University of oxford - a week in the life of a science student

Ever wondered what it's like to be a science student and the University of Oxford? Some current students have taken the time to write down what they did during the week. If you're an Oxford student studying a science subject that isn't here (or even if it is), feel free to add your experiences to the page, by clicking edit and following the existing structure.

Click the following link if you want to read about a week in the life of an Arts Student.


Username: alispam

Year of study: 1st year

Weekdays: average of 4 hours lectures per day, starting at 9am. Except for fridays where its one lecture at 9am followed by labs from 10am to 3/4pm. Depending on college you will have 1 or 2 tutorials a week which last about 1.5 hours each. The real killer in the first year is all the classes you have, these are about 3 hours over two weeks but involve a lot of worksheets which take time.

after lectures I generally go home/to the library to do tute work or class work. Class work is normally question sheets and tute work is one essay a week.

the evenings normally involve working until 10pm before watching films with housemates or going round other houses or going out.

Weekends: normally spent doing lab write ups and finishing tute essays. will normally go and play squash/go to the gym sometime.

Biological Sciences

Username: Bekaboo

Year of study:1st and 2nd

1st year

Michaelmas term: 1st and 3rd week: 13 lectures (1 stats, 3 cells, 3 genes, 6 organisms) 6 hours of organisms labs Mon and Tues (microbes in 1, dissections in 3) 6 hours of biochemistry labs Thurs and Fri (the most hellish things you'll ever do) 1 stats practical lab 1 tutorial, plus a 1500-2000 word essay for that, all the reading from text books. The rest of the weeks are the same, but minus the biochem labs.

Hilary: Same set up as Michalmas, although dissections finish in about 6th week IIRC, and instead of cells labs you'll have 4 lots of genetics ones thrown in (with Drosophila). Petros who gives them is virtually unintelligible unless you're used to being around Greeks (no offence to any of them - e.g. Miltos is totally intelligible, but it helps if you know what sounds should mean - e.g. with Germans when they say V instead of W...) By this point all your essays will be 2000 words

Trinity: Far fewer lectures (cells is over by this point, organisms still has one module left out of 5) but you start populations No labs because 5th-6th week there is a week long field course for all the population field work (rocky shore, sand dunes, STIs in plants, trees and insects)

Then you get back and have 2 weeks to revise before exams in 9th week.

Once you get into the swing of things essays will become less of a chore, but to begin with you're really looking at a minimum of 15 hours work and in the first weeks it could even be 20 (but I procrastinated badly). (Not that I can't spend far more than that now, but I could also at a push now do one in 10, even while including lots of extra supplementary papers) You won't really be expected to use papers until 2nd year, although some tutors (e.g. Graham Taylor, Owen Lewis to an extent) encourage you to use a couple per essay just to get used to them.

And then if you're me 3 orchestras, a choir, various musicals, football, hockey and rowing.

2nd year

A week in the life of a second year biologist. (Specifically 4th week of Hilary 2007 )

Monday 7am: Meet at the boat house for sprint ergs. 1:55, 1:53, 1:57. Breakfast in college 9-11am: Plant-Microbe interaction lectures with Peter Darrah 12pm: Singing lesson in college 2-5pm Lab accompanying morning's lectures 7pm: Rowing social at the Duke of Cambridge ~11pm Home for an early night (more socialising than usual this week, not sure how I'll fit it all in)

Tuesday 6:30am: Meet at the boat house for an outing. 2 laps of the river. Breakfast in college 9-11: Lectures on Conservation and Management 11-1: Drink some Relentless to get me through two hours of animal physiology lectures 1-2: Lunch 2-3: Meet with tute partner to discuss stats work 3-5: Music Room 5:30-6:30: First half of SEH / Hilda's orchestra rehearsal 7:15pm Halfway Hall (Big night out in the middle of your degree)

Wednesday 7am: Meet atb for circuits 8:30-10: Working on essay 10am: Stats lecture 11-12: Do stats reading for this week 12pm stats practical 1pm Lunch. Convince John Quinn to tutor me on Neuro... He wants to have the tute on Friday. 2pm-7pm: Go to bod to read papers. Working on essay. Plead with Stuart to let me see his notes, so I know which papers are good to read. 7-10pm OUPhil Rehearsal followed by a meal

Thursday 6:30am atb for an outing. 3 laps of the river. Now the river's green flag, we're making the most of it. Torpids in 3 weeks if the weather holds! 9-11 start writing essay 11am: Evolution and Systematics lecture. Stuart gives me his papers complete with notes - life saver 12-1: Lunch 1pm Guest lecturer 2-4: Continue working on essay. Hope I can get it finished before tonight. 4-6: Choir practice for BBC broadcast at the weekend 8pm: Chocology chocolate tasting evening with Drogue and sjuthani from TSR

Friday 6:30am - atb for an outing 9am - run to Zoology to make my 9 o'clock essay deadline. Get books out of library for next essay. 11am: Evolution lecture. 3pm: Tutorial about essay. Find that after my amazing feat of 2500 words in 48 hours, the tutor hasn't read it. Discussion is good, definitely understand this better than in the lectures - but had I understood the lectures this wouldn't be good. Tute partner is clueless - comes as a bit of a shock: the other Jesus biologist is smart, so I'm not used to waiting around while other people take time to learn stuff.

