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Student perspective: my first year on the BASc

19 July 2013

Avy Tennison shares the highs and lows of her first year on UCL's pioneering Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc) degree course. 

UCL Quad in summer term
Avy Tennison, a student on UCL's BASc programme

The BASc degree programme welcomed its first students in September 2012 and I was privileged to be one of them. There were four pathways to choose from: Cultures and Societies (under 'Arts') and Health and Environment and Sciences and Engineering (under 'Sciences'). I chose to major in Cultures with a minor in Health and Environment and, after much persuasion, my parents have finally accepted that this is so much more than the single honours English degree they thought I’d be taking! This way I can study literature in a variety of languages and pursue my interests in psychology. I defy any parent to protest that this degree isn’t both comprehensive and gloriously varied.

So, my first year as a BASc student is over, and while I have enjoyed it, a word to the wise: don’t take eight modules in one term. Do not, in fact, even dream of doing so if you wish to have a decent sleep pattern or any form of social life. At the time I made the decision to do this, our course administrator Amanda Cater patiently pointed out the amount of work I would have to do, but I wanted so desperately to take the courses that I’d picked, despite nearly all of them falling in the same term. I did hugely enjoy them, but by the end of the year I was shuffling around like a zombie because of the amount of work I’d taken on. Next time I promise I’ll listen to you, Amanda!

Through the Approaches to Knowledge module we were introduced to the flipped lecture system, whereby video lectures are watched in students’ free time and the lecture itself is more of a forum for questions. This really worked, so I was excited to see what the other core modules would bring.

While they were certainly engaging, the courses did throw us in at the deep end in some cases: for example the Interdisciplinary Research Methods (IRM) module required us to contact academics at UCL and interview them about their involvement with UCL’s Grand Challenges scheme. Because of the way our group divided tasks for this module, my friend and I interviewed two palaeontologists. As a more arty person I spent a lot of these interviews mildly dazed by the scientific jargon whizzing over my head, nodding politely and practising how to spell ‘palaeontology’ for my write-up! Nevertheless, the experience was invaluable as it forced us to think about how research is conducted in the real world.

Another 'real world'-type experience was provided through the group work that was required for the IRM module. Although it was useful in that we will have to work in teams in future jobs, and while we BASC-ers are a pretty close-knit bunch, there’s nothing like a helping of group work coupled with a side of deadline stress to stretch even the best relationships to breaking point!

The point of the BASc is that you get a grounding in both arts and sciences, but I definitely fall more on the arts side in terms of natural aptitude. For that reason, I found the Quantitative Methods module, in which we learned about computer programming and statistics, a little daunting. Assessment for this module involved setting ourselves a 'big question' and producing a report showing how we had tackled it over the course of a few weeks. One friend used a computer simulation to map a zombie infestation of London and calculate whether she would survive. I decided to work out whether America could conceivably take over the world if they so chose (according to my calculations, 100% of the time they could conquer well over half of the planet, and on some runs of the simulation they managed nearly 90%). With the ever-patient and infectiously enthusiastic aid of Dr Hannah Fry, I managed to get by with only a few tears and dramatic announcements of, “That is it! I give up! I can’t do this!”

I have adored my elective modules, which were mostly language and literature-based with psychology for my minor. My first year of Mandarin, meanwhile, has inspired a love of the language that I hope will propel me to master it someday, despite my nan’s ponderous comment on the subject of written Chinese: “But it’s little drawings what if you can’t draw? I’m no good at art, I wouldn’t be able to write anything!”

To round off the first year of the BASc, our final module came in the form of a conference: we were allocated to labs, which we took part in before presenting our findings to the rest of the course. In this way we learnt a lot about the different subject areas we all have an interest in (and being on a course as diverse as the BASC, there were a lot). We could have done with a bit more time in the labs themselves, however the conference was a great way of pooling knowledge and rounding off our first year by displaying all the varied interdisciplinary areas of the arts and sciences we had delved into.

It is still difficult to answer the generic small-talk question, “So, what are you studying?”, as it inevitably involves many stammerings along the lines of, “Well, it’s like the American Liberal Arts – except not really – I get to study loads of different things…" I tend to end this confusing explanation with a rather lame, "It’s really great.”

And I really do think the BASc is great. While those studying more traditional degrees may be happy with the stability their courses bring, upon hearing of our experiments and innovations many people have said that they wished the BASc had been around when they'd applied to university, making me feel grateful that I happened to be in the right place at the right time!

One final note on the elegance of the BASc programme must be made: all students can tailor their degrees to suit their own interests. For me this means next year will be filled with languages and literature – and I can’t wait to get stuck in!

This summer Avy will be performing in Deadly Theatre Productions' Titus Andronicus at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To find out more, visit the Facebook page or, for a sneak peek behind the scenes, check out the Kickstarter page.

Further information

Page last modified on 19 jul 13 10:04

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