People say that university can change you, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. My first day at Imperial began with a trip to register at the ID card office, but when my details were punched in to the computer there was a problem: the photograph on the screen was not me. I hadn’t expected my transformation into a postgraduate student to be so dramatic. Thankfully it appeared my metamorphosis was only temporary; a quick photo later and I was fully registered Imperial Collegian.
I then went to the “drop-in information event”, wandering around aimlessly and picking up leaflets. People were milling, chatting, and drinking cups of tea, but I wasn’t sure whether to join them. A solitary sign on a noticeboard said “Humanities”, so I hovered in the hope of meeting fellow Science Communication students, but of course had no idea who out of the masses to approach.
Glancing at my watch, I decided to wander around campus until the welcome address for the Graduate School of Life Sciences and Medicine, of which I was now a member. I checked out the library and meandered along the walkways. As an undergraduate at Bristol I was used to roaming the city to get to various departments, so the concept of a campus was still alien to me.
Eventually 4pm rolled by, and an usher directed me into the Great Hall for the Rector’s address. “If you don’t have any friends waiting for you inside, could you please fill out the front rows?” A perfectly harmless request, but it highlighted the fact that I was yet to meet anyone. I wondered whether living an hours tube ride from South Kensington had been the best choice.
Sir Roy Anderson gave a speech leaving me with a vague sense of inspiration, and the other speakers were informative if perhaps not as uplifting. I returned home, deciding this afternoon didn’t really count: tomorrow was the first “proper” day of my time at Imperial.
Tuesday began with an introduction from the SciComm staff, and a register to confirm everyone had shown up. As usual, I was first on the list, the curse of a surname beginning with A. “Ah, Jacob, I remember your interview,” said Stephen Webster, department director. “The interview that took place in a car park, you mean?” I replied with a grin. A story for another time perhaps, but it got a laugh from the class and I felt more relaxed.
Later on in a group exercise we discussed why we applied for the course, and I realised I was definitely in the right place. These people who I had only just met seemed to think exactly the same way as me. Some common answers:
“I loved my undergraduate degree, but the focus became too narrow. I want to retain a broad scientific understanding.”
“I didn’t want to do the same thing every day forever. Science communication allows you to work with different people, in different mediums, and in different ways.”
“I think science is amazing, fascinating, and beautiful. I want to share it with the world.”
I ended the day with a smile on my face, anticipating the year ahead. The rest of the week brought (amongst other things) a visit to the Science Museum and a talk with chief curator Tim Boon, a treasure hunt around the library, and a party. I met many wonderful people and began thinking in interesting and challenging new ways. I’ve already got more reading to do than I probably ever did in three years of Maths, but roll on week two!