UCAS Listings: Second choice, not second best

Student profile: Helen Eley, studying Chemistry at the University of Warwick
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The Independent Online
Chemistry wasn't the initial choice of Helen Eley, from Bristol, who began her university career studying maths.

"I took my A-levels in Maths, Chemistry and Biology, and got three As. I'd always intended to do maths, because that was the subject I'd really enjoyed at A-level," she says.

"But maths at university was completely different. It wasn't what I was expecting at all, and I felt that I didn't fit in."

Helen was taking her course at the University of Warwick, where, she says, her tutors were very understanding when she went to them and said she wanted to change degrees.

"I found that I was really missing doing science," she says. "maths had always been my best subject at school, but when I thought about it, I wanted to have a science-based job. So was maths the answer?"

After talking to lots of other students and her tutors, Helen decided to move onto the straight chemistry option at Warwick.

"Immediately I felt much happier," she says. "The people were much more interesting, and the course itself is much more specialised. Also, it feels much more like a department, and there is much more contact with tutors."

She says: "This year we've covered the basic foundation of chemistry, building on from the A-level course. It's split into two areas - medicinal and environmental chemistry. This covers the physical side of chemistry, and the inorganic and organic. We're looking at all different aspects of materials, with quantities and measurements."

What she most enjoys about the course is the five hours of lab work each week. "This is when chemistry really comes alive," she says. "We get to do the experiments which are related to the lectures we've had, and we get to see how things work.

"I have to say that some of the lectures aren't amazingly exciting, because chemistry is quite a difficult subject to teach if you can't physically demonstrate what you're talking about. I like to see it happen in the lab, rather than being in lectures all the time."

Despite her A-grades at A-level, Helen does find some parts of the course hard at times. "Some bits of it are difficult to understand, but there are lots of people you can go to and ask.

"I find the physical side of chemistry the hardest, as this has the closest links with physics.

"But this course is designed to cater for all abilities, and there is an attempt to cover all sorts of areas."

She admits that chemistry does have the reputation of being rather boring.

"There does seem to be a stigma attached to it," she says. "People think that we wander round in white lab coats all the time doing nutty experiments. There's also a perception that chemistry is very difficult.

"Admittedly you do have to be scientifically-inclined, but if you think about it, chemistry is a vital part of our daily life. We have to understand the properties of things, and all the medical breakthroughs and things like that are due to chemistry. It does have very close links to the real world, although lots of people think it doesn't.

"I've found other people on the course to be great - there's lots of normal student life. I live in halls, and this is a campus university so there's always masses to do and lots of fun to be had!"

Helen says there is little difference in the workload between her course and the arts subjects. "Students taking English, for example, have essays to write - we have lab reports. Our work is basically understanding the course and what we do in the lab, and we usually get several days to write up what we've discovered."

"There is lots of time off, and you don't have to stay in while everyone else is going out! People think that the sciences are much harder work, but I don't think it's true. The workload is about the same."

The coursework is arranged with a major exam at the end of each year, and exams in January.

Helen says after her degree she would like to go into medical research. "I'm concentrating more on the medicinal chemistry, and at the moment I would like to go on and take the four-year Masters course, rather than the three-year BSc.

You really need a Masters, and possibly even a PhD, if you want to get into research, but I'll have to see how I feel at the end of the three years. I'll see how it goes."

"But so far I'm loving my life here and the course. The university is like its own little village, and there's everything you need on site."