December 29, 2017, by Dr. Meghan Gray

Update: Physics Doesn’t Suck as Much

Almost by definition, university education requires students to push themselves (or be gently nudged) out of their comfort zones — that’s where the the real learning happens.  As the year draws to an end, we’re delighted to feature a guest post by first-year Physics student and regular UoN Physics social media contributor Hannah Coleman, giving her frank and honest assessment of how the autumn term went. 

For me, this year was a big milestone. When people asked me what I did, I could finally say ‘I’m studying physics at university’. I’ve been to university before; I have a degree in Russian and East European Civilisations (and yet I’ve never spoken any Russian – it’s a long story), and last year I did a Foundation Year Programme in Engineering and Physical Sciences here at the University of Nottingham to progress directly into first year physics.

So to say I was pretty excited to start in September would be a huge understatement. Autumn couldn’t come quickly enough, but once term began and the weeks progressed, I realised I had been catapulted way out of my comfort zone and it really caught me off guard. If there were a gif to accurately capture those feelings it would be something like this:

Or this:


My friends and family were eager to find out how things were going. Was I enjoying university? Was it everything I had hoped for and more? I found myself wanting to say ‘Actually, it kind of sucks.’ There was never a moment that I thought physics was the wrong thing for me. I didn’t want to drop out. I still loved physics as much as before, but for those first few weeks, physics didn’t like me.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to struggle right off the bat. I’d worked hard and really enjoyed the foundation year and I expected to pick up from where I’d left off. But a summer spent working and saving had meant I hadn’t had a chance to go over the material as much as I’d hoped, and I felt like I was back at square one. And then slowly, I started to find my groove. I stopped being so hard on myself. I asked lecturers and friends for help when I got stuck on something. Sounds obvious, right? I even vlogged about it.

I’ve been making videos since starting the foundation year last year. Before I began my degree, I spent a lot of time trying to find stories from people who had done something similar, but there wasn’t much information out there. So I created my channel in the hope others would find it useful.

Turns out there are other late bloomers like me, which is incredibly reassuring. So I thought I’d add to digital noise, and put my own experiences out there too. Not only has it helped me improve my personal speaking, but it has opened up some really interesting opportunities (like running the UoN Physics YouTube channel) and has meant I’ve made connections with others like me, from all across the world, and those hoping to join the foundation year.

The most recent video is a week in the life, but also follows on from the first video I made this academic year: Physics Sucks. When I made the former video, I knew I would settle in, but I thought if I was going to share the challenges, then I may as well be as honest as possible about how I was feeling. Making videos means you can look back over them and really see how much things have changed over the months and years.

What I like about the most recent vlog is that I can already see progress, and a lot of that is down to the people in the video. I chose to study physics at Nottingham, not just because it’s a top university, but because of the supportive community here.

My tutor group and the friends I’ve made in first year have been wonderful. They listen to me when I grumble, help me in class when I’m stuck and take the piss whenever it’s deserved. The teaching and support staff are awesome. I’ve lost count of the times someone has gone out of their way to see if I’m ok, or to offer extra help. Then there are those that nudge you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t put yourself forward to do, like make videos, give presentations or even write a blog like this. There will be plenty more bumps, and probably much bigger ones, along the way. But I know I’m in the best possible place in which to ride them out.

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