By Emily, 1st year Physics and Astronomy

Per ardua ad alta. Through efforts to high things. The University of Birmingham's motto struck a chord with me, as I'm sure it did with all first years, before I'd even set foot on its beautiful campus. The challenges and pressures of sixth form had required me to work incredibly hard, and the reward has been me securing my place to study Physics at Birmingham.

During my first term at the University of Birmingham, I have learnt a great deal about reflection, and I am not just referring to lectures from my Optics and Waves module! As the term drew to a close, I felt a sense of both exhaustion as well as relief, and thought it would be a perfect time to reflect upon the past few months. The term has been testing (especially without the luxury of a reading week; having been so used to having half terms at school), but I made the most of my time and every opportunity that came my way.

Freshers Week was both a nerve-wracking and exciting time for me. Having come to Birmingham from living in Spain, it truly did feel like I was building a new life in a new city with new friends. I was anxious as to how I would settle in, but eagerly awaiting the adventures I knew would lay ahead. I needn't have worried - by the first few days I had made friends with whom I remain close with today and after my first few lectures and classes, I knew I had chosen the right course for me.

I already know myself to be a person who finds it very difficult to turn down experiences that are offered to me, so the countless societies, sports teams and volunteering opportunities offered during the fairs in Welcome Week forced me to be picky and think about what I would choose to sign up for. I asked myself what wouldn't interfere with my studies, but instead would help me to develop my skills and more importantly have fun -a welcome break from the demands of a Physics degree! In the end, I decided upon the departmental Poynting Physical Society, AstroSoc and the Physics netball team for my societies and sports. I became both a Student Rep and a Project Assistant for the Green Impact Scheme (a collaborative effort between staff and students to make their department more eco-friendly) to develop my skill sets, and I also decided to join the EPS-Review team -the reason you are reading my article today!

One of the highlights of the term was getting to stargaze atop the Poynting Building, thanks to AstroSoc (the University's Astronomy Society). Myself and other keen astronomers braved the cold and wet of a Thursday night in November, giving us an unparalled opportunity to view an array of stars and planets. The rare occasion of a clear, unclouded sky allowed us to see Jupiter and its moons, a double-star cluster and, through the use of the 100 year old Grubb telescope, an incredibly close-up view of the moon that wowed us all. The night was a real treat which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Becoming a Student Rep in the Physics department not only allowed me to help my fellow students by representing their views and needs, but also to help both those in need in Birmingham and further afield. The Annual Physics Charity Day, hosted in December 2013, was a joint effort of the Student Reps, departmental staff, and students who volunteered their time to raise money for charity. Through a cake sale and two raffles we were able to raise a sum exceeding 350 pounds to be shared between the Birmingham Children's Hospital, and to provide relief for the victims of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. I was not only astounded by the amount of money we were able to raise, but moreover by the generosity and the individual efforts of members of the Physics department. It was humbling to see this kindness, and made me feel incredibly lucky to be a part of the School of Physics and Astronomy.

For all of us first-years this term has seen the start of new chapters in all our lives, and required that we become a lot more independent. We are all learning how to manage our studies, our extra-curricular activities, our social lives and for many the challenges of living away from home and our parents for the first time. I won't deny that at times it feels like a very steep, learning curve! However, the Christmas break has given an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to take a break from the pressures of university and also to reflect upon all that we have achieved this past term. I'm looking forward to getting back into the working routine once more, and, as the old adage goes, giving my full effort to achieve high things.