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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Meet the Undergraduate - Simranjeet Duhra, MSci Chemistry

Simranjeet is going into her final year of her MSci Chemistry degree and in this blog reflects on her time so far, including the impact of the pandemic on studying.

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My life at Queen Mary

I was told when I started university that my three years would go by quickly, but I don’t think I grasped that until I am sat here reflecting on those years. Most clichés about growing as a person and developing close friends have proven to be true for me but there is more that I didn’t necessarily expect.

Starting university

I started at Queen Mary as a shy and very introverted person but being here has bought me out of my shell. From being uncertain about Chemistry being the right subject for me to wanting to continue to do my MSci next year, being here has helped me to grow as a person and given me opportunities I never expected. What struck me the most and is the main reason for staying for my fourth year, is the support and outreach I received. Universities are often presented as foreboding institutions focused only on academic excellence. This expectation combined with moving away from home for the first time can be off putting but the main thing I learned was that I’m not alone and that help is always there. In my department I learnt I could always ask for help and that I wasn’t expected to know everything. This is something I wish I had figured out sooner. It isn’t a sign of weakness and is the best way to ensure you understand content and can progress.

My first year

My first year (often toted as the easiest of university) was my hardest - Not necessarily in the academic content of my course but the combination of having to make new friends and having to figure out living on my own was over whelming. University has a different way of learning where content is not so easily memorised, and I often felt like a failure. I also was in privately rented accommodation so the experience of making friends in halls was simply not available. Making friends was hard until I allowed myself to go to different societies in the Students Union. Having a hobby with people outside of my course was vital and was how I made my friends who I live with now. I have competed in national cheerleading competitions and therefore had experiences that I did not know were possible before I started. It is not something I expected to be doing but I’m glad I did, and I was able to find something I loved doing.

University will often push you outside your comfort zone and you must be open to those experiences. Most people are in the same boat as you and are generally friendly. These are often presented as the best years of our lives and so when you struggle and are not making friends it can all feel like a lie. But there are hundreds of people around and you will meet people you get along with. I’m glad I didn’t give up and go home as I often thought of doing. I was waiting for a moment when everything would click in place but the changes and me becoming more comfortable was gradual. It wasn’t until I realised I was actually excited to start my second year that I realised I had settled in.

My second and third years

My second and third years became easier socially as I grew more comfortable and at home at university. Academically I was stretched and challenged but the knowledge that I could ask for help at any time gave me confidence to continue. Knowing help is only an email away is comforting and meant I was less stressed and is something I wish I knew how to do in my first year.

The impact of the pandemic in my third year must also be noted. This was a stressful and scary time (and still is as we navigate through the next few years). I found however the academic support I received such as the alternative assessments and continued support in writing my dissertation was vital in helping me get through the year. We were regularly updated on developments at a time when things were changing every day. While online learning is a new concept, I am appreciative of the efforts taken to ensure we are safe as well as still gaining the academic content we needed. It will never replace face to face teaching, however once again I have found additional support is never far away.

Moving forward

Going into my fourth year overall my experience at Queen Mary has been positive. Once I was open to help and new experiences, I was well supported and encouraged. I’m glad I picked a subject I am passionate about as it has meant I am more engaged in content and curious about what I am learning. While university and the world in general will not be the same in September I am hopeful for the next academic year.