Zena Rowson-Rourke

Zena Rowson-Rourke

Physics students studying

Coming to an open day at Leeds really helped Zena decide not only which university but also which the course was right for her. She found all the staff and student ambassadors were very helpful, friendly and welcoming, not just in the physics department but in the university as a whole. The physics course content and the physics department – but also the location of the campus and how active the union is – were all factors in her decision. 

“The summer before applying to university, I went to open days for as many of the universities I was interested in as I could. Before attending the University of Leeds open day, my heart was actually set on a different university. However, coming to Leeds completely changed my mind.”

Leeds as a city also has a lot to offer in terms of student living as Zena explains: “There’s events and gigs on all the time – on any given night you’ll be able to find something to do or somewhere to go completely last minute. It’s not just great for nights out though, there’s also lots of community run projects you can join and the beautiful countryside is just a bus or train ride away.”

Students relaxing in the Bragg building cafe

A course to suit your needs and interests

When Zena applied for her course, she knew she wanted to do an integrated masters, but wasn’t sure whether to apply for the straight physics course or the theoretical course. She found out on the  open day that in the first year, the only difference between straight, theoretical and astrophysics is in the optional modules. As long as you choose the required modules you can switch from straight to theoretical (or astro) any time. In her case the optional modules that interested her the most were actually the ones needed for the astro and theoretical courses anyway.

“A few months into my first year, I knew labs and experimental physics were not for me so I easily switched to theoretical (all it took was filling in a form) and after first year I never had to do labs again. Instead, I had a lot more optional modules, which I could take from the maths department as well physics. This meant I could take anything and everything that interested me.”

Having the opportunity to choose modules (after second year there’s no more compulsory modules), Zena was able to completely tailor the course to the areas she was most interested in. And being able to choose from the maths departments meant she was able to support her learning with the background mathematics.  

Two students walking outside the Sir William Henry Bragg building

Boosting your skills and experience

In the third year, Zena joined the ACCENTS mentoring scheme. This programme enables university-level STEM students to help GCSE students with their science revision in the lead-up to their exams. It can be both enjoyable and satisfying to take part in, especially when difference you make to students’ understanding is evident.

Another exciting project Zena is currently taking part in is a final year project, which is about magnetic monopoles – specifically quasi monopoles found in spin-ices and the potential for them to flow in currents.

Student support at Leeds

Zena says it’s really important to ask for help when you need it. “More often than not, a lecturer really wants people to ask questions and they definitely want to know when you can’t understand something. They can then try explaining it in a different way.”

“My advice on picking modules is simple: make sure you’re taking things that interest you. Learning something you’re interested in makes it so much easier. But the most important piece of advice I can give anyone coming to do physics at Leeds is to make sure you attend everything! It may seem like simple and obvious advice but it’s very easy once you start to just keep missing things.”

What next after Leeds? 

For Zena, the goal has always been to do a PhD. She has also always wanted to have the opportunity to work at CERN, maybe later on in life write a book, maybe do some teaching. Whatever she does though, it will definitely be to do with physics. But it’s been hard work so Zena says: “my immediate ambitions for the future are to finish my degree and have a nap for about a year!” 

“All my experiences at university will contribute to my career in the future. Every different aspect has taught me different and useful things. Not only have I gained a lot of physics knowledge, but I’ve also gained confidence, problem solving, and most importantly passion. In particular, my final year project is giving me the research tools and creative thinking skills that will really support me throughout my future.”

Zena Rowson-Rourke, physics student