Loving Your Degree 101: My Summer Abroad, Jhanelle White

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much science. And after having completed two years of my chemistry undergrad, after two years of science-based A-levels, I was more than ready to admit that.

Like everyone has at some point, I was doubting my degree choice. Was I even cut out to be a chemist? Did I even enjoy chemistry? At some point I must have, but maybe the pain of incorrectly drawn hexagons and failed experiments was enough to put even the most ardent lover off. And I was definitely feeling put off.

Initially, I wanted to do a summer school abroad to, not only spice up my summer, but also try something different. In true quarter-life crisis style, I had taken to being jealous of everyone else’s degrees and fancying myself a philosopher or artist, or something, at heart.

For science students in particular, the possibilities of the Global Exchange programme are endless. As with most science students, I specialised off before I even knew half the options that were available to me, and decided I wanted to try some out.

I applied for a range of subjects that had vaguely caught my interest at some point, and then one science course for the culture. I’m sure you can imagine my dismay when I was offered the science programme.

Now, I still stand by my initial point that for science students you should consider the Global Exchange as an opportunity to try something totally different, given our rather restrictive degrees. But my second piece of advice is, take what you are offered- and that is to every student. Even if it wasn’t necessarily what you wanted- summer schools are what you make of them, and each one of them offers the opportunity for a wonderful experience.

Reluctantly I packed my bags and traveled to Radboud University, Nijmegen for a week-long intensive course in Quantum Computing. When I arrived, out of sixteen students I was one of two chemists, mostly surrounded by final year/post grad physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists. And honestly, it was amazing.

Maybe this is the true nerd in me coming out but being surrounded by people who are so passionate about their subjects really started rubbing off on me. We were from all over the world, taught in so many different ways, in different languages, and yet we all had a common understanding and love of science. And, aside from Brexit, it was all we would talk about.

Every lunch was a different debate about something ridiculous, and the range of opinions from each discipline weirdly helped me find my feet as a chemist. Having a different perspective, getting to experience my subject outside of an examinable classroom, and just having interest for the sake of interest, was something I sorely needed. While I enjoy university, the British higher education system sometimes feels suffocating, and like it was specifically designed to extinguish any kind of spark of enthusiasm you once had for your studies. Being able to mix with students from all over the world and feed off their genuine curiosity and passion for their discipline reminded me why I even started my degree.

If you’re considering a life in academia, these summer programmes are not only a fantastic experience, and look great on your personal statements, but they also open a whole host of opportunities. Often lecturers hold more specialist courses in a hunt for future PhD students, as our lecturer was kind enough to encourage us to apply for positions or offer letters of recommendation for other future posts. Every conversation felt like a new door opening, lunch next to someone new could lead to a conversation that led to a new useful connection, job prospect, or research opportunity. As they say, it’s often not what you know, but who you know.

Even one year later, our class still has an active group chat where we share exciting opportunities and interesting literature.

And that is why I loved the Global Exchange programme so much, it gave me a chance to see my subject through a different light, pursue that topic I enjoyed that was brushed over in class, and find my niche in my subject.

So, while I went abroad to try and find my new career and subject, I returned the biggest defender of the degree to ever cross the chemistry common room.

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