Living in the lucky post-war bubble
The life and times of a baby boomer are recalled in a new book by Surrey alumnus Tim Albert.
My journey towards studying Physics with Nuclear Astrophysics at Surrey – and my current role as a secondary school physics teacher – wasn’t a typical one. I was a single mum, working as a hairdresser but getting bored, and wanted to do a job I found interesting. Over the years, I’d surrounded myself with books and recordings about astrophysics and quantum mechanics but, having been out of education for a long time, knew that I had a long road ahead if I wanted to study at degree level.
After taking the GCSEs and A levels I needed, I finally arrived at Surrey and was ecstatic to be there. I was a mature student in my 30s, so I didn’t partake in the pub visits during Freshers’ Week, and at first I was mistaken for a professor, but this didn’t stop me making friends with my fellow students. I often asked them for help as they were very clever and far more computer literate than me!
I suppose my age made me more conscientious towards my work: I really wanted to be there and made the most of the facilities and the teaching. The fact that I had teenage children at home was difficult at times, but the University gave me plenty of support.
The academic staff in the Department of Physics were fantastic. As well as being inspiring teachers they were also researchers so we were kept informed of their latest research and publications. The facilities were out of this world: the labs were well equipped and run, and the library had endless resources and online data bases. I received excellent support from the library staff in using the free software and writing reports.
Outside of studying, I loved the Surrey Sports Park and the beautiful campus, but the best thing about being at the University was the lovely people. Everyone was so friendly and supportive: it was easy to make lifelong friends at Surrey.
The degree was challenging but I was passionate about physics so I found it rewarding. While the nuclear astrophysics and general relativity modules were the ones that interested me the most, I really enjoyed the whole course. The achievement of my physics degree can never be taken away from me. That’s the wonderful thing about education: you get out as much as you put in and it’s yours forever.
I decided that I wanted to inspire other people to study this wonderful subject, so continued my career journey with a PGCE to enable me to teach physics at secondary school. With a shortage of physics teachers in the UK, I had the pick of jobs once qualified and found a wonderful independent school for girls (St Teresa’s Effingham) near to my home where I blossomed as a teacher. During my time there, the school had an inspection and my lessons were mentioned twice for excellence in the report.
This September I will begin teaching physics at Epsom College where, as a female physics teacher, I’m aiming to inspire more girls to take physics at A level. As a teacher I feel so lucky to be able to talk about physics all day long. The best days are when a student says ‘oh I get it now’, or when they have a huge grin on their face because they’ve done well in a physics examination.
Find out more about joining the University as a mature student.