Here’s an example of a week in my student life to give you an insight into being a Theoretical Physics student at the University of York!
7am, Monday morning. No-one is really ready for the deathly ring of the alarm, yet a busy day lies ahead. Mondays are always one of the busiest days of the week, often with five full lectures. But the day also presents a perfect opportunity to take the brunt of the week’s learning at the start of the week. This allows me to consolidate the learning received on Mondays throughout the week ahead. A typical Monday for me consists of a 9am thermodynamics lecture, followed by two quantum mechanics and two mathematics lectures. It’s always a long day, but often one of the most informative and insightful days of the week.
Tuesdays are lab days, which probably isn’t what you would expect for a Theoretical Physics student. Most people imagine labs to be a busy environment full of bubbling experiments, lasers and the crackle of liquid nitrogen. The reality for theorists couldn’t be further from this, and I couldn’t be more glad. Theory labs, otherwise referred to as Complab, is where we simulate physical phenomena in a computer. So, that means seven and a half hours of bustling away at your computer, writing hundreds of lines of code, and getting slightly frustrated when the code decided it doesn’t want to run properly. Unfortunately, the computer is always right, and I’ve made a mistake I need to dig out.
On the whole, Complab is an immensely rewarding experience. This is especially so when your code finally displays what you’ve been hoping to see all day. Most Complab experiments are two weeks long, (Tuesday to Tuesday), but at the end of term, you’ll do a three-week experiment. This ends in a formal report, which is a scientific paper detailing your experiment and the observations. This provides great insight into the ways of scientific writing, which is a huge boost in later years when you’re trying to do larger and more technical pieces of text.
Wednesdays are one of the more laid-back days, with three lectures every Wednesday throughout the term. All three are different, a mix of quantum, thermodynamics and mathematics, so it never gets stale. The days finish for me at 1pm on a Wednesday, too. This gives the perfect opportunity to read up on work you’re a bit rusty on, or to take some time to relax after the busy first half of the week.
Thursday and Friday
Thursdays and Fridays are also quite laid back. Both of these days have a few lectures throughout, and some seminars, otherwise known as problem classes, mixed in.
Seminars are really cool, as they allow you to work through complicated, and often exam-like, problems as a group. We share our insights and learn a lot from each other. Seminars reinforce your learning by getting you to apply the knowledge gained in your previous lectures. They show how to solve different styles of problems, and the real-world use and application behind the physics you’ve learned.
The weekend and societies
Going into the weekend, the time is yours to do with as you please. Relax, study, work – the choice is yours. Soon enough, Monday will roll around again, and so will another insightful week as a Theoretical Physics student!
But being a Theoretical Physics student isn’t all work and no play. Throughout the week, there are loads of fun and interesting social events to take part in. For example, I’m a member of PhysSoc (physics society), and they do meetups every week for a mixture of fun social events, some drinking and some sober. Recent events include a chill time at the Alcuin kitchen, and a talk about how to communicate physics to friends/family and others without a Physics background.
The newly founded York aerospace and rocketry society is also doing amazing social events most week. These include designing and building model rockets. You can also go to launch days where you and the team actually get to launch the models you’ve built! How cool is that?! I’ve always been fascinated by rockets and space in general, and this new opportunity is fantastic – I encourage others to try it out if you come to York.
There’s plenty of non-physics related things to get up to throughout the week too. I attend the Dungeons and Dragons society events. I never played before coming to university, so it seemed like the perfect time to take up a new hobby.
Everyone in the University community is super friendly and willing to help you out, which makes the environment very welcoming and enjoyable.