What are some of the criticisms of Imperial College

Experience report ERASMUS Imperial College London academic year 2008/09


1 Field report ERASMUS Imperial College London Academic year 2008/09 Johannes Eisenlohr Student of Physics at the University of Freiburg Introduction Even at the beginning of my studies I had decided to spend a year of my studies abroad. During the 5th semester, I then applied for an ERASMUS exchange place at Imperial College London. The decision to go to London was made for a variety of reasons. Before starting my studies, I had completed a language course in London and got to know the fascination of this city. I really wanted to take the opportunity to study at a university like Imperial College. 2 Preparations and arrival The organizational effort for the entire ERASMUS year was very low in my opinion. Haunting stories of endless paper wars did not come true. It started with an informal expression of interest, which was followed by a formal application with a letter of motivation to the University of Freiburg at the beginning of 2008. After I was accepted, I had to enroll / enroll online at Imperial College in April. To do this, you needed a (preliminary) learning agreement and a posting form, which had to be filled out beforehand for the University of Freiburg. I was informed of all the necessary steps by, either from Freiburg or from London. All ambiguities could always be clarified very quickly by. Linguistically, I did not prepare myself particularly well, I considered my English skills from school and a language course before my studies to be sufficient. This was also confirmed, it was no problem at all to follow the lectures. Talking yourself, especially colloquially with English people, was more difficult, but improved on its own during the year. I arrived on the Saturday before the official start of lectures. This was the first day you could move into your dorm room. There is a London special from Deutsche Bahn, I was able to travel from Frankfurt to London in less than 6 hours for 79 euros. The big advantage of traveling by train is the ability to take as much luggage with you as you can carry. I also took the train back again, this time for only 69 euros from London to Heidelberg. The cheap train tickets must of course be booked in good time (ideally at least six weeks in advance), otherwise these special prices are no longer available. I flew home at Christmas, and here too it is worth booking in good time! 3 Organization and support in Freiburg There was only one information meeting for all those interested in ERASMUS, everything else was personal 1

2 or regulated by. ERASMUS coordinator in Freiburg was Dr Wolfgang Kamke and Prof. Blumen also stood by my side several times with advice and action. Supervision in London Mr. Andrew Knight, the coordinator for the exchange students at the physics faculty, was primarily responsible for the excellent support in London. His door was always open to students and he always had solutions to offer. During the first week he organized some introductory events which were very helpful and made it very easy to get started. For the entire college, Mr. Adrian Hawksworth was responsible for the ERASMUS students. Both the Undergraduate Office (physics) and the Student Hub (entire college) were contact points for questions and problems of all kinds. In addition, as a student at Imperial College you have a personal tutor with a few other students, with whom you meet regularly to clarify questions of all kinds and who is also at your side with any problems. At the meetings with our tutor, a student presented a current publication on an interesting topic. This journal club should introduce the reading of trade magazines. 4 Lectures Even before the official application and of course when drawing up my learning agreement, I looked at the Imperial College course catalog. The directory for the 2008/09 academic year was published quite late - after the learning agreement had been signed - so I used the previous course directory as a guide. As it turned out, this was not a problem at all, as there are usually only minimal changes from year to year - most of the time, exactly the same courses are offered over and over again by the same lecturers over several years. Due to the fact that I was in the 4th year of study and had already heard almost all the compulsory lectures in Freiburg, I wanted to use my ERASMUS year to listen to a few different lectures, depending on your interests and inclination. So I didn't follow a specific course like English students do who have to attend certain lectures. The academic year in England is not divided into semesters, as it is here, but into trimesters. All lectures take place in the first term (October-Christmas) and the second term (January to April). Most of the lectures last only one term. In the third term (April-June) all exams for the lectures take place. I finally decided on the following lectures (for more details, please refer to the homepage of Imperial College London, where detailed descriptions are freely available): Statistical Mechanics Lecturer: Prof. Vvedensky A theory lecture for third-year students. It builds on the Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics lectures that English students have already completed in their second year. Based on the Van der Waals Gas and the Ising Model, the main topics were Mean-Field Theory, Ginzburg-Landau Theory, Scaling Hypthesis, and Renormalization Group. The lecture was very well structured and there was a very good script. For me a very good addition to TheoIV (Statistical Mechanics) in Freiburg. Instrumentation Lecturer: Dr. Carr A very experimental lecture on experimental methods, electronics and measurement methods in general. The lecture included a practical part in the laboratory, which had the greatest learning effect for me. The lecture wasn't particularly demanding, but it wasn't boring. Third Years Laboratory In the first term, I decided on this internship, in which you do 3 experiments together with a partner. My topics were Hall-Effect, Blackbody-Radiation and pn-junction. In the 2nd

