Student experience – from experiments to transferrable skills

Marina is from Spain, and has just completed an MPhys Physics degree. In this post she reflects on her reasons for applying to study here, the academic and transferrable skills she has gained, and her future plans…

Influencing factors

When I applied to study in Edinburgh, I had never been to Scotland before. I had however done a lot of research to figure out what the best university was for me, and Edinburgh came up as my top choice.

Learning about the collaborations that the School of Physics and Astronomy has with world renowned research organisations enticed me to come here. I was very excited to learn from people who have involvement in some of the most exciting experiments in the field! (I found out later that you can not only learn from them, but also work with them and be part of their research team, but that’s something I’ll leave for later…) The other thing that attracted me to Edinburgh was the degree programme.  The courses looked super interesting, and there is quite a lot of flexibility, especially in the first two years where you can choose courses from any different subjects that interest you, and also in the final years where you can explore different areas of physics. Also, Edinburgh just seemed like a really nice place to live in, and throughout the 5 years I have lived here, it has definitely exceeded my expectations.

From lectures to tutorials to summer projects…

I will always remember the first year lectures…they were so much fun! The lecturers ran demonstrations to illustrate the concepts, and there was open discussion with classmates through interactive questions. The tutorials were also really useful: we worked in groups to solve a set of problems by discussing what we had learned that week, along with a little help from the lecturers and tutors. It was a great way to apply our skills and also make new friends!

As the years progressed, the material became more challenging but also super interesting. I was doing experimental physics, and so experiments became a big part of the degree, especially in 2nd and 3rd year. I hadn’t done many experiments before university, so for me it was very exciting. My favourite experiment was “positron annihilation”, where an electron and a positron annihilate to give rise to two 511 keV photons. I enjoyed the particle and nuclear physics experiments so much that I decided to undertake a summer project with the Particle Physics Experiment team. The School offers scholarships for students to gain hands-on research experience during the summer, and for me it was one of the best experiences during my time in Edinburgh. I got to work with active researchers in the field and this gave me a taste of what “real research” is like. I also gained many vital skills that have helped me a lot with my degree, such as programming, time management and self-motivation.

Developing transferrable skills

However, this is not the only type of opportunity that the School has available for you to get involved with and develop your skills. Since second year, I have been a Student Ambassador, which means that if you have recently been to one of our Open Days, you may have seen me around! During this role, I have learned to develop my team working and public speaking skills, as well as being able to transmit my passion for physics to prospective students. Working alongside my studies has taught me a lot about how to manage my time and how to be efficient, and it is definitely an experience I am very grateful for!

Taking time out

Even though I have spent most of the time at the university library, I have had time to do other activities. The university gym has a great climbing wall, and I have spent a lot of time there de-stressing and trying to distract myself from all the work by trying not to fall off the wall! There are also great music rooms across the university and picturesque cycle paths where you can go to just relax when the weather is nice.

What next?

Doing physics here in Edinburgh has taught me so many things, from programming to being able to read academic papers, and even working on publishing one as a result of my MPhys project.

In terms of future plans, I will be starting a PhD in September on detecting landslides and landscape change using deep neural networks. I will be based at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences with co-supervision from the School of Informatics.  Undertaking a PhD is something I wouldn’t have imagined when I started my degree, so I am really looking to starting this new adventure!

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