What’s life like as an Oxford Physics Student?
For those of you thinking applying to study Physics at Oxford it’s important to know what a typical week looks like. By choosing to study Physics at Oxford you are committing to a significant and varied workload, which will impact your life for the next three years. The Oxford Physics course is very challenging and rewarding in part due to the high number of contact hours and the range of different modes of learning and teaching, which contribute toward the degree as a whole.
There are primarily three different types of learning and teaching within the degree:
A typical physics student will have to attend lectures 3 or 4 days a week for 2 to 4 hours a day. Physics lectures at Oxford are always focused on imparting a deep understanding of physics and the derivation of physical laws from first principles, some universities will focus on teaching you simply how to insert numbers into equations with a view to you simply passing exams, which I need not tell you is a particularly short sighted view of imparting knowledge.
Over the course of your Oxford degree you will spend 1 or 2 days a week working in the labs for 7 hours at a time. Laboratory work is focused not simply on demonstrating experiments as a way to supplement lectures but on creating competent experimental physicists with a large emphasis on error analysis and measurement accuracy to allow students to understand both the strengths and limitations of particular experimental techniques. The practical course also includes computational physics labs in which physics student are able to learn the fundamentals of programming and physical simulation a skill currently in high demand globally. Once per year the student will be expected to submit one or 2 extended lab reports writing up an experiment in detail, this is completed outside of the time spent in the labs.
CLASSES AND TUTORIALS
One of the biggest strengths of a degree at Oxford is the large amount of small group or individual teaching, an Oxford Physics student might expect to have 3 classes (around an hour and a half in length) and 3 tutorials (around 30 minutes in length) a week in which they will go through a problem sheet. A problem sheet is a set of physics problems, which the student is expected to submit and solve, these problem sheets might take between 4 and 12 hours to complete and typically you would expect to complete three a week. Problem sheets are typically sent out in advance of lectures so student will have to research how to solve the problems before they are taught the relevant material in lectures.
The tutorials and classes are an opportunity to go through the submitted problem in a small group or individually with a member of Oxford physics academic staff an invaluable opportunity, this will advance ones understanding of physics to a level which most other courses simply cannot match.
The large workload and varied responsibilities might seem like a lot, but looking back after completing the course, it is apparent that I was deeply stimulated and engaged in my degree throughout, and that If have developed as a physicist to a level I could simply not have on a less intensive course.