What our students say

At the School of Physics we place a high importance on ensuring our students remain happy and sufficiently supported, maintaining a positive and productive study experience. The results of this ethos are demonstrated by the consistently high scores we achieve in each annual National Student Survey. In the following statements some of our past and present students share their thoughts on what it's like to study Physics at Birmingham.

Bethany Allison - MSci Physics & Astrophysics

Bethany Allison

If you are interested in studying Astronomy here, you'll do the Astro Laboratory Module in the second semester which is extremely fascinating. Labs at University are very different to the labs you may have done in the past. These experiments are done in the real world of research and as someone who would like to become an academic, Labs gives an insight into what the world of research is really like.

I am also a member of AstroSoc. This is a great society and it isn't just for Astronomy students. We do many great activities and attempt to observe, however the weather in Birmingham sometimes lets us down!

Eloise Brown - MSci Physics and Astrophysics

Eloise BrownMy decision to study Physics and Astrophysics at Birmingham is certainly not one I regret! With such a wide, flexible range of course options, you’re bound to discover the specialism that interests you most; whether it’s the small scale Particle Physics or large scale Astrophysics. With lecturers who are experts in their fields, and passionate about what they’re teaching, it’s easy to see why we’re one of the best universities for Physics courses in the country.

University isn’t just about the work, the social activities are great here too. There are approximately 220 clubs and societies where you can meet like-minded people outside of your course. I am a member of AstroSoc (astronomy society), Photosoc (photography society), Wayfarers (walking society) and PPS (Poynting Physical Society); all of which host great events, and it was a great way for me to make friends in my first year.

The staff in the school of Physics and Astronomy are so friendly and approachable, which is perhaps most evident during the annual trip to Coniston for a weekend in February. This weekend of walking was one of my highlights of the year! There was such a fun, relaxed atmosphere and was a great opportunity to meet other students. Other highlights of my year include the PPS ball, AstroSoc camping trip and the AstroSoc annual dinner.

The University of Birmingham is a campus university, but is a quick and easy train journey (or walk) away from the city centre, so you really get the best of both worlds!

Adam Butcher - MSci Physics

Adam ButcherWhen looking at universities, my main criteria were excellent teaching staff/facilities and a large array of interesting research projects.   All my interactions with teaching staff at Open Days were very exciting and engaging and it seemed to me that the staff had a genuine passion for training the next generation of physicists. When lecturers are as engaging as they are here, learning becomes so much fun and you become inspired to be a better physicist.

I would advise students to really think about what their interests in physics are. I started life at Birmingham as an astrophysicist but soon found that I didn’t want to focus on a single area so quickly. Your undergraduate degree is a fantastic change to delve into many different areas of physics and you should exploit this to the full; explore as much as you can because there is so much physics out there and you never know what might grab your attention.

Ben Craddock - MSci Physics

Ben CraddockThe support that is on offer by the department is second to none, especially in the early years. Small group tutorials are frequent and reliable and members of staff are always happy to have meetings and answer emails. I can’t think of a single lecturer who has been difficult to approach.

Birmingham is a fantastic city to live in, I knew it fairly well before I began studying here, but I find it a pleasant place to live and socialise in. Outside of the university, I am a keen amateur photographer and take regular trips to other cities in the country to indulge in architecture photography, something which the central position of Birmingham is very useful for me.  The Poynting Physical Society is also a great opportunity to socialise with other physicists at the university through a variety of organized events. I particularly enjoy the annual physics ball which is the event of the year for physicists!!

Tip from Ben - Don’t worry if it seems overwhelming with the amount of choice, it will be difficult to know exactly what you want to do at this stage (take it from me, it’s okay if you still don’t know a couple of years in!) so consider other aspects to life on the course as well as the academic side of it.

Eleanor Fradgley - MSci Physics

Ellie FradgleyI chose to study physics because I like the idea that I can understand the things which are happening around me. I wanted to choose a career where I will constantly be able to learn and improve, and I believe Physics is the best option for this.

