Studying at Princeton

10 May 2017

As a student from a school in the small Welsh town of Mold, studying in Princeton University, 3500 miles away was an unbelievably exciting yet daunting thought.

Nevertheless, I applied, somehow got in and now I’m over the pond, working as hard as I can to achieve a degree in physics. Blissfully unaware of the challenges ahead, my success at understanding A-level physics assured me I had a good grasp on the concepts that describe the natural world.

People say that Princeton is difficult; before I went I was told by all my close friends, relatives and teachers “stick it out”. Dismissive of their concerns, I assured them I would and honestly thought it was a ridiculous notion to even consider not staying in University for the full 4 years. But now I’m a good way through one of the most intense physics courses on earth, I realise their encouragement was necessary.

Studying here is ridiculously intense but highly rewarding. There is no shortage of opportunities to challenge yourself at Princeton. I decided to not take the traditional approach to physics when I arrived here, and I enrolled in the first year course entitled the Integrated Science Curriculum (think natural sciences, ramped up, with an emphasis on physics). In the first year we study everything from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics, electromagnetism to fluid dynamics, and DNA replication to photosynthesis. The fantastic professors who teach this course emphasise the way in which biology, chemistry and physics all explain the same natural phenomenon through a different lens on different scales. To study all the sciences in this mixed up way is challenging, but beautiful. When you see symmetry like the harmonic oscillator showing up everywhere from a rectangular pipe with 3 grounded sides to a negative feedback loop in some homeostatic biological system, you can’t help but be amazed by how much the world is connected by simple dynamics.

Aside from studying physics, I’ve had many exciting opportunities to learn outside the lecture hall including discussions on nuclear physics and the future of humanity with Freeman Dyson, who really changed my perspective on nuclear power. I am also challenged on a daily basis by my peers who help me sustain my passion for learning and desire to become a great scientist.

Only by challenging myself did I get the chance to meet these great new friends and great professors. Hopefully by pushing myself through this intense degree, I will come out the other side with the tools to explore the universe. Being at Princeton has taught me that physics is beautifully simple and symmetric but fantastically strange and difficult at the same time. Science can only be properly understood by challenging yourself, failing several times over, and eventually succeeding.