3 Compared to the lectures, this internship was very time-consuming in terms of implementation and, above all, of evaluating and writing the minutes. The experimentation and measurement was very free and flexible, there was no preliminary discussion for the individual experiments where one was asked in detail about the theory. There were officially supervisors, but for the most part you were on your own. Quantum Optics Lecturer: Dr. Scheel A theoretical lecture to introduce quantum optics. This was definitely the most demanding lecture I attended, but it is definitely recommended. With a lot of dedication and motivation, the lecturer managed to make even complicated issues understandable. The pace was demanding, comparable to theory lectures in Germany. Foundations of Quantum Mechanics Lecturer: Dr. Dowker This course builds on a very basic and not particularly extensive lecture on quantum mechanics in the second year of the course. The material was largely known to me from the QM1 lecture in Freiburg. Nevertheless, I can only recommend this lecture, because the lecturer presented the fundamentals of quantum mechanics in a very straightforward, clear manner and with the necessary mathematical precision. The focus was on understanding quantum mechanics according to the Copenhagen interpretation. The lecturer herself (PhD with Stephen Hawking) doubted the final correctness of this interpretation, but unfortunately could not say much about it in the context of this lecture. Criticism: There was no script Nuclear and Particle Physics Lecturer: Dr. Davies This wasn't a very good lecture in my eyes. The lecturer presented the material more or less listlessly, mostly with the setting everything is very simple and does not need any explanation. At some point I was no longer in the lecture regularly, but mainly learned with the script, which, in contrast to the lecture, was understandable and clear. Environmental Physics Lecturer: Dr. Hassard, Dr. Czaja, Prof. Nelson Out of interest, I chose this very simple lecture for second and third year students. It was divided into three parts, first a general part mainly about the entire energy and climate issue, then a part about climate science and finally a part about renewable energy sources. The general part was unfortunately a lot of chatter with little content, the other two parts were quite interesting, but not particularly physically demanding. Politics Lecturer: Greg Artus Imperial College has the Humanities Department, which offers courses in many different humanities fields for students of all disciplines. The lectures are always at lunchtime when no other faculty is giving lectures. My course on political philosophy was excellent, the lecturer was able to present theories and ideas from Plato to the banking crisis in an incredibly moving way. There were exercises in small groups for questioning and discussion. Quantum Theory of Matter Lecturer: Dr. Lee A demanding lecture on the topics of superfluidity and superconductivity, theoretically structured and with a very good script. I stopped after about two thirds of this lecture due to time constraints and because I had already had enough lectures for my required ECTS points. Nevertheless, by then I was able to take a few things with me from the lecture. 3