The staff at Birmingham University are all very approachable, and it's exciting being able to talk to people who are experts in their field. The lectures are interesting and the topics are relevant, if a little challenging at times, but it’s always possible to email a lecturer about anything you don’t understand and they often reply on the same day. Alternatively, you meet in a group of 4 with a member of staff every week and can discuss any problems there and in the first year, there is also a ‘skills’ module dedicated to teaching more practical elements of solving physics problems. These are in groups of around 20 people and make it easy to meet and talk to other students as they’re a relaxed classroom style session.

Initially I was tempted to do theoretical physics, as I didn’t enjoy experiments at A-level. Although labs was rather intense at first, sticking with experimental physics is one of the best decisions I’ve made. Three years on I can’t believe how far I’ve come from not even knowing what an oscilloscope was! The teamwork element is what I believe is most important – you’re never left on your own to figure out a problem, at the very least you’ll have a lab partner to help figure out the issues you’ll inevitably face and this really helps to take the pressure off.

I used to commute daily, and at first I was concerned this might make it more difficult to meet people. However, because there is a lot of time between lectures, I still had plenty of free time to spend on campus and having a car proved useful with midday lunch trips into town. There are lots of ways to meet new people, and most people don't know anyone, so before long it will feel like you've known your friends here forever.

Michelle Fridlund - BSc Theoretical Physics

Michelle Fridlund small kb.docxIf you study at Birmingham, you will be provided with an excellent quality of teaching, a variety of extracurricular activities and amazing graduate opportunities. I am also in love with its beautiful campus!

My course really challenges me intellectually. You need to be very hard-working but, in the end, learning about how the Universe works is a very rewarding experience.  The staff and lecturers are extremely approachable and friendly. The atmosphere overall is inspiring and motivating, making you want to improve every day.

My main focus at the moment is getting a degree, but I am trying my best to make the most out of my university experience. For example, I am going to a Universitas 21 undergraduate conference in Mexico this July.

Tips from Michelle

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Never miss out on opportunities offered by the University.

Alex Gellersen - BSc Physics

Alex GellersenGoing from school to Higher Education was one of the easiest transitions thanks to the University and the course I chose to study.  The tutors really make sure everyone has the same level of knowledge by the end of first year, regardless of where you’re from and what you’ve studied. Everyone in the department is really friendly and someone is always there to help if you need it.

I chose Birmingham because the course fitted what I wanted to study most closely and you get to do a lot more astrophysics early on  as opposed to other options I considered, but the course is still fairly broad.

I also love the campus, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a big city here which was a massive appeal as I was used to living in the middle of nowhere.

The societies I’m involved in are the Wayfarers Hiking Society and the Pole Fitness Society, they’re both really great ways to meet people and get fit.

Ben Giblin - 2014 U21 Summer School on Building Future Cities: Sydney, Australia

UOB_Group2Approximately 120 participants from over 15 countries attended, and we all quickly became very good friends. Each morning we would attend lectures from some of the world’s leading experts in architecture, transportation, city planning and environmentalism. My favourite of which was given by Professor Scott Mooney, and was concerned with the misconceptions and associated dangers of hazard reduction burning as a means to reduce the risk of bushfires in Australia.

Attending the 2014 U21 Summer School on Building Future Cities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney was an unforgettable experience. My fellow students and I spent two amazing weeks learning about the challenges we face in developing urban environments, and how best we can prepare to meet these challenges in the future. Although not primarily concerned with physics, the Summer School provided an opportunity to see how the skills I have developed through the last four years at university, can be applied in the practical design of the cityscape.

In the afternoons, we would head out on tours and field trips around Sydney. For example, we visited the Command Centre of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) – the largest Fire Service in the world. I was amazed at the range of technology employed in quickly detecting and responding to bushfires, and was informed that NASA representatives upon their visit, were even impressed by the sophistication of the NSWRFS’s operations! Having also learnt about the architectural/mathematical difficulties encountered in constructing the Sydney Opera House, I relished the opportunity to examine its non-Cartesian design up close, when we went to watch the Aboriginal/ballet dance troupe Bangarra.

After hours, the participants indulged in Sydney’s nightlife and even experienced a river cruise around Sydney Harbour, which gave breath-taking views of the Bridge, the Opera House, and city skyline. I also now consider myself a diehard Sydney Swans fan, after going to watch the Aussie Rules Football on a number of occasions.

