- Course: Physics MPhys, BSc
Despite not being able to visit campus in-person due to Covid-19 restrictions, third year physics undergraduate Nelly Sadarova found the University of Leeds ticked all her criteria.
"After researching both the city and the University, I found the University of Leeds ticked all the boxes on my spreadsheet and the city had everything I was looking for,” she said.
“It met my academic criteria, had a campus on the edge of a lively city centre, had high rankings in university guides, offered a year abroad opportunity, and received many positive reviews from students.
“As a result, I felt confident in making Leeds my first-choice university, despite not having had the chance to visit the campus or the city in-person.”
After initially studying an integrated Masters course in physics with astrophysics, Nelly decided to switch to an integrated Masters course in pure physics at the end of her second year.
“Although I had an interest in studying astrophysics since I was very young, I found myself feeling uninspired by the predetermined modules I was set and felt like I had lost the excitement to study astrophysics further,” she said.
“What I realised was that my interest in physics had evolved towards a more bionanophysics focused pathway. There were numerous modules within the pure physics course that ignited my enthusiasm and desire to learn, which is why I decided to make the switch.”
Facing new challenges
The first hurdle Nelly faced in the lead-up to attending the University was the unfamiliarity of the environment.
She said: “Until the day I moved into my student accommodation, I had never set foot in Leeds or visited the University. Regardless of how much research and reading I had done about the University and the city, it was an entirely new and unknown setting for me, so I had no idea what to expect. Despite this, soon after arriving it didn’t take me long to start settling in and this fear faded away very quickly.
“My main concern, which is a common one for many people, was about making new friends. Coming from Southampton on the south coast, Leeds was quite far away, and I didn't have any friends or acquaintances also coming to the same university or even in neighbouring cities.
“I was starting completely from scratch without any familiar faces around. To add to this fear, I had tried to connect online with some of my accommodation flatmates before moving, but I only managed to contact one of them. This left me uncertain about who I would be living with and if we would get along.
“Initially, I'll admit, finding my place and building friendships was challenging. I was used to being part of established friendship groups, and at the beginning of university, you meet so many new people from various backgrounds and courses that it can be overwhelming. However, I have now forged connections and made friends with many people, both within my course and among students pursuing entirely different subjects.”
In her first year, Nelly lived in CitySide Student Accommodation which she praised for its convenient location between campus and the city centre. Living there also allowed her to form close friendships with some of her flatmates.
She said: “The accommodation was very diverse, attracting many international students. Throughout the year there were various events organised that provided a chance to meet people in different flats and blocks you wouldn’t usually run into.”
When it comes to choosing student accommodation, Nelly recommends carrying out thorough research and reading reviews and insights from other students.
She said: “Each accommodation has its own atmosphere and vibe, and you want to select one that aligns with your preferences and what you hope to get out of your university experience. However, it's worth noting that your accommodation isn't the entirety of your first-year university experience. Even if you end up in accommodation that wasn't your first choice, it's not the end of the world. University life tends to get busy with academic commitments, social engagements and library sessions filling up your calendar, so you may find that you spend less time in your accommodation than you initially expected.”
Living in Leeds
Nelly described living in Leeds as being a great experience.
She said: “The city has a super lively atmosphere making it an ideal place for students. When I first arrived, I was drawn to the clubbing and nightlife scene, which Leeds offers in abundance.
“As I settled into university life, I also started attending many gigs, which quickly became one of my favourite pastimes. There's such a wide range of music venues in Leeds, from tiny pub basements to the Leeds Arena, which attracts a great variety of artists of different sizes. Leeds is also usually on most bands’ UK tour lists, so if you're into live music, I couldn’t recommend it strongly enough.”
Summer internship opportunities
During her course Nelly had the opportunity to carry out a summer internship after she signed up to receive emails from the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) employability team.
She said: “I put together an academic CV and applied for a few projects that I had a genuine interest in. I then attended a couple of interviews which finally landed me my first-choice internship.
“During my internship this summer, I got to work on a project titled 'Investigating the Behaviour of Urease in Magnetic Fields’. What really interested me about this project was its intersection of physics, chemistry and biology. This interdisciplinary approach displays the potential for exciting discoveries and research that often remain unexplored due to the boundaries between distinct disciplines. This is why I believe there's immense value in pursuing research that goes beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries.
“Despite encountering several challenges, I found immense enjoyment in working on this project. As a physics student, I quickly realised the unpredictability and complexity of biological and chemical processes, which presented some obstacles in obtaining accurate measurements.”
The EPS summer internship ended with a poster session where interns had the chance to present academic-style posters presenting their project achievements.
Nelly said: “When I saw the posters created by the other interns, it was clear that many people had put in considerable effort, and it was going to be a tough competition. I was very pleasantly surprised when my poster was awarded first place, which was a truly incredible way to conclude my time in the summer internship program.
"It provided me with incredible opportunities, such as presenting a poster at a conference and conducting hydrolysis experiments at the University of York.”
Discussing the interesting topics she’s learned during her course, Nelly said: “Learning about the 'Ladder paradox' in my special relativity module completely blew my mind. A summary of this paradox is, that if you were travelling close to the speed of light and holding a ladder, you could fit that ladder into a garage that was much smaller than the length of the ladder itself. However, to an observer outside the garage, the ladder would still appear too long to fit inside.
“The idea of fitting a ladder into a garage might not seem like the most thrilling topic to study but delving into special relativity and exploring scenarios like the ‘Ladder paradox’ can be mind-blowing. It challenges our intuitive thinking and shows the strange effects that occur when objects approach the speed of light.”
During her time at the University, Nelly has joined several societies which has presented her with opportunities to meet new friends and extend her learning.
She said: “In my first year, I became a member of Physoc, which is the University’s physics society. I would strongly recommend to anyone starting university to join your subject-specific society, at least during your first year. It's a great way to connect with other students on the same course in your year, especially if you are studying a STEM subject as most of the teaching is lecture-based, making it hard to get chatting and make friends on your course.
“Also, forming friendships with students in higher years through these societies is very helpful as they can give you advice on module choices and insights into specific lecturers. They can tell you everything course-related that, when you are in the year above, you wish you could have told your past-self.
“In addition to Physoc, I also joined LUUMS: the University's music society. Here, I played percussion in an orchestra and sang as an alto in the choir. I highly recommend getting involved in at least one society that is unrelated to your academic course. It's easy to become consumed by academic deadlines, and these extracurricular activities provide an escape and introduce you to a completely different community. They give you a sense of belonging and allow you to forge friendships outside of your academic sphere.
“In my second year, I continued my involvement in LUUMS as well as joining the vegan and vegetarian society, where I served as a social media representative for some time. Being a part of a society committee is a great way to not only add something extra to your CV but also, as most societies are student-run, you have the chance to make a real impact and shape the experience for other students.”
After completing her studies, Nelly hopes to study a PhD but is open to what the future holds and any opportunities that may arise.
For students thinking about pursuing a physics degree, Nelly said: “This degree can be quite stressful and confusing, and there will be moments when it feels impossible. However, I promise that nearly everyone in the early stages of the course feels the same way.
“It's important to remember that physics isn't supposed to be an easy degree, and you shouldn't expect to understand absolutely everything straight away. However, the feeling of accomplishment you'll have when you do finally understand a difficult concept or receive a great grade on an exam you were incredibly nervous for more than makes up for this.”
“As you progress in your studies, you'll encounter concepts and phenomena that are not just interesting but completely mind-blowing. Pursuing a degree that consistently amazes you on a daily basis is a rare privilege. While studying physics might be demanding, it will leave you with a deep sense of fulfilment and amazement that few other degrees can match.”