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How I’m Surviving 2 Sciences in the UK

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A lecture at Queen Mary University Of London.

I have been abroad for nearly two months now and finally feel like I am surviving 2 sciences in the UK! I arrived thinking I would be taking three science courses—Physiology, Basic Biochemistry, and Electric & Magnetic Fields—and one drama course. An overlap in my timetable required that I drop Physics. I chose to replace it with an English class called Global Shakespeare, and while at first I was stressed about this modification, I quickly realized that it was a blessing in disguise! Although all three science courses were level-4 (classes that first-year students take here), I was forewarned by IFSA-Butler advisors that even lower-level science classes are rigorous and expect a great deal of background knowledge due to the UK’s A-level system. I quickly found this to be true and was relieved to have one less science course on my plate!

A comparatively larger class size than the author was used to back home.

Even so, the academic expectations definitely took a while to adapt to. Coming from a liberal arts school, I had to adjust from smaller classes with professors who knew my name to 200+ person lectures in which professors aren’t expected to keep me accountable. Factor in the details that I have less time in class, no weekly assignments, and lectures that are often “Q-reviewed” (recorded and available online), it was easy to lose sight of my priorities. Fortunately, my first Physiology “mini-test” came in Week 4 and snapped me back into reality! I learned that I need to study regularly to prevent information overload come the final exams, which are worth 75% of my science grades (I know, intense). Now, I have a self-designed weekly study schedule which has eased my anxiety about these classes and relieved the stir-crazy feeling I had in the initial weeks when I was slacking off!

Sunrise in London.

I have been surprised to find out that most of the study abroad students I meet at Queen Mary, especially STEM students,  aren’t taking many/any classes here that count towards their majors. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to swing that with my degree, but also, I would feel sad about a semester without any science courses! They challenge and fulfill me, which I imagine most STEM people can relate to. Plus, if I give myself incentives to stay on top of things, my classes are more enjoyable! For instance, every Thursday morning I have an early Biochemistry class on another campus which is a 30-minute walk away. I know that sounds dreadful to many (myself included) but watching the sunrise from my room when I wake up and treating myself to a pastry from my favorite street café as I walk home is great motivation to get my butt to class. Overall, taking two science classes is making me more self-disciplined while still giving me enough free time to fully enjoy my time abroad—balance is key!

Sierra DeAngelo is an Environmental Biology major and pre-med student at Colgate University and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary, University of London in England in spring 2019. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.