Access and Widening Participation


Department of Physics and Astronomy

This case study comes from the UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy and focuses on their computational physics workshops.

Name of the project: Computational Physics Workshops

What is your role at UCL?

Dr Mark Fuller - Outreach Coordinator and Ogden Science Officer (UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy) 

What were the main aims of your project?

To expose A Level students considering a degree in Physics / STEM to coding. An essential skill that is contained in many degrees that many pupils never had the chance to learn at school; especially those pupils from schools that are under resourced. 

Who else did you work with?

Two undergraduate students developed much of the material, based on a previous small-scale program that ran the previous year.  From the lessons learnt this larger scale (60 pupils) required additional undergraduate helpers to give the extra attention to maintain a 1:10 Mentor to Pupil Ratio.

A bid to the central UCL Access and Widening Participation team under their Long Term Initiatives program funded pay for the undergraduate helpers, event resources and a post event celebration, where pupils presented their work to their peers.

Describe the project

The project took place over 9 weeks, with five 2.5 hour workshops in PC labs in the first weeks, followed by drop in workshops where groups delivered a project based on what they had learnt.

The event reused material from a previous workshops, but enhanced it through prior evaluations and best practise.  We added project work and presentations at a celebration event to give the pupils the best overall involvement in the university experience.

We targeted Year 12 pupils that had previously engaged with one of our outreach activities, contacting schools in our target groups to advertise to individual Year 12 pupils studying Physics and related A-levels.

How did you evaluate the project?

We used evaluation questionnaires at the end of the sessions to find out about pacing and level of content so adaptations could be applied to ensure the sessions remained relevant to all.

Every pupils was also interviewed at the end of the workshops in small groups to collect their experiences.  With a final questionnaire at the end of the entire project sent digitally. 

There was a good response rate (~90%) and we showed that the pupil’s appreciation of what is expected from them in a Physics degree and that their confidence in applying for a degree in Physic both increased by the end of the session. (We noticed a small drop in confidence after the first two sessions – as some of the pupils begun to realize what they didn’t know – however this recovered and exceed initial expectations). 

We plan to follow up with all pupils long term to see how their experience helped their decisions on their choice of higher education destination.

What went well? 

We had an excellent retention rate with less than a 10% drop out rate across the 5-week of workshops. 

My personal highlight was the undergraduate leaders that demonstrated exceptional mentoring of the pupils, growing in their own confidence and ability to teach complex coding.

Do you have any advice for someone running a similar project?

The project required the devotion of the university students to develop the resources and run the activities.  Supporting their contributions over the years is critical.  However it’s critical that the project can continue after they graduate and leave the university, so training new undergrads to maintain the project is essential.