Chemistry

I decided to study Chemistry because it is the central science and overlaps with Biochemistry, Physics, etc and the opportunity to engage with the other sciences was a big attraction for me.

What do I enjoy most about Chemistry? The tutorials. The opportunity to be taught by some of the best academic chemists in the world is a real privilege, and overcoming the academic challenges presented in tutorials is highly rewarding. My best memory of studying Chemistry was the end of an Inorganic Chemistry lecture where the lecturer demonstrated the great oxidising power of liquid oxygen by setting fire to things.

Dan, St John's, 3rd year

I really enjoyed Chemistry at school and felt that with each new topic, I was piecing together an amazing picture about why things react. This has continued to degree level; sometimes you feel that your different lectures aren’t connected, but once you step back and look at the big picture, you realise how everything fits together. You’ll hear about it a lot, but the tutorial system is as good as people say. Tutorials are a great way to learn from others. Seeing another person think a problem through is just as beneficial as having the answer explained to you by a tutor.

In my second year, I had the opportunity to study History and Philosophy of Science as a supplementary subject. This was a fantastic experience, as it really got me thinking about how all the scientific theory I was learning fits into a broader historical context. The philosophy, especially the bits relating to quantum mechanics, was pretty mind-blowing!

Olivia, Hertford, student from 2010

First year covers a broad range of topics to give a strong foundation of understanding. The material is split equally between Organic, Inorganic, Physical and Maths, (taking Further Maths at A level is highly recommended, but many manage without!) Second and third year both offer optional course elements allowing you to diversify into new areas as well as plenty of time in labs to improve your practical capabilities. Fourth year is effectively the Master’s component of the course where you’ll have the opportunity to work on an individual project within one of Oxford’s leading research groups with no additional teaching or exams. (NB it is expected that all students complete all four years of the course, the last year isn’t considered to be optional.)

What makes Oxford different?

The fourth year spent as an active member of a research group is a fantastic way to develop your practical skills as well as giving you the opportunity to make a real contribution to science (it’s always a great feeling when you finally have that Eureka! moment). Many people decide during this year whether a career in research is right for them.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Georgia Scurfield

Try the monthly online chemistry challenge at c3l6.com - the higher levels are quite difficult so don't worry if you don't complete it each time, but it's really great for stretching your problem solving skills outside of the syllabus! Also, I bought a couple of the chemistry-related titles from the 'A Very Short Introduction' series. They're usually inexpensive on Amazon, easy to understand and gave me some ideas to expand on in my personal statement.

Georgia, St Hilda's, 2nd year

Periodic Videos is a YouTube channel containing odd chemistry which can be quite cool.

Sean, Worcester, 2nd year

Elegant Solutions: Ten Beautiful Experiments in Chemistry by Philip Ball was very interesting and I talked about one of the experiments at interview.

Dan, St John's, 3rd year

Tell us about your interview?

Georgia Scurfield

I had three interviews: two at the college I applied to, and one at another college (the one that offered me a place). My advice would be when preparing for interviews, don't spend time researching "extra talking points" such as Oxford or the college. I (unnecessarily) prepared answers to these topics, and looked into some history of science, and my interviewers' fields of interest, but from my experience, the questions they ask just test your knowledge and aptitude for chemistry (and a bit of physics and maths). I wasn't even asked why I chose the subject. So I think the best way to prepare is to revise your subject as much as possible, maybe read ahead in your course a little, because the majority of questions were just expanding on what I'd learnt already.

Although this probably changes from year to year, the topics that came up in my interviews were: periodicity, pi bonds and covalent molecules, some electrochemistry; I was also asked to draw quite a few diagrams and draw/interpret graphs such as Boltzmann distribution and the ionisation energies across a period. In one interview I was asked more physics and maths questions - such as some relatively simple differentiation, and I had to recall some basic physics formulae when discussing bond stretching.

Georgia, St Hilda's, 2nd year

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Chemistry interviews for more information.

Find out more

Course length: 4 years
Students per year: 175
Typical weekly contact time in first year: 10 hours lectures, 1 or 2 hours tutorials, 2 afternoons of labs, 1 problem class

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.

You might also find it helpful to hear from students studying Biochemistry, Biomedical Sciences, Earth Sciences, Materials or Physics (or even consider applying for those courses!).