Tag Archives: physics

Today: The £9000 Niggle

7 Jun

Tuition fees go up to a maximum of £9000 a year, and it has raised quite an important question:

Is it all really worth it?

A good question, however it is one that has been raised before, in the 2006/7 entry year the fees went up to £3000, this was the year before I went to university.

Alot of my peers decided they would go, on account of all the important people telling us that it was worth the money. I have to say that I agree with the prediction, it was worth the money – overall.

There are many of my university colleagues  however who thought it wasn’t worth it. Many who only get 3 hours of contact time a week, 36 hours of contact a semester, 72 across the whole of one academic year.  £42 (ish) per lecture attended. This is mainly speaking for the BA people out there, yes I know you had to put as much work in as I did (in your final year at least) but we are talking about financially worth it.

See, doing a Physics and Astronomy degree, I had about 20 contact hours. With lab time. so in one month I had out stripped the BA people for an entire academic year. So in the 12 weeks of one semester, I have had more contact time than they will get in their entire degree. Worth it?

One of the things that a recent report has brought up is that the teaching hasn’t improved.

No Shit.

I was lucky, I had a spectrum of different lecturers to give me a great insight into my degree, I had great ones, I had shockingly uninterested ones and I had those who just gave enough to get enough.

Now the shockingly uninterested ones really couldn’t charm a prostitute into bed, they dragged on and made the lectures feel like they went on for about 4 hours (5 if you were hungover).

I had lecturers who were really knew their stuff. Like they knew more about it that the wikipedia article could ever explain. But they just wanted to talk… alot… and we didn’t really learn much, we ended up having to question spot. Which was unfortunate because I really really enjoyed the subject that this one lecturer taught.

The lecturers who could get me to do the work for the lectures I hated (Maths… any maths and horrific particle Physics. ) I admired. I found it interesting that they left parts blank, meaning I asked questions, which got me to do the work. I hated it, please don’t think I enjoyed it, but I found it interesting and satisfying when I could finally answer a question.

The great lecturers took what I was already interested in and  blew it out the water. They really mixed up what I thought was happening and it was like they opened up a whole new world.

I’ll name my top 3 modules for my degree and why I like them. This is purely on how it was taught to me, and how I reacted. even if I hated the subject – and what’s surprising is that none of them are practical ones:

3. High Energy Astrophysics – I had heard ominous predictions about the lecturer of this course, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting lectures I have ever been in. The topics we covered were all brand new to me, and every question that I asked I got an honest answer back. I didn’t get a watered down “Well.. you know what a photon is” lecture, I got a scientist to scientist response. Any help I needed all I had to do was ask. It definitely wasn’t my best mark. But it was an enjoyable to lecture to sit in. Even if the lectures were on a FRIDAY BLOODY AFTERNOON.

2. Statistical Mechanics – I hate maths. I really don’t understand what the hell went through any of the great mathematicians minds when they came up with the crap we have to learn, but for me I was sleeping. I can do applied maths stuff, I can use maths to solve a real world problem, but as for maths for maths sake? No thanks. So this lecture course was a struggle for me. With one difference. I have no idea how this guy did it, but I was fascinated in how many things this one bloody method could be used on.  I was panicking like mad before the exam, but I came out of it with a high 2:1. That is the result I am most proud of. I managed to get 50’s in my other maths modules, and high 60’s in this. I just enjoyed figuring it out!

1. Physics of Stars – This was a module like no other. It had all the Astronomy you could ever imagine, and it was taught like a maths module. Wait – yes I am aware that I said above that I hate maths, but this was astronomy maths. This was maths that you could build from the base up, you could build from addition all the way up to calculating the gravitational strength of a star. So much information was suddenly opened up to me from this one module, it was honestly like I had absorbed a book by fusion. (Was going to say osmosis, but thought I would stay on-topic).

So is university worth it?

I can say that 60% of my modules I enjoyed enough to remember them.

The rest I just turned up to to pass, whether this number is the same for others out there I’m not sure on. But I didn’t just get a degree out of my university experience. There are more things to life.

£9000 doesn’t count against you, the 4 x £9000 some will pay won’t count against them. I’m currently in £27000 worth of debt, and I don’t even pay off the interest I earn on that a month. Which is a failure of the Students Loan Company, as well as the Govenment for mot regulating it properly. A graduate tax? Maybe, but My debt should be getting smaller. Not bigger.

That is another blog entirely however.

Go to university, If you want to expand on what you know, or get the professional qualification you want, then go. It will build a hell of a lot more life experience than you expect, much more than living with your parents will for 3 years.

As Nike would say: Just do it. 



Today: Five Years Time

7 Jun

Last week i finished my degree.

Barring any unfortunate fails, i will be graduating in July! Can’t wait. Not just to graduate i guess, but to start the next part of my life.

Five years ago it was June 2006. I was Returning to school after the shambles that was my As-Levels, with out one thought of leaving the small suburbs of Woodley. I was 6 weeks away from the summer holidays, and we were all being told to think about what we would write for our personal statements, how to sell ourselves to what degree we wanted to do. I had decided to do physics and astronomy – just like my physics teacher.

I had no idea what i would be writing so I just started with the simple question of “Why i want to go to university”, and went from there. Who knew that 5 years since then I would be finishing my physics degree, probably gaining a 2:2 honours degree, from a prestigious Russel Group University – Cardiff University – and yet I still don’t know what to do after i graduate!

