Unfortunately, the current pandemic means that many students returning to the UK or arriving in halls for the first time will have to self-isolate for two weeks. This is a particularly difficult experience if you are a fresher, being cut-off from almost all in person interaction at a time when you are leaving your old social support network. Additionally, we will all be spending a lot more time secluded in our rooms this year, a place where, at the best of times, it is easy to fall into a slump, forgoing your work in favour of binging video games or television.
The last few weeks have been a blur of intensive project work. We’ve had two programming projects, one individual and one group.
Simulating Relativistic Decays
The first programming project was for the relativity module. We had to simulate the energy distribution of neutrinos from a set of particle decays. This individual project was an interesting test of applying what we had learnt in the module, combining programming skills and careful consideration of the scenario. Since the project was assessed automatically, this required a lot of scrutiny to the specifications given for variable names and the units values were presented in.
Statistical Application and Group Tensions
While the first project went quite smoothly for me, the second was rather bumpy.
In the summer before Year 13, my family decided to take me university hopping around the UK. We’d go to different cities, stay at a local hotel, attend an open day, explore for a day or two and then move swiftly on to the next. Sometimes we’d visit 3-4 unis back to back – no stops, just songs blasting from the car speakers and my dog jumping up at every red light. I felt like a traveller (minus the caravan).
Back then I had no clue what I was going to do. I’d always wanted to study medicine, but I just wasn’t sure if I was passionate enough to dedicate 5-6 years of my life to one subject.
Given the current pandemic, all of our learning has been moved online. The most readily apparent impact of this is that our physics exams are now remote and open book. This is a welcome change, at least for me, as I always found the need to memorise content for exams a bit redundant, when in real physics work we will always have access to reference material.
Additionally, all of our tutorials and other meetings are conducted over video call. The efficacy of this has been mixed, in some cases people are quite open to working over call, using video when possible, while others seem to be able to sit in a breakout group call for 15 minutes with their microphone muted, trying to avoid putting themselves out there.
Pre-coronavirus, I generally enjoyed cooking every night as a way to destress (and save money). Then, during the “spring break” portion of the lockdown when time was at its most unreal and grocery store shelves at their emptiest, I lost interest. Meals during this time tended towards digestive biscuits, large quantities of oatmeal, and raw carrots eaten despondently at my desk. But now that summer term has picked up, I’ve gone back to cooking as a welcome distraction from everything. I find it a bit more of a challenge now that I only buy groceries once a week since I like to make whatever I’m feeling at the time instead of planning meals in advance, but I’m making it work.
Fellow coursemates and I were looking forward to our dissertation, the most exciting and final part of a Biology/Biochemistry degree. Biology and Biochemistry both belong to the Department of Life Sciences so have the option to share courses together in the final 3rd year. Unlike having to do a dissertation, you can opt to do a lab-based project instead of a literature review as your final undergraduate assessment. Each individual gets their own supervisor which is impressive considering there are more than 200 of biologists and biochemists combined.
Although COVID has disrupted the chance for half of us to spend 2 months in the lab, our department has responded promptly to student concerns, clarifying the safety net policy College has imposed shortly after government and College lockdown.
Seeing that the country I live in is now stuck in a state of quarantine, it’s become impossible to hang out with friends like I used to. However, my high-school friends and I have found a means to connect together over online games. Not online videogames, but online board games.
Despite not being able to play in person, this tool has allowed my friend and I to play together. It’s fantastic, as it simulates an actual 3D playing environment, allowing players to interact with virtual board game pieces including dice, cards and tokens. It’s been a great source of laughter and a good chance to reconnect.
Since self-isolating from Pi Day, I’ve been playing Ace Attorney- the game franchise where the meme came from. Jokes aside, discovering truths in the game doesn’t seem far from the truth from our role as scientists in real life. During this sensitive period, so many hoaxes, memes, conflicting articles and misinformation have been going around, leading to confusion, panic, ignorance and misguided practices. This is why analysing the TRUTH is important, unless you want to get sent the meme.
Engaging, exciting and educational, the optional Horizons module sound technology has been one of my favourite courses this year. The content aims to bridge music and science, starting with the basic physics and biology governing sound and our perception of it, before exploring further into resonance phenomena and the impacts of music on our cognition. We’ve also looked at the artistic side, learning to compose and analyse music with consideration to how anticipation and subversion govern emotional responses to music. Notably, this class has been a massive opportunity for discussion, gaining interesting perspectives from my classmates, lecturers and even visiting presenters who are innovating to change the technology we use to experience music.
Studying Environmental Technology has been, more often than not, a bleak undertaking. My classmates and I have made a whole lot of jokes about each lecture being a new existential crisis. It feels like climate change is a train wreck in slow motion: a present danger with the potential for utter catastrophe and an increasing number of people frantically waving their hands about trying to warn others. Its most immediate effects are often played down or ignored, not helped by the fact that it can be hard to definitively say which events have been caused or exacerbated by climate change. It’s far easier for those in positions of power to continue with “business as usual”, kicking responsibility down the line until the situation inevitably reaches a point of no return.