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The physics change-maker: BSc Physics

Ashleigh’s degree in physics has given her the opportunity to learn about exciting and unfamiliar topics, and sparked a passion for teaching in the process.

Ashleigh Baker, physics undergraduate

“I want to go into teaching to encourage more women into physics.”

First name: Ashleigh | Age: 22 | Course: BSc Physics | University: Swansea University | Qualifications: A-level Physics, Mathematics and Geography. AS-level Chemistry

What route to university did you take?
I knew that I wanted to do a science-y thing as early as my GCSEs, so for A-level I took physics, maths and geography. But I didn’t get the grades to go straight into the BSc at Swansea so they offered me a place on their integrated foundation year, which is basically a physics top-up year.

How was the adjustment from sixth-form college to uni in terms of study?
Because I did a foundation year it was a more gradual jump between the two. But generally, I think that at uni you’re doing something that you’re interested in, so the work doesn’t feel as heavy.

It’s nice to have lecturers who know their stuff in that specific area. Being taught by someone who’s passionate and knows their subject makes the topic a lot more engaging. And if you ever get stuck the lecturers are more than happy to help and go over the work with you. The chats with them are more informal so you feel more comfortable asking for help. We also have academic mentors and they’re likely to help out with the personal side of uni. I think that support system really helps.

Why did you choose your course?
I knew that I enjoyed maths and physics, and I didn’t really want to go into geography as a career. I chose physics because I like how it’s at the forefront – it’s a subject that can always be improved upon. I’m also interested in the practical, experimental side of physics.

What do you find most interesting about your course?
The variety of modules – there’s so much you can choose from. For example, I chose nanotechnology as my option in second year. That was something I wasn’t familiar with, so to be able to do something that’s completely new and is quite a big industry at the moment in South Wales is really interesting.

What would you like to do with your degree when you graduate?
I’m going on to study a secondary physics with mathematics PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) next year – I’m really excited. I got the opportunity to go to a conference for undergraduate women in physics where there were about 90-100 undergraduate female physicists. The conference was an amazing and highly rewarding experience because women are underrepresented in physics. In part, I want to go into teaching to encourage more women into physics.

Do you have any advice for a young person considering studying physics at university?
Make sure you really want to study it, because – like any degree – you need to love what you do to be able to do it. Otherwise, the motivation won’t be there when you’re finding the course really tough. Having that want and will to get your degree definitely helps.

I think you should weigh up your options as well. By that I mean go and look at a university to make sure it’s somewhere you feel comfortable. Make sure you look at the modules on courses and the different combinations. For example, you can do physics with astrophysics, physics with nanotechnology, theoretical physics. There are loads of different pathways, and you really have to think about what you want.