Variety (is the spice of life)
If you’re considering applying for a natural sciences degree, then chances are you haven’t completely decided where your future lies. Not everyone has their life planned out after their studies are over. A lot of people can’t decide, after finishing school, which single subject they want to study – it’s a big decision! A natural science course allows you to try out multiple subjects and see what its actually like doing these subjects at university without committing to one single topic of study. Which is great for indecisive people like me!
I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to commit to a biology degree after finishing A-levels. So a degree that gave me a bit more time to think about my choices seemed a great idea. Due to my specialisation pathway, I was able to study four subjects in my first year (archaeology, biology, chemistry and environment). Then two subjects in my second year (archaeology and chemistry). Eventually dropping down to a single subject (chemistry) for my final two years of study. This delaying of choosing my “specialist subject” (think Mastermind- but without the big black chair) was invaluable to me. I ended up specialising in a subject that I really wasn’t expecting to!
Although the workload for studying multiple subjects is demanding, the variety of assignments means that things don’t get too repetitive throughout your degree. You may think the life of a science student would be full of labs, labs and more labs, but natural scientists also get a chance to take a break from this routine. In first year, there would be days where I’d go from doing maths-based assignments for chemistry, to writing an essay about ecosystems for an environment course! The diversity of work means that you get to use different parts of your brain all the time. Your degree will never get monotonous.
Undoubtedly, the best thing about natural sciences is the unique atmosphere of the course. Small year sizes mean that you get to know people in your own year and people in other years too. This is pretty much unheard of in a university setting because most courses have more than 150 people per year.
It may sound cheesy but NatSci really is like a family (a strange, dysfunctional family). With the natural sciences common room as our home. You will spend so much time here with your course-mates outside of lectures; whether it’s working through assignments together or just taking a lunch break. Once a week, the entire cohort gathers for NatSci hour, usually to hear a talk from someone in industry or academia. This also means we can munch on free (!) pizza. These events often turn into a social occasion, with the chance to talk with other students on different pathways. We can also ask older years advice about particular topics.
Sometimes, the pressure of studying multiple subjects can get daunting. You have to handle a contact-hour heavy timetable along with multiple deadlines from different departments. As well as anything you do outside of your course, occasionally, this can be a little stressful. However, the support system within natural sciences is incredible. The multitude of staff within single-subject departments, are always happy to answer any questions related to their area of expertise. There is also a dedicated team of NatSci staff who are all incredibly approachable and always there to help out.
Along with your buddy from the year above, each student is assigned a supervisor for the duration of your degree. Meetings twice a term are the perfect time to bring up any worries you might be having. These could include deadline worries or anything going on in your personal life that may affect your studies. Anything that directly impacts your studies goes through them, and they’re always at the end of the an email if something happens during term-time that you need to discuss.
For academic issues, Dr. Katherine Selby (director of our board of studies) runs a drop-in session weekly. During these drop-ins she is always happy to discuss any problems that come from working between departments. For example: when four departments set five deadlines within four days of each other, she’s happy to try and liaise between different members of staff, in order to resolve the problem.
For more day-to-day issues, there are three members of staff who are permanently attached to the NatSci common room. Professor Roddy Vann is one of the brains behind the formation of the natural sciences programme here at York; and is the sounding board for many of our weird and wacky theoretical ideas for improvement around the course.
The two other members of staff really deserve their own blog post, but I’ll have to just do them a separate paragraph instead. Ali Thompson and Sarah Wright are the two course coordinators. They are quite possibly angels sent from above (ask other students- they’ll agree with me). The two of them tend to be the first port of call for any problem (big or small). They are genuinely concerned about the welfare of every student. We think that they’re so wonderful, that we nominated Ali to win the “Most Supportive” member of staff in the University for 2016!
There’s actually a lot more than 3 things to look forward to about studying natural sciences at York, but I didn’t have the space to write them all. If I haven’t managed to persuade you with tales of free pizza then I don’t know what will. I’ve now been here for two and a half years and am still so glad that I picked this course!