Chemistry at York: how colleges make you feel at home

Chemistry is a big department with over 620 undergraduate students.

When I first started at York this was really daunting – it seemed like a completely different environment going from Chemistry lessons at school with around 30 students to lectures at university with around 180. However, the department takes lots of steps to make this transition easier and make it feel friendly and much less intimidating than I had imagined.

One way this is achieved is through the college system. Every student and member of staff is assigned to a college (these are completely separate from the university colleges, like Derwent and Alcuin, which you might have heard about). There are around 25 students per year group in each college, who share small group teaching, such as tutorials and workshops. This gives you the opportunity to get to know the other students in your college really well and they can become some of your closest friends. Now that I’m in third year I live off-campus in a rented house that I share with four other Chemistry students who I met through the college system.

As well as getting to know students in your year group, the college system gives students the opportunity to meet older students. Each college runs a mentoring scheme where second and third years volunteer to mentor first year students. This is a fantastic initiative as it allows you to meet students who know exactly what first year entails. If you find you’re having a hard time keeping up with work they can offer the best advice as they have been in exactly the same position as you only a year or two before.

But it’s not just students that are members of the colleges, staff are too. This means that all of your tutorials and workshops are taken by academics from your college. Whilst your lecturers may have no idea who you are, after a few tutorials with the same academic you get to know them and they get to know you. This really made the department seem a lot less scary for me and made me much more comfortable asking questions and getting help on my work.

The academic that you will get to know best during your time at York is your academic supervisor. You will meet with them at least twice a term (but you can see them more often if you need to) to have a quick chat about how uni is going. Supervisors keep track of your academic progress, but also make sure you are settling into uni life well in first year. In second and third year, they talk to you about careers and further study and signpost you to helpful resources for future planning. I think my biggest piece of advice for new students would be to really make use of your supervisor. I struggled with my second year January exams as they felt like such a big step up from first year. I found speaking with my supervisor invaluable, he suggested different ways of revising and gave me helpful tips on exam technique which were so helpful in helping me improve that my summer exams were miles better than January.

So whilst I was initially slightly worried about joining such a big department, within a few weeks of being at York I found that the college and supervisor systems really make the department seem a lot smaller and friendlier. Now that I am in third year, I think it’s fantastic that Chemistry at York is so big and diverse! Even though I’ve been here three years I am still meeting new people on my course and making new friends. The size of the department also gives you more versatility in tailoring your degree to suit you, allowing you to pursue the areas of Chemistry to interest you whilst giving you a really good grounding in the subject.

One major example of versatility in the course is the MChem projects. If you choose to do a 4-year MChem course, you have the opportunity to complete your final year either in York, in industry or at a partner university abroad. I chose the year abroad option and am hoping to spend next year at Université Grenoble Alpes in France. As long as everything goes to plan, I will be working in an Atmospheric Chemistry research lab to complete a research project which I will write up in English to be marked back in York. Not only will this give me the opportunity to put to use the theoretical side of my degree in a research setting but I will be able to immerse myself in the culture and improve my French. By contrast, one of my friends has decided to spend her final year in industry. She will be undertaking her research project at a small pharmaceutical company that work with genetic engineering to develop drugs. Our two choices couldn’t be more different and yet we are doing the same degree.

If you’re considering York Chemistry but are unsure about the size of the department, I can’t emphasise enough how far it is from being an issue – if anything it’s a massive bonus! Everyone is so friendly and there are so many opportunities to meet new people and make life-long friends. The versatility in both course options and research carried out in York are a hugely  attractive part of studying here. In a department this size, there is never a dull moment!