4 The final exams of all lectures were easier than I expected. The third term is very stressful, as you may have to write 8 exams within 2-3 weeks, but in my opinion the individual exams are much easier than e.g. Exams for theoretical lectures in Freiburg. Numerous old exams can be viewed on the college's homepage and there are usually no nasty surprises. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to count on exercise sheets during the year, because otherwise in the third term, despite the fact that the exams are not particularly demanding, you can run into a lot of time constraint. In the third term, I learned relatively intensively for 4 weeks, which was by far enough. The Imperial College offers its exchange students, the so-called Occasionals, the opportunity to acquire the Imperial College International Diploma (ICID). You get this if you attend lectures worth 4.0 credits and pass the exams. The Imperial College does not award any ECTS points, as a guideline one can compare 1.0 credits with 15 ECTS points. The required 4.0 credits correspond to the 60 ECTS points required by the University of Freiburg and the ERASMUS program. The ICID has no meaning outside of Imperial College, it just shows that you have studied to the required extent. 5 Living in London 5.1 Living The rental prices within London are horrendous. I find it extremely difficult to find private accommodation that is both affordable and reasonably accessible. For ERASMUS students, however, no difficult search for accommodation is necessary, as the Imperial College guarantees a place in one of its dormitories. Sometime at the end of the summer semester of 2008 you had to apply formally for such a place. You could express certain wishes, in which dormitory you would like to be accommodated and whether you want a single room or a double room. I applied for the cheapest single room at Wilson House. 4 weeks before departure the confirmation for such a room was made. However, I have also heard of cases in which the wishes could not be met. It should also be mentioned that you are only entitled to a place in the dormitory if you stay in London for the entire academic year. Students who only want to stay there for one semester would have to look for their own accommodation. Wilson House is near Paddington Station, north of Hyde Park. It is a 10-minute walk to the college through Hyde Park and a 10-minute walk to Oxford Street. With Paddington and Edgware Road underground stations just around the corner, you are well connected to several underground lines. 270 students live in Wilson House, all in single rooms. You share a kitchen with each other, there are 3 common rooms and a sports hall, which is always reserved for the dormitory in the evenings. In the room I had a small refrigerator, a telephone and internet access. Most of the rooms and kitchens are very small and a bit shabby by German standards. English students are usually only allowed to live in a dormitory for their first year of college. Therefore, all of the English roommates were very young, just 18. However, many ERASMUS students were accommodated in Wilson House and the ERASMUS community proved to be very sociable and exciting. 5.2 Leisure time activities I don't think much needs to be said about the endless possibilities that London offers. However, I would like to highlight the societies at the college itself. There are around 300 of them and there is sure to be something for every taste. I joined the Fellwanderer Society, with whom I went hiking on several weekend trips to northern England and Wales. This was a great way to get to know other people and get out of London to see other parts of the island. Most of the societies meet once a week for lunch. All societies are financially supported by the college, so excursions and activities 4

5 are much cheaper than if you organize them privately. Numerous events were also offered from the dormitory. Especially at the beginning, in Fresher's Week, there were countless introductions, campaigns, pub crawls, city tours etc. Otherwise, of course, London offers almost everything - provided you have the necessary wallet. However, it is worth keeping an eye out for student discounts and free events. So I have e.g. often used the London Philharmonic Orchestra's student offer, which made it possible to get the best available seats for £ 4 in some concerts. Theaters, musicals and other concerts can also be comparatively cheap for students. Homepages like always inform about current free events. All state museums have no admission, so you have the opportunity to see many world-famous museums at any time, without having to visit everything in one visit. 5.3 Costs Fortunately, the euro-pound exchange rate developed very favorably during my stay, averaging around 0.88. My dorm room was £ 92 a week. For the 9 months this was about pounds. I needed roughly the same amount again for the rest of my lifestyle and leisure activities. Groceries are on average slightly more expensive than in Germany, electronics or clothing can often even be cheaper. My travel expenses totaled around 300 euros (arrival and departure, flight home at Christmas). The total costs for the year abroad thus amounted to around eight to nine thousand euros. 6 Miscellaneous 6.1 Transport for London This is the operator of all London underground trains and buses. There is the so-called Oyster Card, on which you can load money, which is then debited with every trip. The Oyster Card is free (apart from a 3 pound deposit), but single trips are much cheaper with it. And the Oyster Card recognizes when you travel a lot on a day and then automatically debits a day pass, so it always finds the cheapest solution. Monthly tickets can also be loaded onto the Oyster Card. So it is worthwhile to get such a card when you first arrive at the counter (in every subway station). 6.2 Banking transactions As far as I know, it is possible to open a free student account directly on campus at NatWest. However, this was not necessary for me, as I could withdraw free of charge with my Visa card from comdirect at all ATMs and pay free of charge. However, if you want to make transfers to English accounts, the English account could be worthwhile. 6.3 Health insurance I have private health insurance in Germany. My insurance cover was also valid for the time in London, with no additional contribution. However, every Imperial College student is eligible for basic health care. The college has its own health center as well as the college's St Mary's Hospital. At the beginning of the year you have to register at the Health Center. On the subject of health, it should be mentioned that one was strongly advised to get vaccinated against meningitis C and against mumps. This can also be done free of charge at the Health Center. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me under 5