc. The main events of the year include the Lab Coat Bar Crawl, Blue Planet screenings and the famous QuadraSci event (Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology face off, rightfully won by Biology most years). I got to meet people from other years of my course over drinking and non-drinking events, and you can get experience in being a President, Secretary, Social Secretary, Treasurer and other roles in one of the largest societies on campus!
Anyway, back to the (apparently) more important academic side. Many of the courses in the Biosciences offer a year away either in Europe or in industry. Happening in your third year, this is a great opportunity to forge the first step in your major career, and work out what science is like in the real world. Gaining experience in a new country or a new scientific environment opens up the door to professional science – the 8 hours of that Scientific Skills module will finally show its worth! I’m starting my application process for the year in industry soon – I’ll get to learn employability skills, CV skills and interview skills all in preparation for learning even more skills the year after. It really is hard to avoid learning new skills from day 1 of university, and that’s down to the dedication of the department to provide you with essential skills that will be applied again and again in the future.
I may have only spent a few terms of my life at the University of York so far, but I’ve already gained a huge number of skills and a massive volume of knowledge in such a surprisingly short period of time. If I were to describe my experience so far in 3 words, however cliché that may be, it would be enlightening, exciting and vast. The first two may be more obvious, but it’s the third word that really describes the department. The buildings are vast, packed with so much equipment and knowledge you would never get bored. The number of interesting people and opinions is vast, you can find a new person every day to speak to and discuss your subject. And finally, the enjoyment you’ll experience from studying Biosciences at York is so vast you’ll never want to stop talking about it.