Chemistry: a student's view

Hello, I’m Sophie, a current first year undergraduate chemist here at Christ Church.

Many people have a hard time deciding which subject to pursue at university, but I was pretty lucky as I knew from the get-go that I wanted to study Chemistry. Choosing which university, however, was different issue. What really attracted me towards applying for Chemistry at Oxford was the structure of the course. In the first year, the course is divided into 4 sections: Inorganic, Organic, Physical and Maths. From the confusing aspects of Quantum Mechanics, to basics of Organic Synthesis, you really get to experience every aspect of chemistry, which is useful when you’re not too sure what you want to focus on. The second and third years are similar but with the opportunity to undertake optional courses to broaden your knowledge and interest. But what really makes Chemistry at Oxford stand out from the rest is the 4th year, which is devoted exclusively to research. Oxford University has one of the leading Chemistry research departments in the world and the opportunity to have an entire year to immerse yourself in a personally chosen project -- which could potentially have significant impact on further worldwide research, is the reason I chose to study here.

Chemistry, as a science subject, is a rather structured course with lots of contact hours. However, despite the pretty hefty workload, it doesn’t take that long to fall into an easy routine which allows plenty of time to explore many of the societies and clubs Oxford has to offer. A typical week will include two lectures every weekday at 9 and 10am, a maths and a physics class, two days of labs and normally one or two tutorials. The amount of lab time may sound pretty daunting, especially if (like me) you haven’t done much practical work before university, but there’s no need to worry. The demonstrators are really helpful and willing to answer any questions. You’re also given a lab partner in the first year, so you aren’t completely thrown in at the deep end.

Despite being one of Oxford’s largest colleges, Christ Church has a really friendly and welcoming atmosphere. This sense of community is largely apparent at dinner in Hall (yes, the Harry Potter Hall). One day you’ll be sitting next to a fellow fresher, and the next you’ll be eating opposite a sixth year medic telling you how awesome the Trinity ball is going to be (trust me, this has happened). One of the most common questions I get asked is whether everyone is from a ‘posh’ private school and wears suits and gowns all the time. However, with such a diverse range of people and backgrounds, it’s hard to pin down any one stereotypical Christ Church undergrad. There really is no barrier between subjects, age or background and I think this is what underpins Christ Church.

One of the most refreshing things is the real sense of community between the chemists at Christ Church. Each term is punctuated by “Chemistry Curry” Evenings, (held outside the college), various Dinners (some complete with self produced musical interludes) and themed socials, where all students from freshers to postgrads and sometimes tutors are brought together. These are always massive fun and serve to re-enforce the bond between all of Christ Church.

Additionally, in the 1st week of Michaelmas term there is something called “Subject Surgery”. Here all the 2nd years (and most of the 3rd years) get together with the new freshers to help them tackle their first tutorial sheet. I found this really helpful, as I had no idea how to start. It also initiates the understanding that all chemists from all years will always help each other. We are all here because we love Chemistry and we want to learn more, and thus to help others learn becomes part of that pleasure. You never feel as if you are on your own.

If you have any questions about Chemistry, Christ Church, or even Oxford in general, feel free to contact