Thursday, July 03, 2008

Talking to young 'uns

I spent today helping to man the Natural Sciences booth at the university's Open Day (more tomorrow), talking to sixth formers and their parents visiting Cambridge to find out about coming to university here. Late in the day we were standing about talking about how shockingly young some of the prospective applicants looked when I realised that this lot were born in the NINETIES and are applying to university. Much shock and horror from us ancient PhD students. People born in the decade after us have no right to be fully formed human beings yet, surely.

It was actually a fairly enjoyable way to spend the day out of the office and feel like you're doing something vaguely worthwhile. I did really enjoy the NatSci course and it is nice to be enthusing about it to young 'uns. Without the course there would be no way I would be working on the Great Barrier Reef following little blue and yellow fish around -- this was definitely not part of the game plan when fresh out of my high school's molecular biology-heavy A level course. I'm not sure when the epiphany struck. Possibly actually very early on, in the first week of Evolution and Behaviour lectures in my first year, when our sage old Cambridge don lecturer demonstrated to us the courting behaviour of the male long-tailed widow bird by crouching behind the lectern, then leaping all at once squawking into the air. What better subject could there be?

It was interesting talking to them because it reminded me how competitive and important it all seemed back then. (Not that it isn't actually competitive and important, it just seems less so in hindsight.) You had to choose the right subjects; know what to say in a personal statement; be prepared for interview; worry about whether 89.8% counts as 90% (!), and it just sort of goes on and on in a big stressful litany. Thank goodness that's all over (though I probably speak too soon, as the selection process for the real world rather than university still lies somewhere in my fuzzy future). Speaking to loads of new people was also really fun -- they run the gamut, from those who come right up to you and say, they are going to do neuroscience, what are the research opportunities and do I need to find a third year project as early as I can; and then there are those who "like animals"! Personally I rather like the ones who just like animals. Like I tell them, it's a pretty good start.