The participants were also required to perform a final group presentation on the last day of the School. I was both surprised and humbled, when my group was selected as the best presenters at the closing ceremony at Taronga Zoo that evening.

I am very grateful to the University of Birmingham for providing me with the opportunity to attend this amazing Summer School on the other side of the globe. Furthermore, since I was given the flexibility to book my own flights, I chose to stay in Oz another two months after the Summer School finished, and even took part in an astrophysics internship at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne! I never could have afforded this adventure without the financial support provided by the University. Therefore I would wholeheartedly recommend other students seek out the exciting opportunities available to them here!

Mark Griffiths - MSci Physics

Mark GriffithsOne of the reasons I decided to study for a physics degree was to leave my options open for the future - I am still unsure about what I want to do afterwards, there’s almost too much choice! 

I have always been interested in the way the world works so it was only natural for me to want to study for a Physics degree. I chose Birmingham because it is consistently towards the top of league tables, not just in academic areas but also for things like student satisfaction. I was certain I had made the right choice when I attended an applicant visit day.  The University was very welcoming and I instantly felt at home. From that point on I have never looked back.

For me the best thing about a Physics degree is the amount of contact hours you get. You feel a lot more supported in your work than other subjects, where people are left to their own devices for the majority of their study. I am by no means saying there is no independent study, but a lot more support and guidance is certainly available.

The best thing about studying Physics at Birmingham is the lecturers and other staff overseeing the course. Everything is perfectly organised, the teaching is superb and consistent.  Another aspect of Physics I love at Birmingham is the Poynting Physics Society, or PPS. It is excellently run and really creates a sense of community among Physics students!

Tips from Mark;

  • Brush up on your maths, it may be a Physics course but maths is just as important
  • Don’t worry about the leap from A-Level or International Baccalaureate to University; the first year course is designed    with this in mind and plenty of support is in place to help ease the transition
  • Whatever you do, enjoy University!

Frederick Grover - MSci Physics with Particle Physics

The first thing that struck me when entering the Physics department was the friendliness of both the students and the staff. The Birmingham campus is an incredible environment to learn and makes you feel at home immediately. However, my main reason for choosing Birmingham was the fact that it had the course tailored for what I wanted. 

Studying at University is a varied and fulfilling experience; a large part of this is the lectures, where you are educated about the essentials of physics from special relativity to quantum mechanics. What makes the education so unique at Birmingham is the small tutorial sessions. You are introduced to your tutor at the beginning of the year and organise an hourly session each week where you partake in discussions about relevant physics, as well as gaining insight and evaluation of the weeks assessed problems. The tutorials also allow you to bring any issues you’ve had with the previous week. The second year of the course allows you to focus your degree on the modules which interest you, allowing a course more tailored for you.

As well as education, there is a massive amount of extra-curricular activities available to us. The Guild hosts a large number of societies as well as hosting various events.  The sport centre allows you to get involved in any sport at the level which suits you. There are various opportunities which arise allowing you to partake in volunteer work as well as acquiring a job. My first year has been an incredible experience and I feel has greatly improved me as a person.

Benjamin Horvath - TPAM, School Scholarship 2011

Being a student at Birmingham is a life changing experience, after my first year I can say, that I’ve changed for the better! The atmosphere on campus is very welcoming for all new students, whilst the facilities of the university help studying and getting the most out of your course. There is always something happening on campus, such as career fairs which gave me ideas about how could I enhance my prospects in the job market. I have got to know new like-minded friends who make my days here more enjoyable. I’m a physics student and I really enjoy my course so far and I find that the workload is manageable, but also demanding at the same time. When I have some free time, I usually spend it with my friends discovering Birmingham, which is a vibrant city. I also received a scholarship this year, which made my studies here more affordable and took some pressure off my shoulders.

Jordan Lindsey - MSci Physics and Astrophysics

Jordan Lindsey picThe original reason for my application to do Physics and Astrophysics is mainly down to finding the subject so fascinating. It isn’t every day that you can tell your family/friends that you have been observing a globular cluster using the university’s telescope when I get home…

There is such a wide variety of options to choose from when deciding which modules to take.  Whilst it may seem daunting at first with so many paths to take, it is great knowing that whichever part of physics interests you, there is probably a module relating to that subject and so everybody is catered for.

