Chris Hoole

Chris Hoole

Looking back, why did you choose to study at the University of Leeds?

I knew that I wanted to study physics at university since I was in year 10. The reason for this was simple: I liked physics and I was good at it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do beyond this, just that I wanted to do physics. It also helped to have teachers who were really enthusiastic about physics and science in general. All my teachers, both at GCSE and A-Level, were really supportive in furthering my ambitions. I got lots of good advice from them and always received encouragement.

I chose to study at Leeds through process of elimination and because it ticked all the right boxes. When I applied to university, my first three choices were Manchester, Birmingham then Leeds. Manchester and Birmingham gave me offers, but not for the courses I wanted to study. Leeds had impressed me when I visited on open days. The campus had everything in one place and was conveniently close to the city centre. The School of Physics and Astronomy was good and everyone was really friendly. Leeds also happened to be the closest university to my home, which was nice.

What were the best aspects of studying on your course?

I always remember some of the lecture courses I took at Leeds. Especially the ones where the lecturer was really enthusiastic about what they were telling us. I remember Maths 2 with Professor Helen Gleeson (very good), Electromagnetism with Dr Mike Ries (best lecture course ever), Advanced Quantum Mechanics with Professor Jiannis Pachos (indispensable and brilliant) and the condensed matter modules by Professor Hickey (really good). These modules have helped me a lot, both during and since I studied them. They taught me much and furthered my passion for physics.

Did you work on any interesting projects at university?

After my third year, I did a Summer Research Project with the School of Physics and Astronomy. My task was to make educational resources to help first year students learn electromagnetism. This was done using an online learning platform called Cerego. The project was memorable because it was something I’d never done before, and it required a lot of thought into which parts of electromagnetism students struggled with. I enjoyed doing this project as it allowed me to be really creative in how I wanted to do it. In the end, my finished resources became part of the coursework for next years’ first-year students. I also presented my work at a student conference for the first time. This made me feel like I had genuinely achieved something. 

What’s the most important thing you learned during your time at university?

Learning that if you see an opportunity blow your way, just go for it. Whether it’s a project that sounds interesting or a job application or anything else. Don’t be nervous about what will happen afterwards or if it doesn’t work out. You have much more to gain than to lose in just giving it a go.

What have you been doing since finishing your studies? 

Since I graduated, I have begun my PhD in Graphene and Related Nanomaterials. I’m doing this through the Graphene NOWNANO Centre for Doctoral Training, based in Manchester. I begin my 3.5-year research project in April 2021, where I’ll be investigating methods of quantifying the thermal conductivity for a range of 2D materials. I’m really looking forward to it.

What experiences at Leeds have particularly helped with your career?

Being a ‘Peer Assisted Learning’ mentor (PAL) for the Physics School has helped me out. I started doing this because I did mentoring during my A-Levels and I was good at it. It gave me a lot of practise in explaining difficult ideas to other people in a way that they can understand. Fundamentally this is what physics is all about, and I have to do this all the time now. It helped me as well as other people because it reinforced my own understanding. I think it was Feynman who said “If you want to learn something, teach it”. He’s not wrong.

I was a subwarden for the University of Leeds for three years. Subwardens are students at the university who live in Halls to help out the students living there with almost anything; welfare issues, getting locked-out, noisy flatmates, drunken raves, whatever. I got a lot out of this experience, mostly in the form of character development. Whenever I have been filling in job applications and I find the cliché questions like “When have you demonstrated good communication?”, “Name a time when you dealt with a confrontational situation?”, I always have a story to tell. It really did develop me as a person, making me more confident and decisive.

I enrolled on the Students in Schools module in my fourth year. This is where students (not just physicists, but other students too) are assigned to local students to help the pupils and get an idea of what it is like to be a teacher. At the end of my third year, I was worried because I was caught between doing a PhD or teaching Physics in Schools. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I saw this module, I thought “Perfect! I’ll enrol on this module, try teaching physics out, see if I like it and make up my mind later”. This experience taught me that teaching physics would be something I would enjoy, but if I want to do a PhD then straight after graduation would be the time to do it. Teaching physics can always be a plan B for me.

Would you recommend your course to others? 

Yes, I would. I have gained a huge amount from my time at Leeds and I would not be where I am today if I had gone somewhere else. I have no doubt that Leeds will continue to work its magic for others as well as me.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with new students?

Just some general advice:

  • The best way to learn physics, or indeed anything, is to practise.
  • Working hard is important, but so is relaxing and having fun.
  • Hard work always pays off, in the end.
  • Give new things a go.
  • Don’t worry.