Fiona Torzewska
MPhys, BSc Theoretical Physics

Fiona Torzewska

Tell us a bit about your course

I’m currently in my fourth year studying for an integrated Master’s in Theoretical Physics. It is more focused on the mathematics required for different physics concepts, rather than a straight physics course. This means I do a lot of modules in the maths department as well as physics. The course at Leeds is very well structured and flexible, so I can choose the modules I am interested in and make the course work best for me.

Why did you choose to study physics?

It took me a long time to realise physics was the best degree for me, having looked into law, history and engineering first. But as soon as I began reading around the subject and looking at it in more detail, I realised just how much there was to the subject that interested me – and it only gets better the more depth you go into.

What attracted you to the University of Leeds?

I wanted to be in a city but without the London prices. Leeds seemed like the perfect combination of a vibrant city and a campus university within ten minutes’ walk of the high street. I came to an interview after applying and this was the main factor in my decision to study at Leeds. Everyone I spoke to was friendly and enthusiastic and displayed a genuine passion for the subject.

I also got to look around and see all the research that is currently taking place, which really helped show me just how much I could achieve with my degree.

Can you explain a day in the life of a physics student?

A day in the life of a physics student can be fairly busy, usually coming in at 9/10am and having four or five lectures and workshops in a day or labs which go on from 9am until 4pm in second year.

But the extra lectures and the format of the degree means the work is spread out and there is a similar amount each week. This means you don’t spend your weekends up all night writing essays due in on Monday morning.

How would you describe student life at Leeds?

Leeds has the perfect combination of a campus university – where everything we need is in one place and I will always bump into people I know – but the city centre is just a five-minute walk away. Leeds is a big, vibrant city and there are always new things to see and do. I also love that we have beautiful countryside a 20-minute bus ride away for when I need to escape the city. 

We also have an excellent Physics Society, which really benefits student life. The society socials are great fun and help to integrate people between the years as well as between students and staff, which I think is really beneficial to the atmosphere in the department. 

What do you enjoy most about it?

The atmosphere is really good in the department. The staff all make an effort to form good relationships with the students by attending Physics Society events and getting to know us in an informal setting. All lecturers are always very enthusiastic about what they teach and usually their modules match closely with what they’re currently researching, so we hear about cutting-edge developments as they happen. It’s very different to school where the curriculum comes straight from a textbook. All of the lecturers are very friendly and have an open-door policy, so we can always talk to them if we have questions about their modules.

I like that I’ve been able to choose what I want my course to be rather than being told what a Theoretical Physics course should be. This has meant I’ve been able to take a lot of pure maths modules, which I have found really interesting and will be useful in the area of research I want to go into after university.

What made you study Physics at Leeds rather than another university?

The main reason I chose to come to Leeds was because of the people. When I visited the university, all the staff were so enthusiastic and friendly and all the students seemed to be really enjoying their time here.

Is there much opportunity to get involved in real physics at Leeds?

I have been able to get involved in so much active research. After my second year, I began my first summer research project in Quantum Optics with Dr Almut Beige. Working on a research project is very different to normal modules. I was given a lot of responsibility to research completely new topics which no one knew the answer to and my ideas were always listened to and taken seriously. It was great to be able to have an opportunity to independently study without the pressure of exams. My interest in the subject developed hugely as a result. This project was mainly computation based and I was really surprised by what I was able to achieve, which showed me how much I had learnt in the first half of my degree. The material I covered that summer was closely related to a fourth year module, which meant I was already ahead when I began that module and took some of the pressure off my fourth year. 

During my summer research placement, we actually got some very interesting and surprising results. We have since written a paper, which I am a co-author of, and it will hopefully be published in a scientific journal later this year. This really made it feel like I had achieved something worthwhile and led me to consider going into research following university. Having my own paper really makes me stand out against other applicants.

I went on to begin another summer research placement after my third year in Topological Quantum Computation, which I continued as my Master’s project. I have been working on this research for almost a full year now so I have been able to develop the concept and it has really felt like my project and my research. My supervisor has always let me steer the direction of the project and so it has been very closely related to the area I would like to go into following university. This has really strengthened my post-graduate applications and meant I am much more familiar with the relevant physics than many other applicants. My two research placements have been both interesting and exciting, as well as allowing me to try different areas of physics and make an informed decision about what to do next. 

Do you have an idea of what you might like to do at the end of your course?

At the moment, I am confident I want to continue with physics after my degree, possibly by doing a PhD or working for a private company. I am very lucky to be doing a degree at a Russell Group University, which provides me with so many options when I graduate.