I personally find the lecturers incredibly friendly and quick to respond to any queries or concerns that I may have, such as parts of the course I don’t understand or help with past exam questions. In addition, almost all lectures are uploaded to an online tool called ‘Canvas’, so that if you missed something in a lecture, it is possible to go back and find the missing information.

My highlight at the university so far would be the Astro-Laboratory during the second year of the course. We were placed in groups of three and had first-hand experience using the university’s telescope to observe a distant star cluster, later going on to calculate the cluster’s age. Taking part in these types of experiments give a real insight to what true academic research entails, which may convince some students to continue with research after their studies.

Tip from Jordan;

My advice to prospective students would be to come and see the university for yourself on one of the Open Days. It has a brilliant campus which is only 10 minutes via train to the city centre, and a fantastic physics department.

David Perkins - MSci Theoretical Physics

David PerkinsWhen I was first applying for universities, I wasn’t sure which part of physics I enjoyed most, but when I saw the courses offered here at Birmingham, it was all made easy. The School of Physics and Astronomy offers several different specialisms via degree choice and optional modules, ranging from astrophysics to particle physics and cosmology, meaning many routes through physics were available to me when applying.

Alongside having many options available, I find learning at Birmingham very comfortable and without stress, as the academic staff are always friendly and happy to help answer any questions you might have about their module, or even other modules.

Outside of academia, Birmingham offers so much more from sports and music, to gaming and films. The Guild of Students has societies of all different natures, which meant it was easy for me to find others who had similar interests to me and allowed me to relax outside of learning by doing what I enjoyed. Personally I found the table top gaming and video gaming societies to be full of quirky and interesting individuals who I get on well with. I have also found that the sports and music facilities have allowed me to continue my martial arts and drumming whilst attending university.

Guy Perkins - MSci Physics

Guy PerkinsI wanted to go to University and do a degree in Physics to challenge myself, explore exciting concepts about the fundamental laws of nature and to better myself as a person. 

Quantum mechanics 1 in the first semester is a module that introduces you to the mathematics of Quantum mechanics, something that I personally find very interesting. I also challenged myself by taking up a new sport. I had never competed in a karting race before University and through UBMRC (University of Birmingham Motor Racing Club), I was given the opportunity to compete in a BUKC race at Clay Pigeon and then in the end of season 24-hour race. It was an amazing and surprisingly tough experience, but it is one that I will never forget!

At the end of the first year I took part in the Birmingham project. I had to designate tasks, organise a group of students  and lead a 20-minute presentation in front of an audience including representatives from IBM. This developed my leadership and communication skills. This is just one of the many opportunities available to you at the University of Birmingham.

Tip from Guy;

My advice to a prospective student is to have a positive attitude, believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to try something new. My first year studying Physics at the University of Birmingham has made me grow as a student and as a person.

Adam Rawcliffe - MSci Physics with International Study

My time at Birmingham has been wonderful. The first year of the physics degree is a great foundation for the rest of the course, but still includes inspirational and cutting-edge material to take further in later years; I absolutely loved the Introduction to Particle Physics module, and can’t wait for more!

Being a Physics student with the Music scholarship, I find the access to the music practice rooms and lessons from Birmingham Conservatoire (my current teacher is the principle trombonist from the CBSO) has helped me to further my musical pursuits.

On top of all this, it still allows you to have a vibrant and active social life – you will never run out of societies to join and get involved with within the University, places to go out to in the city, and like-minded people to meet.

I've never been busier, and never been happier!

Emma Simpson - MSci Physics with International Year

image4-profile-170I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here at the University of Birmingham.  The physics department is really friendly and welcoming, and I found the course to be both interesting and challenging, with lots of module choice in the later years.  It is very easy to get involved with the University clubs and societies, and I particularly enjoyed the departmental Poynting Physical Society (PPS), as it was a great opportunity to make friends with physicists from all the different year-groups.

One great thing about the physics department is the student rep system which enables students to raise any academic issues they may have with one of their year reps, who can bring it to attention in a weekly meeting.  This means that any problems experienced by students can be dealt with promptly, appropriately and anonymously, limiting any disruption to learning.

