Studying Chemistry at the University of Birmingham

Uploaded by unibirmingham on 31.05.2012

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. 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
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.
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.
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.
Or that youíve done ever so slightly wrong. Or just thought the entirely wrong thing.
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.