Saturday 9:15am Circuits Home to shower and start reading up on Circadian Rhythms 1-4 Rehearsals for BBC broadcast 4-6 reading in college 6pm Dinner 7pm Go to see Company (Sondheim!!) at the OFS with Emily and Julia. Go to the pub afterwards

Sunday 6:45am Rehearsal for recording 8:10am Broadcast to the world 9:40am Steady state ergs 12:15pm Singing lesson 1pm - 4pm General lounging in college being lazy 4pm: Choir practice, evensong, formal hall in college, college bar. Home around 10pm to start the week again.


Username: square_peg

Year of study: 3rd year (this is based upon the first two years)

Note this holds for Maths and Stats students too (I started in 1st year doing Maths and Stats, and switched at the beginning of 2nd year to Maths).

Lectures: In 1st year, 9am-11am lectures every weekday morning; in 2nd year still an average of two hours a day, but sometimes not starting until 12pm (bliss), because you now get to pick 5 options from a choice of 10.

Tutorials: In 1st year, on average one a day, lasting between one and two hours, with 2 to 5 people in each tutorial. Most tutorials are held in your college, and you get to know these tutorials very well. In 2nd year, only two or three tutorials a week, and you might have tutors from different colleges now that there's more choice in topics. There's a bigger variance in tutorial size now, and you might have some one-on-ones. When it gets to exams, the tutors organise lots of revision tutes, so suddenly you might find yourself going to more tutorials than ever before. It's also not unheard of for tutorials to be organised for a Saturday!

Problem sheets: In 1st year, 5 problem sheets a week, not too hard, but there's a lot of them! You study 5 topics at once, and the deadlines may come all at once so you have to stay on top of it... You also have two Computational Maths projects, one in the first half of second term and one in the second half. In 2nd year, problem sheets are harder so for some topics there are half as many problem sheets as last year.

My week: Monday - Morning lectures, an afternoon and evening spent on problem sheets.

Tuesday - No lectures today! As a choral scholar at a different college I go to a singing lesson, then get lunch in town. While in town I pidge work to my tutor at Jesus college. A tutorial in the afternoon back at my college, then dinner in college.

Wednesday - Morning lectures followed by a tutorial in the Maths Institute. My friends convince me to go on a punting trip in the afternoon. After dinner I finish off a problem sheet and hand it in to college.

Thursday - Morning lectures again, and decide to stay for lunch at the Maths Institute which does really nice food (but expensive), and the caramel shortbread is divine. There's a Maths Undergrad Representation Committee meeting which I go along to (non-compulsory, but interesting). We talk about feedback from last term's lectures. I have my tutorial at Jesus college and then go to choir rehearsal. I signed up for formal hall after choir, and there's a party afterwards.

Friday - No lectures, yippee. After a lie in (sleeping off the party) I work on some problem sheets, make lunch, and practise some singing and piano. It's my friend's birthday so we meet up for dinner and eat cake, and stay up to watch a few films at their house.

Saturday - Go swimming at the gym and then hand in a problem sheet (Saturday deadline? WHY?). Meet up with some friends for brunch at the café and go into town. JCR meeting in our bar (free toasties!) and then an evening with the problem sheets.

Sunday - A leisurely morning, finish off a problem sheet then get ready for choir. I go to an afternoon rehearsal and then there's Evensong. It's a one hour service, and we get sherry and free roast dinner afterwards! I go home on a very full stomach, and organise my lecture notes for tomorrow morning.


Username: Martin101

Year of study: 1st year undergraduate

Here is my diary from week 8 (at least what I can remember too). Some explanation: 8th week for me was very different to the usual in that I had fewer lectures than normal, more tutes and probably far more work. On top of this there is less rowing and less time spent inebriated. Its a bit of a technicality but technically speaking Oxford weeks start on Sunday, but I can't really remember what I did on Sunday particularly and it probably wasn't all that interesting either. Anyway this should give you some kind of a taste of what my life in Oxford is like.

