Studying Chemistry at the University of Birmingham

By: University of Birmingham

Itís brilliant, you get to use all the equipment and learn and actually use all the techniques youíve learnt about over the last four years and I definitely felt I excelled in this area. And I loved being in the lab every day, it was really great and there were so many nice, friendly people there to help you and youíre learning from experts in their field so it just makes everything so much easier to learn from them. And the teaching staff here, theyíre so friendly and relaxed but they still push you to achieve, which is brilliant. So itís an excellent learning environment.

I think itís definitely helped me sort of mature in my sort of general life and with being able to go into work placements, itís definitely a lot better, a good eye-opener to whatís actually involved once you do go out into work. So definitely worthwhile doing. Hello, and welcome to the School of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham. Iím Jon Preece and Iím Head of the School and itís a great pleasure for me to be Head of the School as I get to work with some very talented and dynamic academic members of staff and some very committed and purposeful support staff, which means as a school weíre able to deliver some really excellent degree courses in Chemistry. As evidence of this, in 2010, 93% of our final year undergraduate students were satisfied with the quality of their degree. This meant in real terms that of a national student survey of final year undergraduate Chemistry students, we were ranked third in the UK.

Itís even more pleasing to see that in the past year, even more of our students have been satisfied with the quality of the degree. This is something we take immense pride in here at the School of Chemistry. However, weíre not a staff that sits back on our laurels and weíre constantly reviewing our courses, both for content and for methods of delivery, such that our graduates, when they leave us, are not only at the forefront of chemical sciences but also equipped to put what they know into practice in the working environment. The school comprises about 300 undergraduate students studying on our three year BSc course and our four year MSci course, where you can study chemistry as a pure science or in combination with other subjects, including business management. In addition, we offer a year abroad and a year in industry as part of an integrated MSci. I think we offer some really exciting opportunities with our degree programmes at the University of Birmingham. We not only have a very buoyant undergraduate school but we have about one hundred students studying towards their PhD, as well as forty post-doctoral researchers, supervised by the academics in the school. The research that we carry out in the school was judged very highly by our peers in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. We were judged 13th out of all UK chemistry departments with respect to the quality of our publications, and 5th in respect to our esteem indicators which our peers in the UK hold us by.

We are very proud of these achievements, and what this means for our degree courses is that theyíre at the cutting edge of chemical sciences. That means for our graduates that they are highly sought after by employers. In recent years the School of Chemistry has benefited from significant investment, as a direct result of the City of Birmingham achieving Science City status. This has meant that weíve been able to invest over £2 million in research equipment, some of which, if you come to Birmingham, you will be able to use as part of your final year research project. Well Iíve given you a brief overview of the School of Chemistry. The following video clips will give you more of a flavour of what you might expect if you come to Birmingham to study chemistry. Youíll not only hear from staff but also from students who will tell you their experiences.

Studying Chemistry at the University of Birmingham

Iíll see you in a few minutes. S4 My nameís Dr Maryjane Tremayne and Iím the undergraduate research project coordinator in the School of Chemistry. Here in the School of Chemistry we run an undergraduate research programme where our final year research students have the opportunity to go out and work in one of our research groups here in Birmingham and it gives them a good opportunity to give a significant contribution to internationally leading, cutting-edge research that we do within our groups here in Birmingham. It gives some of our students who want to go on and do a research career a real true flavour of what it is to be a research chemist and things like all the research skills that they learn and experience of working within a research team is also very very valuable to those of our students who go on to be professional chemists in, for example, things like the pharmaceutical industry or the petro-chemical industry. My nameís Dr Paul Davies and Iím a lecturer in Organic Chemistry here at the University of Birminghamís School of Chemistry. So one of my roles is industrial placements tutor so I look after the Chemistry with Industrial Experience course. The Chemistry with Industrial Experience course is a four year undergraduate Masters programme which includes a year spent working for a company in an aspect of chemistry. So the year in industry is a chance to gain some really meaningful and relevant industrial experience. This of course is increasingly important in the current job market where you want your CV to really stand out from the crowd to help you in your future job applications. But at the end of your placement as well youíre also going to have a really good idea of whether that career area is really for you, or not.

The greatest thing I got out of last year was the breadth of chemistry that I was able to experience, the people I got to work with were absolutely fantastic. If I ever had any trouble I could easily go and speak to them, ask for advice or any help needed at all. I would definitely say that my chemical knowledge has increased immensely over the course of the year. I would definitely say that the year in industry has equipped me with all the skills I need to complete my final year at uni. So you might well be wondering how youíll be taught within the School of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham. What sort of things do we do here? Well, as students here youíll be attending lectures, youíd also be taught in small tutorial groups, usually of six members per group, youíd have workshops which are with a larger number and of course laboratory classes which youíll hear more about later on. In addition to learning chemistry through these techniques, youíll be taught by something known as ëenquiry based learningí.

This is actually a very important way of teaching here at the university and is recognised within our teaching and learning strategy. Itís a method we use to help students to gain learner independence and also by virtue of this, to really gain employability skills. Itís really important in this day and age, not only for you to be good as chemists and leave with the appropriate chemistry knowledge and practical skills, but also to have a variety of transferable skills because these are also sought by employers. So what do you do with enquired based learning? Learning through doing, basically. So youíre given a problem with a set of evidence, so like Iíve got these lovely spectra spread out all over the table and youíre asked to find out what the compound is, what different groups there are on it and what itís made up of and how it will react or whatever, which has been going relatively well so far. And obviously then if you have a problem then you ask, but otherwise you try and work it out for yourself.

Yeah. And like learning through doing. I think the key to the whole enquiry based learning is that if you ask for help they wonít tell you the answer. Yeah. Yes. Theyíll point you in the right direction but they wonít give you the actual answer. Yeah, theyíll point out the things that you should have noticed which you havenít.

Yeah. Or that youíve done ever so slightly wrong. Or just thought the entirely wrong thing. [laughing] Which has happened a couple of times but itís not too bad.

Only after youíve actually done the problem solving sessions do you then get lectures which pull together all that youíve actually learnt. So by virtue of this method, not only are we learning spectroscopy, so the content, but also youíre gaining team-working skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills and so on - these very core employability skills. This continues in Year 2 where thereís another module called ëScience Communicationí.

Again, this is via enquiry based learning and through this again youíll further develop those skills where youíll work together again in groups to produce short video clips on a variety of topics. I hope this has given you a good insight into the sorts of teaching that we use here within the department and we hope to see you soon. Iím Dr Shannon, the Director of Laboratories here in the School of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham. In chemistry, gaining practical experience is an essential part of the degree programme as well as your development as a chemist. The purpose of the practical course is two-fold. Firstly, to build upon the concepts that are delivered in lectures to improve your understanding. Secondly, to develop your manipulative skills and your knowledge of basic practical techniques so that when you finish your degree, youíre ready to move on and face the challenges of a career in chemistry, whether in industry or in research. Well I hope youíve gained some insight into what a Chemistry Degree at Birmingham might be like and this has whetted your appetite to find out more.

Youíll find a wealth of information on our website and should you want more information, please drop us a line. However, I hope to see many of you in the near future because if you do apply to come to the University of Birmingham, youíll be offered the opportunity to come and see us ñ our staff, our students and our facilities ñ to see whether Birmingham could be your home for the next three or four years.

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