I know I want to enter Formula one, I want to be involved in Research and Development, and I want to be an innovator. Unfortunately to get into Formula One it’s more of a who you know, then what you know. So I will be sending alot of e-mails out asking for work experience around the time of Silverstone, or over winter -testing…. hmmmm the choices!!!

So what do i want to be doing in 5 years time? Let’s make a handy list. (easy reading for ya there!)

  1. Not living in my parents house
  2. Married
  3. Have a career
  4. Go to Monaco GP
  5. Have a permenant paddock pass as i’ll be working for a F1 team. . . .
  6. Not miss a single F1 race for an entire season
  7. Go to New York
  8. Go to Paris
  9. Hawaii! gotta go to Hawaii…
  10. Pay off my student loan… (~£25 k….)

Nothing too extreme there… Considering 5 years ago i told my head of sixth form i wanted to go to cardiff and study physics, I got told:

I wouldn’t aim too high Harriet. Why don’t you do Geography? That’s your highest grade”

Screw you. I’m getting an honours degree. From Cardiff University. I can acheive anything!

Though I am aware that only a lottery win will allow me to pay off my student loan in 5 years!!!

Today: What I Have Learnt…

28 Mar

… From my Physics Degree.

Here is a list of 10 things that need to be known if you will pass a physics degree…

  1. Vectors, dot products and cross products. You can’t have a force without direction! Well you can, you’re just not going to get anywhere.
  2. The universe of homogeneous and isotropic. Forget this and you WILL FAIL anything for do with cosmology
  3. Integration. Mathematical tool, if in doubt, integrate the dam thing between zero and infinity then blag your results.
  4. Errors, Everything has errors, if you’re unsure on an answer say “within statistical error” and you should get away with anything else
  5. Units, the pain of everyones lives. Forget the units and you lose the marks. Unless it’s natural units, which equal 1….
  6. Everything is a spherical body made up of an infinite number of spherical shells… Now you can model EVERYTHING.
  7. light = particles = waves. No-one really knows why, to be honest not alot of people care. just accept this fact and move on…
  8. Conservation laws, If in doubt, do the following: Conservation of energy, then conservation of momentum (linear and perpendicular… VECTORS PEOPLE), Cons of Angular momentum, inertia, charge, mass… use which ever ones apply. This list is not exhaustive.
  9. Stirling’s approximation. Apply it everywhere. when you eventually know what it is…
  10. The most important thing of all. No matter what level you are at, what you are being taught, it’s all WRONG. There is always a better theory ‘just around the corner’.

However the Gravitational waves people have been saying that they are ‘just around the corner from discovering a grav wave’ for the past 6 or 7 years…. Bad example…

Today: The Value of Teaching

3 Dec

It’s a known fact that people have their favourite teachers at school. The one that lets you sit next to your friends and talk during class, gives you chocolates at the end of term and lets you watch a film in the last lesson.

My favourite teacher at secondary school was my physics teacher Mr. Jon Clarke, I had him for almost all 7 years of that time i spent at that ‘school’, he was one of the few consistent things i really had, one of the main reasons i am now studying physics and Astronomy.

I found my old year book when i was at home for a brief time over the summer, and i for the life of me cannot remember what he wrote, but everytime i think of it, it makes me smile. It’s rare you get somebody who is in that position of authority (at secondary school that is), that truely influences you in such a positive way. People only seem to remember the bad teachers. and they aren’t really the ones who put us here today.

I got alot of stick from my teachers (as i’ve said in a previous blog) nobody thought i would get into cardiff uni, and upon receival of my results they took me to one side and asked if i had contacted my second choice. I hadn’t and i wasn’t going to. Cardiff was my destination and I was getting there! Mr Clarke knew I could otherwise he wouldn’t have helped me sit an A-level in 1 year.

Now at uni, in my final year, counting the days down till the christmas break, i started to wonder who really were the ‘good’ lecturers/teachers i had here. Teaching is a different style at university, and even then that style is different from one lecturer to the next.

There are the lecturers which just talk at you. They require no real participation except mindless copying and listening to explanations and examples.

There are the lecturers who talk down to you. These i dislike the most. I get that they are cleverer than we are, but seriously, if you talk to me like that i will end up not paying any attention and not turning up to the lectures.

There are the lecturers which teach. They don’t leave to much to the imagination, just keep you that much outof the loop that if you stop paying attention, you’ll really miss the point.

There are the lecturers who couldn’t really care. They could be the most powerful person in the world but if they can’t be bothered to prepare, then why should we?

Then there are the lecturers who discuss with you. They are still lecturing, but it’s more an open topic. You ask questions and although the answer could be right or (in my case) wrong, they will entice the class to discuss why, and you learn new ways of thinking and new ways of looking at things.


Which one do I like the most? Well. That’s hopefully quite obvious.

In my 4 years at Cardiff I have come across all of these. You have different tactics for dealing with each, the assesment sheets, the revision classes, the exams, each require a different plan of attack. So although I may not know too much about Physics or Astronomy (I hope i know more than the average bear), I definately know how to get around most issues that come about. At least… I hope that’s what Applications of Quantum Mechanics hopes to acheive… because i have no idea what he is on about…..