Student Profile - John - Astrophysics 2015, from USA

What attracted me to St Andrews, and the astrophysics programme in particular, is the closeness and sincerity of the department. Compared to most of the university, we are a relatively small bunch. Most lecturers prefer to go by first names, which makes the atmosphere very collegial. And you will never find yourself sitting silent in a lecture. Once a lecturer poses a question, the whole room evolves into a lively discussion. You’ll probably make some new friends too!

John working with one of the telescopes at the University Observatory

Since coming to St Andrews, I have had the absolute pleasure of being instructed by some of the most learned and professional physicists in the world. The academic programme within the department encourages active and challenging degree paths while at the same time catering to every question, inquiry, and concern. Lecturers are more than happy to help out a struggling student, or one that may wish to learn beyond the course. The sub-honours laboratory component provides spot-on application of lecture material and allows students to learn for themselves.

As one of relatively few Americans in the department, I feel that the US AP curriculum prepares students very strongly for the programme at St Andrews. Although there still exist gaps in expected knowledge, the skills acquired through the AP programme will allow you to meet those new expectations, and maybe even see a familiar phenomenon from a new perspective. My advice for everyone is to really dig into your first year studies and build cast-iron foundations in maths and physics. From there on out, it’s just a matter of time-management and concentration.

Outside of the classroom, I have taken up several society committee positions. Beginning as Freshers Rep for the student astronomical society AstroSoc and proceeding to the executive post of Senior Observing Director, I am just now taking on the Presidency of the society. By delegating out tasks to the committee, we endeavour to expand our already busy event schedule with even more stargazing nights, socials, and trips to observatories and dark sky sites throughout the UK and around the world. Just this spring the society led a group to a remote region in Iceland, where we witnessed the breath-taking aurora borealis in full-display (photo above). The student physics society is also a great resource for students. As Academic Convenor in my second year, I organised two semesters of weekly talks, usually given by resident staff within the University. By engaging students with the active research of the department, the talks try to make our community even closer. With a range of responsibilities, society committees provide a great outlet for student leadership.

When it comes to this small town on the east coast of Fife, there’s always something new just around the bend. Even if you don’t go looking for new opportunities, they will eventually find you. This place is more than just a home or a university, it’s a family. And every new year will pass faster than the last!


First published BDS 21.4.15