With just one month to go before the UCAS deadline for university choices, I find myself hurriedly scrambling around for chances to visit all of the places to which I have applied. Having visited Leeds in November, then interviewed (unsuccessfully) for Cambridge in December, I still needed to look around Bristol and Hull, both of which were happy to give me offers before Christmas without any further demands. Durham, in case you had wondered, rejected me in February, so there will be no visit to log here.
A far cry from the rampant road rage through Leeds and the tumultuous train journey to Cambridge, this university sits just five miles from Wilberforce, so today’s events could be booked at just a few days notice and accessed with a fairly short commute. It was also the least novel of the lot, given that I had already visited the campus for a UCAS fair last June, as well as attending the Top of the Bench competition twice and doing five days work experience at the Department of Chemistry in July 2013.
At the end of the winding concrete path from the car park I found myself at a brightly coloured tent where organisers in red hoodies scanned my ticket and gave me a transparent plastic folder containing a several leaflets and a branded pen. I was then essentially left to my own devices for the rest of the day – there were multiple activities on offer but I was never actively ushered from one to another. This meant I could find time to reacquaint myself with the environment.
My first visit was, naturally, to the Brynmor Jones library. When last looked it was undergoing a major refurbishment, with the result that scaffolding and dust sheets were visible on several floors while others were closed off entirely (the lift doors would open to reveal just a blank white wall barring one’s disembarkation. Four years on the work had been concluded and the library resembled the lovechild of a business-class departure lounge and a luxury hotel. There were even moulded metal water fountains just beyond each set of lifts.
Having finished browsing the collection I went back outside to join a guided walking tour of the campus. Our guide avoided covering many specific details, preferring instead to point out generic landmarks and walking routes that could apply to the majority of students. I then went to the Middleton Hall for a lecture about the student experience. In the tall chamber of curved wood and distant spotlights (perhaps resembling a cinema more than a lecture hall), we were shown a film about the weekly routine of an average student, narrated by a recent graduate. He was keen to emphasise the wide range of sporting activities and social venues available, as well as highlighting Hull’s City of Culture status this year.
The lecture finished just before midday, so I headed to the Chemistry block for the start of the course-specific afternoon events. Whereas four years ago one could simply press a contact button on the exterior door to alert the receptionists and have it opened, I now find that it is accessible only by card. The students conducting the afternoon events (themselves stranded on the doorstep) explained that the reception had been relocated to another building, and indeed I saw that the reception office had seemingly disappeared altogether.
After an extensive buffet lunch (featuring the triangular sandwiches, loose crisps, large jugs of juice and trays of flapjacks which only ever seem to appear in this specific situation) we were given a tour of the complex – our guide (Dr Mike Hird) explaining that the really dangerous experiments were kept on the top floor – and shown the £300,000 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance scanner. At a smaller lecture hall downstairs another faculty member (Dr John R Williams) talked us through the timetabling and content of the course, as well as his techniques for retaining information.
Our last activity was molecular modelling, guided by one of the PhD. I have dealt with model kits before, but these were different, coming out of small plastic bags and being generally more fiddly. We were asked to make the most complicated hydrocarbon we could manage (I ended up with 2,3-dimethylbutane.), then to model glucose and fructose (I ran out of oxygen atoms, and had to cannibalise the alkanes for hydrogen.), then to react them together as if for a dehydration.
When all this had finished we returned to the entrance hall for a formal goodbye from the faculty. Dr Williams wished me well in my studies – a somewhat paradoxical encouragement given that he knew Hull would most likely be my insurance choice – and I made my departure.
Four down, one to go.