Monday AM: Wake up early and try to start my daily routine only to realise I dont have a lecture till 10. Lie in for a little bit then check email etc. Take my time getting ready, showering etc then take a leisurely cycle down to the physiology building for my 10 o'clock lecture on 'mapping disease loci'. Its a pretty decent lecture. Lisa Walker the lecturer is a 'rather interactive' lecturer and puts people on the spot quite a lot, but she is rather good. No more lectures till 2 (this means I miss neighbours ) because other groups have seminars (I did mine last week). Frantically write some more biochem for my tutorials later in the week once I get back into college, as our tutor decided to do the catch up tutorials in one week giving me 3 extra biochem essays to do. Meet up with one of my mates (who is also a medic) and discuss some medicy things whilst we grab something to eat. Chill in the JCR from about 1-1:45. PM: Go to lecture, pretty boring really... gut and resp tract development. Head back into college for just after 3pm. Attempt to do some reading/writing for biochem/physiology, give up and get some late dinner. Socialise with friends for a couple of hours in the JCR then get an early night.

Tuesday AM: Wake up 5:45 for rowing (just a fun session as the big racing has finished). T'is rather chilly! crawl out to the bikes for about 6 and take a brisk cycle to the boathouse to wake me up. Row till about 8 ish then cycle back to college for breakfast with the crew. No lectures this morning because of the way the practical groups pan out (which is a blessing for me as its not usually this quiet and I do have a lot to do). Churn out a quick biochem essay based on the prep I did yesterday and over the weekend. Not fantastic, but itll do. I actually found it quite interesting and if I had longer Id do more, but I didnt. PM: get a baguette and fruit juice from hall costing 1.80 something in total and eat it in the JCR. have a chat to those hanging around in there. Go for my sociology lecutre at 2. Some guy from UCL came in to give us the lecture. Quite interesting really though his notes were a pile of crap. Later on... dont do much, have a quick drink with some friends and waste time on facebook.

Wed AM: Get up (as I more usually do) at around 8am. Grab a quick shower and stuff some food in me (whatever is lying around my room usually - I cant be bothered with hall). Meet up with the rest of the medic gang by the bikesheds at about 8:50ish and cycle down to lectures. Timetable says Ive got nothing on today, but oh no, not here, theyve specially rearranged lectures that were postponed just for us today. Spend the entire morning in lectures (yum). PM: get back to college feeling rather worn out (lectures are pretty intense). Grab a sandwitch, but no rest as have a biochem tute at 3pm. Spend the rest of the night finishing off my physiology essay (working on coffee till 4am), meaing my work for the term is almost complete.

Thurs AM: Anatomy all morning, a couple of hours in the computer lab and a couple of hours in the dissection room. Yet another biochem tute just before lunch. PM: Organisation of the body tute on the upper airway. We draw some complicated diagrams! Spend the night celebrating the term being basically over. Its my last night in college and as is the usual tradition (well its more of a thing we just do) we get stupidly drunk. In a rather drunken frenzy try to pack some stuff for tomorrow. Dont sleep till about 3.

Fri AM: A couple of easy lectures in the morning, sit through them then its off to my final biochem tute (on exercise which is really really interesting) straight back to finish the packing (or really start). Get my stuff into storage just before lunch. PM: Crash in the JCR with friends and watch TV for a bit. Say goodbyes and leave for home at about 8pm.


Username: F1 Fanatic

Year of study: 1st year

Well, the scientist is in most cases an organised breed which generally means working by day and having fun/sleeping by night (the more conventional route I think you must agree).

Lectures for first years are invariably at 9am every morning of first year. This shouldn't really come as a shock to the system as you have spent the last 7 years doing exactly the same thing at school but for some reason it does. Now, there was a reason I chose Keble and that was so I didn't have to get up so early for lectures, the department being just across the road. That meant a 7.45am start with time to shower, wash, dress etc and plenty of time for breakfast in hall from 8 to 8.30 for a gossip, full english breakfast, toast or cereals for a moderate price (I was a stingy git in those days so 2 slices of toast and butter for 17p was my normal fare ). You find that at those hours breakfast is very much inhabited by rowers and keen scientist freshers only (I for one haven't been to breakfast in hall since first year) but it was sociable and woke you up.

The good thing about physics is that you are very much encouraged to work together and there is no longer an issue of "copying" that you get at school. The problems are hard and you are almost required to work together if you want to complete them all. The end result is that you tend to get on very well with the other physicists at your college (10 of us at my college) so we always met up to go to lectures at the lodge about 8.50am. Again, you find in your early years an eagerness to attend lectures early which sadly disappears in later years as you aim more and more to walk through the door just as the lecturer is preparing to start.

