Grace Porter 
MPhys, BSc Physics

Grace Porter

Tell us a bit about your course

I did the straight Physics MPhys at Leeds. The choices available for modules increased year-on-year, so the degree was easy to tailor and could change as I progressed. The modules were a mix of laboratory, lecture, skills and industrially based sessions. It was great to be able to take such a versatile subject and explore all of the options physics.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I enjoy the freedom to learn about things that interest me. Whether it is through a summer project, industrial module/placement, or in your final research project, the academic staff help you discover what research interests you and gain the skills to pursue those interests.

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

Leeds stood out as a university where the staff were really interested in the individuals. I felt right at home on the open day and the staff were all interested in making sure each person got exactly what they needed out of the day. This didn’t change throughout my degree. I always felt like I could talk to someone if I was having trouble and I was given every opportunity to do something that would be beneficial to me personally. I never felt like just another student.

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

Whether it is in modules that contribute to your total credits or through summer and outreach work, there is always something to get involved in. I did a group industrial project as a module in my third year which was an excellent experience all round! I also did the summer research placement and did some research that really interested me outside of the course. There is lots of outreach to get involved in, such as teaching or demonstrating fun physics to kids and adults – sometimes in schools and fairs, sometimes at beer festivals!

What research or real physics projects have you been involved in?

The group industrial project was a great way to experience a different type of research. The industrial contact gave the group a question which they wanted to answer. Then we got together to research the subject and plan a way to answer this question as much as we could throughout the two-semester module. Our academic contacts were really helpful in guiding our thinking towards feasible solutions, and we were able to give some interesting results to our industrial contact!

What impact does that research have in the real world?

The projects I took part in during my degree were all very different, and so had varying impacts. Because you are just getting into research, it is usual to make progress by doing one part of a much larger project. Much research is now interdisciplinary, so it was great to experience how physics can be used within other sciences to create interesting answers to complex problems. 

Can you tell us about your final year project?

The final year project takes up most of your last year at university. As I was on the MPhys, it was half of the total credits for that year. This meant that roughly half of my time was to be spent on the project – but it ended up being something I wanted to spend a lot more time on! Working out a good balance between your research and taught modules is very important. My project involved learning lots of new techniques and getting trained on useful instruments which I still use, even though my PhD is on a totally different subject! The project is, for most people, your first real experience of independent research and this can be daunting. However, there are so many resources and friendly staff that are always willing to help.

Can you tell us about your summer research placement?

A summer research placement is a great way to discover whether research is for you. My summer project involved eight weeks of work over summer. There was a research goal in mind and my chosen supervisor was there to help if I needed it. However, mostly I was encouraged to try and plan experiments myself and think about the impacts my research would have.

I really enjoyed being able to use the science I was taught throughout my degree. Learning something in lectures is one thing, but it is sometimes hard to see how the content you learn could be useful. Doing research throughout your degree is a great way to understand that some of the most obscure concepts you learn can be applied to real world problems!

The research placement led really nicely into my final year research project, since I already had some experience planning experiments and talking to the right people to get trained on new instruments.

The most important thing I learned from my summer project was that I loved research and wanted to pursue a career in academia. Once I finished my summer project I knew I wanted to do a PhD, and I started tailoring my degree to the one I wanted.

What do you like about getting involved in real, hands-on physics?

I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when an experiment you planned comes to life. No matter the outcome, it is a great feeling to get an idea, figure out what you want to answer and how, and begin working towards it. Some of the most satisfying parts of research are the little hurdles you overcome on the way to the end goal.

What do you most enjoy about student life at Leeds?

Student life was much more social than I expected from a physics course! The Physoc society hosts regular socials so you can interact with your course mates, and there are so many societies for sports and niche interests. There is something going on every day of the week in Leeds, no matter what kind of extra-curricular activities you enjoy.