As part of my study, I spent the third year of my MSci degree on exchange to the University of Auckland in New Zealand. This was a truly unique and amazing opportunity to fully experience another country’s culture through an educational setting, whilst still having some time to explore and travel.  I found this experience to be very rewarding, not only educationally, but also through improving both my self-confidence and organisation.  I have returned with a wealth of excellent memories and also a network of wonderful friends from all around the world.

Another highlight of the physics department is the amount of information offered regarding opportunities available to undergraduate students, from internships to PhD positions or job opportunities.  This is a great source of knowledge and inspiration for what you can achieve during your summer break, or after you complete your degree.  I successfully applied for and completed an internship in Australia, following an email I received from Birmingham which was another amazing experience that I would otherwise have not known about.

Following my degree at Birmingham I plan to continue in further education.  I feel that this course has enabled me to approach further study as a well-rounded student with the necessary skill-set to really prepare me for the challenges of a PhD.

Joel Swallow - MSci Physics

Joel Swallow astro ball

A few factors drew me to the department here in Birmingham.  Firstly, the various university rankings consistently place the department at the sharp end of the top 10.  Secondly, the amazing depth and breadth of the world-leading research being done here and the choices that opens up for you as a student, to learn from researchers at the forefront of their fields.  Finally, upon visiting on an Open Day, I discovered the gorgeous campus and from then on I knew this was the place for me. 

Now having completed my third year I have tackled some advanced courses and am beginning to specialize particularly in Astrophysics, Cosmology and Particle Physics. For my third year Group Studies project, I worked with a team of other students on a design for a new Electromagnetic Calorimeter for the LHCb experiment at CERN. The current version of this component of the particle detector will no longer operate effectively after upgrades planned for 2024, so it was our job to come up with an idea for a new design that would be able to achieve the ongoing physics goals of the experiment. This isn’t just some made-up project to keep us students busy, the first meeting of the LHCb collaboration to try to address the same problem only took place a month before we started the project! This shows that as you get towards the later years of your undergraduate degree, you really get to tackle current problems facing your chosen field.

During the summer of 2016 I am working on a summer studentship here at the university. My project is on the NA62 experiment at CERN. This experiment has the goal of detecting an incredibly rare decay process which could uncover a chink in the armour of the standard model; the model which describes the building blocks of the universe at a fundamental level and their interactions, exposing new physics. Specifically, I am working on writing and upgrading the software the NA62 collaboration use to analyse the data from the experiment and test their predictions against real data.

I have a music scholarship from the School of Physics and Astronomy which allows me to take lessons, for Alto Saxophone, from professional tutors at the Birmingham Conservatoire.  This has given me access to tuition which would not be possible without the scholarship and I am able to develop as a musician alongside my academic studies. 

I like to be busy and when I am not doing physics I fill my time with a range of other activities. I am a member of the Music Society (UMS) and play in the Saxophone ensemble and I am the Equipment and Observation Officer for AstroSoc. Also, this year I have been working as part of a team leading the Gemini Project - in April this year we launched a stratospheric balloon which reached above 30 km carrying student payloads.  

Austin Tomlinson - Theoretical Physics

image5-profile-170Choosing Theoretical Physics at Birmingham was a brilliant decision. It enabled me to explore all the really interesting parts of Physics you see on science documentaries that are too complicated to explain in just words. For example, Quantum Mechanics sounds very cool when television scientists talk about the bizarre phenomena that happens in quantum systems, but actually studying the mathematical formulation of it is incredibly profound and makes you realise why we find the Quantum World just so weird!

The options for study are broad and flexible and cover many different areas in Physics. You can study Physics from the length scale of the smallest particles known to exist in Particle Physics courses, to the length scale of the entire universe and study Cosmology. The Theoretical Physics option automatically has you taking courses in deeply mathematical areas in Physics, which will ultimately lead to courses in the General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Field Theory in the fourth year. As a Theorist, you are able to take courses in all areas of Physics (just like normal Physics students), as well as courses in Applied Mathematics reserved for just Theoretical Physics students, to give you a greater breadth of knowledge across Mathematical Physics than a normal Physics graduate. This can give you advantages, especially if you are considering Postgraduate research, as a high mathematical aptitude is tantamount to understanding Physics.