In first year as I recall, there were normally 3 lectures an hour long each from 9-12 monday to wednesday and 1 lecture at 9am on thursday and friday because of labs which I'll come to later. You will have lecture courses running simultaneously so the first hour may be calculus, the second electromagnetism and so on. The style of the lectures vary, but all the first year ones are in the Martin Wood, room for the whole year, 3 huge blackboards on rollers and 2 big screens for powerpoint presentations. Some lecturers like to talk at you and you're expected to make notes, some dictate word for word (pretty much) on the blackboard, and some give out their lecture slides which you can then annotate. First year is all about maths so the courses are mainly Calculus, Vectors, Matrices, Vector Calculus, Electromagnetism, Waves, Classical Mechanics etc. They don't assume knowledge of further maths but they do rush through it very quickly (within a couple of weeks). Generally you just sit there in lectures and the lecturer talks at you, there's not much opportunity for questions and its fairly oneway.

Having finished lectures about 12, I always used to go straight to lunch in hall (again I was so eager). About twice a week we would have tutorials which are organised and attended within college. The exact form of the tutorial depends on the tutor and the college but they generally involve going over a problem sheet that you will have been given and submitted a few days before. Where possible the tutorials are in line with the lectures but to be honest it doesn't always happen and you find yourself doing questions you haven't yet covered in lectures. There are plus sides to either. Again I'll come back to the work itself in a little while. So, assuming you've submitted your work, you'll attend tutorials in college with the college tutors usually sharing the different areas amongst themselves. Rooms etc were always organised by email, though occasionally they did clash and we had to shift them around. The most common form of tutorial for us, was a 1.5 hour class with the 10 of us where we went through general problems that people had or we discussed some more advanced ideas to check understanding. That would then be followed by a half hour tutorial in pairs in the tutors office to discuss more individual problems with the work and that is really the opportunity to clarify your understanding. By the time you have had lectures, read up on it and done problems, then had a tutorial on it you have a pretty good understanding of things. The tutorials are much more two-way and some tutors like to make you answer all the questions to make you think. Others just work through the problems themselves.

That takes up most of the time for 2 days a week, so that leaves the other days free to do the actual tutorial work. The problems are often based on the lecturer problems set by the lecturer to accompany a lecture series. You will typically cover the entire lecture series of 8-12 lectures in 2-3 tutorials. Sometimes the tutor may set his own problems for you to do, often if they taught the lectures themselves at some point. Typically there may be 10 questions per tutorial, which really isn't that many given you only have 2 problem sets a week but the questions are often quite involved. They're the sort of questions where if you knew how to do them you could do them in a couple of hours, but because you need to read around, they are supposed to take about 10 per problem set. How long you actually spend on it is a matter of choice, I was always a workaholic so spent much longer on it, but some people would rush through it in only a couple of hours. It's important to read through the books, and at Keble there is a library scheme where you can borrow all the books you need for the first year course which is very handy. Indeed, the library facilities generally are excellent, and I have rarely bought a book. As I've progressed through my degree I've worked together with others more and more. We had a whiteboard in someone's room which we could use, and would meet weekly (the 10 students) to help each other out and discuss ideas. I always found it really did help with understanding to explain things to each other. The problem sheets are hard though, and you're not expected to complete all of it, but to at least have attempted it all.

The only other area of study is labs. In first year you will be assigned to labs either Thursday or Friday depending on your college from 10am-5pm. You work in pairs with a lab partner, normally the same person for all 3 years of practical labs. You do one practical each week following a written coursescript. There are 5 or so labs, and you spend a few weeks in each and it's really your choice which practicals you choose to do, so long as you book it in advance on the web. Working in pairs helps a lot with things, but if you get stuck there are several demonstrators in each lab to help you and 1 supervisor who is more academic (often lecturers). The quality of the demonstrators varies, and lab work is a skill you pick up with time. You speed up a lot. In principle, if you don't finish it you can be asked to go back, but provided you're a lot of the way through they rarely ask you to. There are very few marks awarded for labs that count to your degree, so it's nothing to worry about. Most people see labs as a bit of a pain though.

On the face of it that doesn't leave much time left for actually enjoying yourself and it's true that the scientist has a very structured day, but I personally always took time after 9pm as my time off to do with as I liked. There's plenty of time to join a couple of sports and I always had at least 1 day off at the weekend to relax, go out, have fun. Often, having fun tends to be small little things like watching DVDs or whatever. Bops also tend to be attended mainly by first years, which happen every 2nd weekend. Personally I played badminton as a sport, some did rowing which actually fits in ok with a science students day, and I also did some voluntary work. As the mantra goes work hard play hard and I think that's probably the Oxford way. It's about maximising the free time you have and using it well. Oh btw, no lectures or classes on weekend so those are more or less free save for problem sets.

So that's kind of a week in first year physics.