Hi, I’m Caitlin and I’m a third year chemistry student at the University of York! Being a chemist at York is an unique experience where we have two paths we can take, either the BSc route or the MChem route. I’m on the MChem route so here’s what a typical week is like for me …
A chemist does have a pretty hectic timetable. The time spent in labs can vary from week to week, ranging from 10-20 hours. Don’t be scared though that you won’t be able to do anything on the social front – you definitely can!
I’ll talk about the academic side of life first and then move onto all the activities I’ve had the chance to undertake during my time at York.
This term, my usual week consists of around 8-10 lectures, plus either a one hour tutorial or two hour workshop. Every three weeks we have two full lab days which are focussed around our chosen Mini Project. The majority of the lectures are focussed around core material which ranges from Asymmetric Synthesis, Supramolecular Chemistry to Electronic Properties of Metals as well as two or three lectures a week focussed on the optional module we had chosen.
I chose Analytical and Forensic Chemistry, which I find absolutely fascinating! The lecturer provides us with a handout at the beginning of each lecture course and I can fill in any gaps with the information provided. The lecturers are always happy to answer any questions so there’s no need to worry if you don’t understand a certain part of the course – their door is always open.
Tutorials and workshops are smaller teaching groups which focus on a specific lecture course. One of the nice things about chemistry at York is that when we arrive, we are all sorted into chemistry colleges and our tutorial and workshop groups are based on these. Tutorials consist of four to five people. You complete a set of questions beforehand, which you then discuss within the tutorial. Workshops consist of everyone in your chemistry college where questions are given out which you then answer within the workshop.
To get the most out of these tutorials and workshops, independent study is a must and helps so much in the timetabled tutorials and workshops as the academic who leads them is there to answer any questions you may have about the specific topic which will aid your revision later on. I find that I rewatch the lectures on Lecture Capture as I can catch the little snippets of information that the lecturer says which I may have missed when I attended. I try and do all my work over the week as I like having my weekends free. I’m involved in college netball and, as I’m Welsh, the Six Nations Coverage is a must! I usually work in the Chemistry Library or outside Labs where I’m able to sit with my course mates so we can help each other out with questions and aspects of the lecture courses.
Another great thing about York is that we each have our own personal supervisor who we see at the start and the end of term to discuss our progress academically as well as make sure our accommodation is sorted for the upcoming year and how we are getting involved in sports and societies. My supervisor also provided me with a reference for my industrial placement applications. Being an MChem student in York is a bit different as we go into industry in our fourth year, which is also our Masters year. When I undertake my Year in Industry, instead of attending lectures I will complete an Open Learning Module where I have the freedom to learn and revise around my working week so it’s important that I use independent study wisely.
A key area which separates York from other universities is its chemistry labs. From the beginning of my first year, I was given the training to excel in the synthetic aspects of the experiment as well as have first hand use of the analytical equipment. This will help me to prepare for the world of work when I graduate. There are PhD demonstrators in the labs who look after us throughout our lab day. They are prepared for 99.9% of the problems that can happen throughout the experiment. I was so scared when I first started uni as the most complex experiment I had done was a titration but I’m now comfortable with any experiment I am presented with and can complete it within the time limit.
My Mini project in labs this term is based around hydrogels, which are fascinating as my group and I are working with a lecturer who is an expert in this field. It’s introduced me to another area of chemistry I haven’t learnt about before which again shows how diverse a chemistry degree is, we have so many options to explore when we graduate, we can find our own niche area of interest and potentially become a leader in the respective field.
It may sound like a lot of work, but there is always time for sports and volunteering. I absolutely love netball and I am a captain of my college team. We train once a week and play weekly matches on the weekend as well as having socials which consist of end of term meals, laser tag and themed celebrations. It is such a great outlet from academia as we all train to have fun and I know I have made friends for life! I also volunteer as the college netball fixture coordinator where my friend and I organise the officials and fixtures for each college netball league and make sure it runs smoothly. Being a college umpire is a perk as we get to improve our skills (and get paid!) so this prepares us if any of us want to become qualified in the future.
I don’t live on campus anymore, as I did in my first year, so once I finish university for a day, I stay and finish some work before either heading to the swimming pool, to netball training or head home. I try and finish all my work on campus so when I’m back home, I can just lounge and watch tv and rest my brain for the day. My course mates and I head to the pub from time to time after celebrating receiving a result or getting a placement, but we also meet to play Monopoly or poker or just to watch a film! A few of us also meet to watch the rugby, as we are all big fans, so despite chemistry being quite a time-consuming degree, there is always time to be social and be involved!
My weekends do vary from time to time. Every Saturday is a designated netball morning but then the afternoon can be shopping or cooking or socialising depending on my mood. Sundays I try and keep free so I can have a chill day and read, as I am a massive bookworm. A couple of weeks back my parents came up to visit. We went for a meal and a general catch-up which was lovely. There are restaurants, coffee shops and pubs for every day of the year so you can find quirky hangouts in York which become firm favourites – but you have to get to them early as they are always so busy!
Being from a rural area a stone’s throw from the Brecon Beacons, York was an amazing midpoint from the rural lifestyle I’m used to, to the hustle and bustle of major cities like London, which meant I didn’t feel like a fish out of water when I first arrived. I just love the Shambles as it is unique and I finally managed to visit the Harry Potter shop, which was such a victory as, being a massive Harry Potter lover, that shop was what dreams were made of! The city itself is so diverse, there is something for everyone.
I hope I have given you a little sneaky peak of what it is like to be a chemist in one of the most prestigious chemistry departments in the UK. I have loved every single minute of it and I’m sure when you come here, you will too!