Being a student at the University of Birmingham gives you vast opportunities to not only explore the world of Physics, but also to try out many new things you may not have thought you could ever enjoy, with student groups for all kinds of hobbies and countless sports teams!

Rebeckah Trinder - MSci Physics

Rebeckah TrinderOver the past three years I have enjoyed my time at the university. The students and members of staff are very welcoming and friendly, which helped me to settle in more easily when I initially started here. I found the lecturers to be friendly and helpful. Most of the time, the lecturers would try to answer my questions when I asked them, or if they were busy, they would email me back promptly with the answer.

During the first year we covered the basic building blocks of physics, which included a wide range of topics such as, Optics and Waves, Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Temperature and Matter (a mixture between chemistry and physics) and a module of our choice. A large chunk of the timetable was dedicated to maths, an essential tool in physics. There were three hours of maths lectures, one hour of maths problems and an optional hour of maths tutorial. Five hours may seem like a lot, but much of what is covered in the lectures is taught in A-Level Maths and Further Maths. In the second year, students have a few more optional modules and there is still a strong dedication to maths. In the third year there are even more optional modules allowing you to look in more depth into subjects which intrigue you.

As well as the academic side of life, the University of Birmingham boasts a large number and variety of clubs which I enjoyed taking advantage of. Over the last three years I have participated in the University choir and chamber choir, and Guild T.V.  I am a regular member of the Ballroom and Latin Dance Society, and the Physics Society which run events throughout the year as well as its annual Ball.

Emma Willett - MSci Physics

Emma Willett small kbWhen I started my A-levels I thought I’d apply for physics and astrophysics at university, but I discovered too many other interesting things that I didn’t want to miss out on! The physics course here gives me the flexibility to be able to pick and choose modules from the more specialised courses, so I leave my options open and can try everything out.

The mixture of teaching methods this year has been a big plus. Getting used to lectures when coming from lessons at A-level can be tricky but the labs, problem classes, computing workshops, tutorials and assessed problem sheets mean there’s plenty of variety and everyone has time to adjust.

The best thing about studying physics at the University of Birmingham is definitely the atmosphere in the department. Everyone really is friendly and approachable – academics, supervisors and other students are all happy to answer questions or have a chat and that makes studying here very enjoyable – plus the campus is great!

An outstanding highlight so far would be receiving the BP STEM Scholarship.  The money is obviously pretty handy for a student, but the opportunities I have had so far to meet and work with people from BP and other scholars have been really useful too.  At the moment,  I am just saving the money but the insight into a company like BP is helping me to think about what I’d like to do in the future. 

Most things here are only taught once, unlike school and college where things are repeated until everyone has got the hang of them. This means that if you’re not getting something, it’s your responsibility to go away and figure it out. It’s best to do this as soon as possible, so you have the best chance of understanding whatever comes next in the course, but fear not! When staring at the textbook or scrolling through endless google search results isn’t working, remember that you have access to your teachers outside of their lectures. Some have open office hours, others prefer to arrange meetings in advance, but all will be happy to go over anything again if you’re stuck – just get in contact.

Tips from Emma;                    

  • It’s definitely tougher than A-level, but that’s true for everyone, so try not to worry too much – there’s always help around
  • Small group tutorials aren’t as scary as they sound, I promise!
  • Try not to stress too much before you get here, you’re not expected to have magically transformed into a physicist over the summer between college and university! The first part of the year is spent ‘bringing everyone to the same level of ignorance’ so let the university earn your fees and teach you what you need to know.

Alex Wormald - MSci Theoretical Physics

Alex WormaldThe course content as well as the flexibility in options attracted me to studying at Birmingham, a consistently high performer in physics league tables. Some of the work I do, as well as lectures, includes maths problems sheets and numerical modelling using C++.  Outside of this, I am a member of the Ultimate Frisbee and Poynting Physical Societies. I also enjoy cycling and going to the gym.   

The university itself is great, situated just a 10-minute train ride away from the city centre.  Additionally, the campus contains all the things you might need such as (many) libraries, the student union and a food court. By late 2016, work should be completed on a new gym complex, including a rock-climbing wall and a 50m swimming pool. 

My final thought would be to seriously consider studying here; the strong academics, sporting facilities and city centre links make a near unbeatable combination!