Grace Porter 
MPhys, BSc Physics

Grace Porter

Tell us a bit about your course.

I did the straight Physics MPhys at Leeds. The choices available for modules increased year on year until the fourth year when you could choose every module you did outside of your research project. The degree was easy to tailor and could change as you progressed. The modules were a mix of laboratory, lecture, skills and industrially based sessions. It was great to be able to take such a versatile subject and explore all of the options Physics could afford you.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I most enjoyed the freedom to learn about things that interested me. From this year onwards you really get a sense that the degree is yours and the research you are undertaking is your responsibility. Whether it is through a summer project, industrial module/placement, or in your final research project, the academic staff help you to find out what kind of research interests you and gain the skills to pursue those interests.

What made you study Physics at Leeds rather than another university?

Leeds stood out as a University where the staff were really interested in the individuals. I felt right at home on the open day and the staff I met were all very interested in making sure each person got exactly what they needed out of the day. This didn’t change throughout my degree. I always felt like I could talk to someone if I was having trouble, and I feel like I was given every opportunity to do something that would be beneficial to me personally. I never felt like just another student.

Is there much opportunity to get involved in real physics at Leeds?

Whether it is in modules that contribute to your total credits, or through summer and outreach work, there is always something to get involved in. I did a group industrial project as a module in my third year which was an excellent experience all round! I also did the summer research placement, and did some research that really interested me outside of the course. Finally there is lots of outreach to get involved in, teaching or demonstrating some fun physics to kids and adults, sometimes in schools and fairs, sometimes at beer festivals!

What research or real physics projects have you been involved in?

The group industrial project was a great way to experience a different type of research. The industrial contact gave the group a question which they wanted to answer, and we got together to research the subject and try to plan a way to answer this question as much as we could throughout the two-semester module. Our academic contacts were really helpful in guiding our thinking towards feasible solutions, and we were able to give some interesting results to our industrial contact!

What impact does that research have in the real world?

The projects I took part in during my degree were all very different, and so had varying impacts. Because you are just getting into research, it is usual to make progress by doing one part of a much larger project. Much research is now interdisciplinary, and so it was great to experience how Physics can be used within other sciences to create really interesting answers to complex problems. 

Can you tell us about your final year project?

The final year project takes up most of your last year at university. As I was on the MPhys it was half of the total credits for that year. This meant that roughly half of the time spent in university was to be spent on the project. However, since you chose the project, it ends up being something you want to spend a lot more time on! Working out a good balance between your research and your taught modules is very important. My project involved learning lots of new techniques and getting trained on useful instruments which I still use, even though my PhD is on a totally different subject! The project is, for most people, your first real experience of independent research, and this can be daunting, but there are so many resources and friendly staff that are always willing to help.

Can you tell us about your summer research placement?

The summer research project I undertook involved 8 weeks of work over summer. There was a research goal in mind, and your chosen supervisor was there to help you if you needed it, but mostly you were encouraged to try and plan experiments yourself and think about the impacts your research would have. I was able to talk to many academic staff I wouldn’t normally interact with and find out about all the current and interesting science being done in the department. Realistically it is hard to get much done in 8 weeks, but the experience of doing real research for the first time is invaluable.

How you were involved in ‘real physics’ in your placement?

A summer research placement is a great way to discover whether research is for you. My summer project allowed me to experience a short research project and I loved it. It lead really nicely into the final year research project, since I already had some experience planning experiments and talking to the right people to get trained on new instruments. I also had a bit of experience with an industrial project. I didn’t want to commit a year to an industrial placement, and so instead I took a group industrial project module. This was a great experience, as I worked in a group of friends working on a question posed by an industrial contact. Finally there is lots of opportunity to bring Physics to the community through outreach events. I spend a weekend as ‘staff’ at a beer festival doing fun demonstrations to lots of interested attendees!

What did you enjoy about it?

I really enjoyed being able to use the science I was taught throughout my degree. Learning something in lectures is one thing, but it is sometimes hard to see how the content you learn could be useful. Doing research throughout your degree is a great way to understand that some of the most obscure concepts you learn can be applied to real world prolems!

What did you learn from it?

The most important thing I learned from my summer project was that I loved research and wanted to pursue a career in academia. Once I finished my summer project I knew I wanted to do a PhD, and I started tailoring my degree to the one I wanted.

What do you like about getting involved in real, hands-on physics?

I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when an experiment you planned comes to life. No matter the outcome, it is a great feeling to get an idea, figure out what you want to answer and how, and begin working towards it. Some of the most satisfying parts of research are the little hurdles you overcome on the way to the end goal.

What do you most enjoy about student life at Leeds, in general?

Student life was much more social than I expected from a Physics course! The Physoc society host regular socials so you can interact with your course mates, and there are so many societies for sports and niche interests. There is something going on every day of the week in Leeds, no matter what kind of extra-curricular activities you enjoy.