If you’ve just received your Jupas results, it’s possible you’re now confused about what you want to do at university once you get there. That’s why summer schools that give a taster of university life are worth checking out.
St Anne’s College, one of the colleges at Britain’s famous Oxford University, held their second summer school in Hong Kong from July 18 to 21, this time in collaboration with Chinese University (CUHK). Students worked on a different module each day with tutors from the college, getting an idea of what it’s like to study at university.
Modules included biochemistry, geography and earth sciences, law, mathematics, neuroscience, physics, materials science, and music. After the classes, leading academics and students from CUHK ran sessions to show participants the facilities on campus, such as the law department’s moot court and the Museum of Climate Change.
Physics is a tricky subject, and the stuff they study at university is of course more advanced than what we study at school. Professor Neville Harnew and PhD student Faye Cheung introduced us to antimatter and particle decays. They then talked about real-life projects across the world such as the Large Hadron Collider, where protons crash into each other head on, and experiments such as atlas and CMS, which measure the results of these proton crashes. We were particle physicists for an hour and did some hands-on experiments. It was great to find practical uses for physics, which can often seem like a distant and unrelatable subject, and understand how it is being used to solve everyday problems.
In materials science, Dr David Collins and Dr Edmund Tarleton gave us an introduction to what the subject actually is, as most of us were new to it.
“It’s a mixture of physics, chemistry and engineering. We calculate which type of materials should be used for certain kinds of architecture,” Collins explained.
But that doesn’t just mean bamboo or metal. There are all sorts of materials that can be considered, such as polymers, metals and even intermetallics – a material which has the properties of both ceramics and metals.
Exploring what these different materials can do involves testing them, so we then took part in a competition to design a bridge using 120 lollipop sticks. The winning design was the bridge that could support the heaviest container of water.
Another experiment involved creating our own set of speakers using simple materials such as a plastic cup and copper wires.
Geography and earth sciences is a course that you don’t often see in Hong Kong schools, and at university, the two subjects are usually taught separately. But Dr Don Porcelli and Dr Nick Middleton combined their knowledge to give us a special set of lectures on extreme environments.
The lectures detailed the adventures of their own experiences while doing research in the Arctic Ocean and rainforests.
The talks included examples, photos and data from their own projects which taught us about our planet and how it’s changing rapidly.
“As we normally teach university students, we’re seeing students of a different level here. So for us, it’s very satisfying to talk to younger students who are thinking about how they’re going to get into university and what it’s like to learn in a university environment,” said Middleton.
“We’re hoping that you’ve seen exercises and lectures that are a bit different from what you’ve seen in school; things that are much more likely to be seen at university.”
If you think of a law lecture, you probably picture a professor giving a boring, detailed analysis of an obscure part of the Basic Law. But this class was far more interesting than that. Professor Antonios Tzanakopoulos opened his lecture on international law by asking us to define “law”. This of course sparked a debate, and led to a discussion of international laws and treaties. It was easy to understand and relate to because Tzanakopoulos used daily examples to help us understand how the world works.
He also had a word of warning for any aspiring law students: “Don’t take law at school because it has nothing to do with law at university. You should study what you like at school and work on doing well in those subjects. Read the papers and be well informed about what’s happening in the world, and be curious about current issues and how they are resolved,” he advised.
Even though the summer school only lasted for four short days, it provided valuable insight into what life is like at university. I can’t wait!