Back when I first arrived at Liverpool St in central London with my 27kg suitcase full of optimism and anticipation (I mean myself, not the suitcase), I could only hardly imagine what might await me here in the next couple of years. The idea of studying abroad has almost a romantic connotation, yet in reality students spend an awful amount of time in the vicinity of their place of study doing coursework (even though this varies from person to person). There is definitely not as much room for sightseeing as any outsider would expect. Nevertheless, being continuously immersed in an entirely different culture is quite enriching on its own, while also being exposed to one of the world-leading, vibrant academic communities. In the end, I’m truly grateful for this unique experience.
To kick things off chronologically, first year was relatively relaxed (at least from my current perspective), which was definitely for the best. Having more time on my hands allowed me to cope better with all the bureaucracy, get to know the new environment, and perhaps most importantly to acquire the most basic life skills such as chopping an onion or cooking pasta. England is quite affable in this regard, every product that can be bought in a grocery store comes with step by step instructions for it to become edible.
Nonetheless, as it is usually the case, my contentment became a thing of the past during term three when the whole exam season lived in the shadow of the summer project – a short research project that we underwent while simultaneously preparing for exams. My partner and I worked on a computational method of particle collision differentiation, specifically looking into Higgs boson decays to invisible particles (possible dark matter candidates). In the end, it is safe to say the whole project experience taught me more about time and stress management than about physics itself.
After some time off during summer, October came together with the new academic year which would soon prove to be in a totally different league than the previous year. More lectures, each containing even more content, and longer problem sheets were just the beginning. The number of laboratory hours had been doubled as well to make sure that staying on top of coursework would become unsustainable. Terms felt longer than donkey’s years, yet when the exam season came upon us, time became a scarce commodity.
I think each one of us perceived the end of second year a bit differently. After we had put aside our pens for the last time during exams, I could only describe my feelings as that of a great relief. A massive weight had fallen off my mind, but this time I need not have calculated its acceleration or trajectory. The grilling of students during exams was ironically followed by a barbecue on our institute’s rooftop, in both instances performed by our lectures. Having travelled long way home, I was finally allowed to take an unregretful afternoon nap, which I would later come to realise to have lasted just a tad over 13 hours.
After short convalescence in Bohemia’s woods and fields, I returned to London where I would spend the remaining part of my summer as an undergraduate research assistant at the Department of Mathematics at Imperial. I was interested in computer simulations of surface waves, such as seismic waves or the waves travelling along the surface of your desk after you have hit it in angst over your simulation suddenly ceasing to work. It is fair to say I was a bit lucky having taken up this project, because I managed to find a new phenomenon which could have a wider scope of application, e.g. in energy harvesting from water or seismic waves.
If we rewind the time forward a couple of months; it is early November, Christmas lights are already making their way to Oxford St, Black Friday is right around the corner. People are slowly putting aside their Halloween costumes, the UK is postponing its exit from the EU, again.
It is the third year that finally marks the end of long hours spent in the laboratory, and of even longer hours writing up lab reports. Additionally, the pool of optional courses to choose from has never been larger. Just to give you a glimpse into my options, the two courses I currently find the most gripping are General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory, which I might briefly introduce in my next post, so stay tuned.
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