A Week in the Life of a Natural Scientist


It’s Monday morning and I wake to the sound of my alarm. Somehow in the haze of sleep I have managed to snooze it for forty-five minutes and now I’m in a hurry. Mondays are my earliest start, a 9am lecture isn’t the ideal time to start the week but I love the content so it’s worth it. I grab breakfast and shower and I’m off. It’s a quick five-minute walk to catch the shuttle bus to campus. I just make it.

I have two lectures today: clean technology and vibrational spectroscopy, with an hour break in between. Both lectures are really interesting, in clean tech we learn about the viability of different energy resources over the next century and how promising each is, from coal to nuclear to wind. In vibrational spectroscopy we learn about the group theory point groups of different vibrations in water and how we can use these symmetries to assign spectra.

After that it’s time to head to King’s Manor in the city centre for my archaeology practical skills module: human bones. It’s just a quick bus ride from Chemistry into town and I have time to grab some lunch with the friends, in The Shambles before the workshop begins. We learn how to lay a skeleton correctly and how to order the vertebrae and the ribs as well as siding every bone. Two hours later and I’m done for the day. Being in town for archaeology is great as it’s always an excuse to do something. I meet up with my girlfriend, Jazz, and go to see Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri at the cinema – we’ve committed ourselves to watching all the Oscar nominees this year.  Even though lectures are done for the day there are still things to do. After the film I head back to campus to D-bar (the Derwent college bar) for the Nouse (student newspaper) science editors meeting, as well as see friends and grab a pint before heading home to see my house mates and get some much-needed dinner.


On Tuesdays I don’t start until 12 so I get a nice lie in, cook myself brunch and read ahead for the forthcoming lectures before heading to campus. We just have chemistry on Tuesdays; 5 hours from 12-6pm with an hour break for lunch. We have two lectures on vibrational spectroscopy and two on organometallics as well a tutorial on physical organic chemistry, a short-course that we completed last week. The lectures are really interesting today. Although inorganic chemistry isn’t my favourite, I still find the content really interesting. We learn about a new kind of carbon metal bond, a carbene, that’s really useful in catalysis.

After lunch it’s time for our tutorial. I absolutely loved the physical organic course, it was all about using physical methods to deduce organic reaction mechanisms. I find tutorials helpful. We hand in set questions a few days before and receive feedback in the tutorial then go over the topic in more depth. There are three of us to one lecturer. They cover what ever you find challenging and help you to explore the topic in a way that stretches you. After the tutorial we have our last two lectures before the day is over. I head over to Jazz’s house and we have a few friends over for dinner and to catch up.


Wednesdays are fun. Lectures finish at 1pm for the day to give people time to do extra-curricular activities. I have a couple of lectures in the morning before heading over to Campus East to do a kayaking skills session on the lake to prepare for this weekend – our club’s annual trip to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. After we finish we have a catch up and some of the legendary nachos at The Courtyard and I head home to have a shower and get ready for this evening. I have a Chinese class from 6-8pm that I take with Languages for All (LFA). This is an initiative that allows students to learn a language alongside their degree. After Chinese I head straight to D-bar for the weekly kayaking sport social. Wednesday nights are great, you walk through campus and just about everyone you pass is in some form of fancy dress, from fairies to people wearing bin bags or togas. Every sports team has their own route, but everyone ends at Salvos a club in town.


Since the pure chemists have labs on Thursday, and none of archaeology falls today, I have the day off. I have a nice relaxed morning before heading to campus to the Nouse office to lay up this edition. I’ve written an article on the colonisation of Mars this week and we have a few other articles as well. A few hours later, I’m done, and I head to the library to get a text book I need to do tutorial questions that are due in on Monday. I walk to the natural sciences room, grab a coffee and say hello to everyone before sitting down to do some work. Organometallics finished on Tuesday so it’s time to make my notes on the topic before diving into the tutorial questions. I also have to read up on the practical for chemistry labs tomorrow. We are studying how the polarity of solvents can have an effect on which alkene stereoisomer (cis/trans) is formed in a decarboxylation reaction. I head home and cook dinner before packing everything I need for the weekend’s white water kayaking in Scotland.


It’s an early start once again, this time for labs. Though we start at 9am I get up earlier than usual to make myself a packed lunch. I get to labs and catch up with the other Natsci students and my lab partner, Jemima, before donning our lab coats and goggles. Our lab demonstrator talks us through the day’s investigation and we make a start. This week is the first time we are collating data with all of the other students, so everyone feels a little more pressure to do well. Everything goes to plan, and my synthesis is underway. I set my mixture to reflux and head for lunch. Often refluxing a mixture can take a couple of hours so it’s a great time to grab some food in the middle of the day and make sure your lab book is up to scratch. The rest of the synthesis goes well and I submit my sample for hydrogen NMR, calculate my yield and measure the melting point. Jemima and I clean up our fumehood and it’s time to go. I hurry home and grab my bags before the kayaking club pick me up and it’s time for the 7-hour drive to Fort William in Scotland.

The weekend

We stay in a hostel in a very secluded area in the highlands and spend the weekend socialising and kayaking down two rivers: the Etive and the Roy. The weather is amazing, and Saturday goes well. It’s great to be back on the water as it has been a while since I last kayaked. Sunday is a much harder river and we kayak over a 7m high waterfall – scary but amazing. After the river we all grab a sandwich and some hot chocolate before starting the long drive back to York.