The research project in fourth year was the part of this course I was most excited about when applying
What do you enjoy the most about your course?
I would say that without doubt chemistry labs have been one of the highlights of my degree so far. The undergraduate teaching labs have such a welcoming atmosphere, which I especially appreciated as a Fresher. I really enjoy being able to make links between the theoretical side of the course we’ve learned about in lectures and tutorials and the practical side, allowing me to make predications or explain the results we get in certain experiments.
“The undergraduate teaching labs have such a welcoming atmosphere, which I especially appreciated as a Fresher.”
It can also be very satisfying applying new skills in the labs, and there are so many opportunities to bond with the other students in our lab group while working on the same practical together. I really appreciate that I’ve made so many friends on my course at other colleges through our lab groups in first and second year, as other subjects don’t seem to get the chance to mingle with students from other colleges on their courses as often.
How is your subject taught?
For the first three years teaching is made up of lectures and labs that are organised by the chemistry department and tutorials that are arranged in College. In terms of contact hours, a typical week would consist of around 10-12 hours of lectures, an average of probably 2 tutorials, and 2 days of labs in first and second year with lab reports to complete afterwards (in third year we schedule labs ourselves). Our tutorials are usually made up of 3-4 students with one of our tutors and we will go over work we have already handed in during the tutorial and perhaps also cover additional problems on the same topic at the end. In first year, in addition to inorganic, organic and physical chemistry tutorials, we also had a weekly Maths for Chemists class and occasionally an extra Physics class.
In third year, there is an options paper alongside the core course modules. This allows people to choose to prepare for questions in the areas that they find most interesting out of around 15 different options. As we cover inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry for the first three years of the course before specialising in fourth year, it provides a well-rounded understanding of the core areas of chemistry before going into research.
The fourth year consists of a research project under the supervision of one of the academics in the department. There are a broad range of possible research areas, and it involves writing a thesis on your research. I am really excited to be starting research this year as many chemists in the years above me have said it’s been their favourite part of the degree.
What made you decide to apply for Oxford/Oriel and do you have any top tips on the application process?
The research project in fourth year was probably the part of this course I was most excited about when applying. As I loved maths in school, I was excited that maths made up quite a large focus in first year as well, and that the maths we learnt would continue to be applied to problems over second and third year too. I also chose to apply to Oxford over Cambridge because I wanted to do a straight chemistry degree rather than natural sciences.
“The student helpers were all so friendly and helpful, and the college itself is a stunning place to live in.”
I applied to Oriel after visiting it on a university open day and loving it. The student helpers were all so friendly and helpful, and the college itself is a stunning place to live in. Being a slightly smaller college, Oriel is an ideal size to get to know your year group and is conveniently located very centrally!
I would recommend preparing for your university applications early, so you have time to read around your subject a bit more, add depth to your personal statement and be sure that the course you’re applying for is right for you. In terms of colleges, whilst it’s obviously good to apply to one you think you will like, nearly everyone seems to love the college they end up at, even if it’s not the one they applied to!
How did you prepare for your interview?
“I would encourage anyone preparing for interviews to try and arrange some mock interviews with their chemistry teachers.”
My school gave me a few mock interviews, which I found very useful. Although they weren’t necessarily very similar to my actual Oxford interviews, these sessions helped me become more confident in an interview setting and think about different ways to approach problems. I would encourage anyone preparing for interviews to try and arrange some mock interviews with their chemistry teachers at school and get feedback from them. Even practicing with some family or friends who don’t have to know lots on the subject is still helpful in providing experience at thinking and talking yourself logically through a problem in that scenario. This is especially true when explaining a concept to someone else who might not know much chemistry as it will ensure you understand the idea fully yourself!
I refamiliarised myself with the topics and books I mentioned in my personal statement in case they were used as conversation points, or if I was probed about them. Alongside this I tried to look ahead to the parts of the A-level syllabus which my school hadn’t yet covered by the time I had my interviews, to make sure I had some background knowledge on these more unfamiliar areas should it be assumed I’d already been taught it. I would also recommend being comfortable with calculus before interviews as this could come up, since maths makes up a quarter of the first year course.
What advice do you have for prospective students interested in studying your subject?
“read up on areas that interest you within the subject and make sure you enjoy learning about them in greater depth.”
My main piece of advice would be to read up on areas that interest you within the subject and make sure you enjoy learning about them in greater depth. The added benefit of additional reading around your subject is that it will be a source of inspiration for your personal statement. It’s also important to make sure that you like the sound of how the course is structured in terms of content and teaching, and the chemistry department website will be able to tell you about what you can expect in more detail and offer other students’ perspectives on it too.
What do you like the most about being an Orielensis?
Oriel has such a friendly community environment and there are so many opportunities to get involved with clubs or societies in College and meet new people. I am part of Oriel netball and I love being able to make friends from different year groups within College, and it is something to look forward to each week outside of studies!