Find out what life is really like at Durham University

Astronomy & CosmologyDepartmentsStudent experienceUndergraduate

What it’s been like studying Physics

A term like no other

The return to university this year has definitely been a strange one, with a lot of the social activities that we would usually get up to having to be cancelled due to social distancing and government restrictions. As a physics student, there was a big change in the way that I have been taught at Durham, with a shift from in-person lectures of 200 people and workshop classes of 30 to a mix of online and in-person classes. The Physics Department at Durham has been really supportive and adaptive to the changes that needed to be made in order to keep our learning safe.

Many of my lecturers have released the content of their lectures in stages, and have all opened up the time that would be used for the lecture into an online Q&A session, which is really helpful if you have a few questions that have been bugging you! The Physics Department is providing a mix of online and in-person workshops, but if you wouldn’t feel comfortable attending an in-person class, the option is there to inform the department and attend the online class instead, which has been a great relief to some of my course mates.

Research led teaching

As a third year student, I’ve seen the majority of my course now, and there have been some very interesting and fun highlights in physics. There is a big emphasis on research-led and research-oriented teaching, where we’re taught by experts in their fields, and also taught how to research and how to investigate physical problems in hands-on lab sessions, as well as by example. I think that my favourite part of my course so far has been the research that I’ve been able to do in my degree, and the experimental investigations we’ve done so far. There’s a really great feeling of 1) getting the measurement right and 2) finding out something completely new just from looking at it!

The physics course at Durham teaches you a lot more than the names of every particle and how to do the maths to talk about one of them! By investigating and solving physics problems in a variety of different ways you also learn a lot of critical thinking skills, being able to prioritise the information you receive to best solve a problem, alongside logical reasoning to help grasp the complex problems you might work on as a student and as a professional in your career.

Naturally, through doing experimental work in labs you learn practical skills like planning, completing, and reporting experiments with attention to detail, and you use data analysis skills to be able to interpret your data and make conclusions. After making your conclusions, you also need to present them! The physics department put an emphasis on making sure we’re able to communicate the complex ideas from our work, and to be able to debate and discuss ideas. A degree in physics teaches you all that, a lot more than just the skills in maths to find solutions, models and interpretations of the physics!

The physics department at Durham has been really supportive of my learning over the 3 years I’ve studied here. Every undergraduate student is assigned an academic advisor from the department, who you can go to if you have a problem. My academic advisor has been really helpful in my decision to complete the undergraduate master’s course at Durham rather than just the bachelor’s course. Your academic advisor meets with you regularly to make sure that you’re staying on track for your goals that year and can give feedback on your results to help you make choices on which modules and areas of study you might pick for the next year. Sometimes you might just have a question about a lecture or a homework problem you didn’t quite understand, and in this case, it would be best to speak to the lecturer themselves, who are always ready to put some time aside to work through the question with you and make sure you can leave the meeting with a good understanding. From my experience, the Physics Department at Durham wants everyone to succeed.

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Jack Lines


Hi! My name is Jack, and I’m a 3rd-year physics student from Van Mildert College. I spend a lot of my time at university either playing football for my college or talking about it to anyone who will listen! I’m also one of the Student Ambassadors here at Durham and I’m often involved in things like open days and HE fairs.


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