What’s it like studying Chemistry at Durham?

Louis Jones

Why Chemistry? Why Durham?

There were a couple of reasons that I wanted to take Chemistry one step further after A-levels. I really wanted to understand more of the ‘why?’ part of chemistry – I wanted to know why some reagents reacted, or why some compounds are bright while others are colourless, and the A-level course had not given a satisfying explanation. The other thing that really drew me to Chemistry was the labs. While most labs involve reacting chemicals together and playing with big, complicated machines which can be (very) scary at first, they are a lot of fun.

Lab fun and making friends

One of the appealing things to me about the Durham Chemistry course when I was applying was the fact that the amount of lab time you’d have was clear, due to the fact that there are lab-specific modules. This does make Chemistry a very high contact hour degree. However, time flies when you are doing labs so the number of hours is not as intimidating as it may seem! A perk of these is that Durham gives you lab partners which provides a really easy way to make course friends fast!

A definite rural vibe to this lovely city

Outside of the Chemistry department, Durham is a lovely city. It is very small but is rich in history and full of amazing, old-fashioned buildings like the cathedral and castle which sit proudly in the middle of town. Durham is a very green city and has a rural vibe to it – mainly down to how easy it is to find farm animals if you go for a short walk near the colleges or not too far from the river.

What would a typical week look like?

Each year is made up of 120 credits. In first year, you have to take 5 compulsory modules (3 lecture-based and 2 lab-based modules). In total, these are worth 80 credits allowing you to take 40 credits – which is likely to be two modules – from any other department. In total, this will mean you have around 11 hours of lectures, 4 hours of tutorials and 6 hours of labs a week. In second and third year, you will have roughly 12 hours of lectures or workshops and 10 hours of labs a week.   

What do I enjoy about Chemistry?

I particularly like physical chemistry (the maths-y, physics-y bits) and the labs. Last year, I really enjoyed the electrochemistry lecture series – so much so that it inspired me to get an internship in battery technology at Imperial College London over the summer. I also really like the lecture series and modules that centre around quantum mechanics because the ideas and results of the quantum world are weird!    

Some advice for Chemistry

  • Labs are a scary concept at first, but they really are nothing to worry about! I went to a school/sixth form where I’d done very few experiments and the idea of spending 3 hours in a lab at a time was terrifying. However, the first-year lab sessions are fantastic for teaching you basic skills that are required throughout the rest of your degree, and they really help build your confidence.
  • You aren’t necessarily told everything in lectures – there is a requirement to look in a textbook and seek out practice problems and read around the subject. Practice problems are, for me, the best way to check my understanding of the chemistry taught to me, and often the problems give me a better understanding of the concepts than I otherwise would have. 

Discover more

Our Department of Chemistry provides a thriving centre of scientific activity for teaching and world-leading research in the chemical sciences. Ranked 5th in the UK in The Guardian University Guide 2022, we deliver high-quality teaching and offer the opportunity for students to be actively involved in a department with an international reputation for cutting-edge science. 

Feeling inspired? Visit our Chemistry webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes. 

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Louis Jones

Hi! I’m Louis, a third year natural sciences student from Josephine Butler college studying Chemistry and Physics. Outside of my degree, I’ve done running, rowing and Olympic lifting and I am slowly eating my way through every restaurant in Durham!

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