As happens at the beginning of any school term or university semester, Sunday evening saw me filled with the age-old feeling of “I don’t want to go to school”. It is a feeling that slowly creeps up on you throughout the day, gradually encroaching on your mind as you realise the summer months of lazing around and doing nothing personal betterment and motivation are over and that tomorrow you are going to have to start using your brain.
This causes the awkward realisation that you are not sure how to use your brain, having forgotten about five microseconds after that final “pens down please”. In fact, you are fairly certain that even before then your brain nothing more than a pile of mush, regurgitating frantically memorised, but long since forgotten, flash cards. Furthermore, what was that thing? You know? That thing you were taught two years ago? The one your lecturer claimed was a cornerstone of modern physics? You don’t really need it, do you?
Aside from this. I was excited to experience the learning and teaching style used at such an acclaimed university. I was also nervous about my module choices, two of which I was still waiting for confirmation on. The nature of an exchange program always means that there will be some things you have already studied and others that you’ve never heard of but are assumed knowledge.
Monday dawned bright and way to early with a two hours of quantum mechanic at 8 o’clock. There’s nothing like a bit of quantum mechanics to jump start the brain. Especially when the lecturer announces he will be using lots of Dirac notation and vector spaces, two things I have barely touched on. So much fun.
Understandably I did not consider this a auspicious start to the semester. Fortunately, biophysics was the next lecture and was a pleasant balm to my worries. It promises to be an interesting course with one of the lecturers researching DNA sequencing and even a little lab time. The dual nature of the course also means that neither the physics nor the biology will be overly challenging and instead provide me with a wider scientific base. It is also my smallest class with only ten other people taking it, half of whom are also exchange students so there is a wide range of academic backgrounds and perspectives.
My final lecture of the day was modern optics and when I eventually worked out how to get into the building (through the third floor of the neighbouring one) it proved to be a nice, gentle introduction that focused on what optics was and why we should study it. Having since had a second lecture since, I’ve realised I am stuck in the awkward position of having studied a fair amount of the material already but not wanting to change because there promises to be some really interesting bits later on. If only quantum mechanics was the same (sigh).
Electromagnetism the next day appears to be a bridge between the impossible challenging quantum mechanics and easier biophysics and optics. While it requires the addition of “learn what a tensor is” to my to do list, the information content appears to be at the same level where I left off in Bath. So, all in all not a bad start and after talking with other exchange students I was relieved to find out I’m not the only one who will be spending the weekend teaching myself new notations and mathematical methods.