Quantum Journey – coming to the end of SM358

This week I finished the last of the books in SM358 – the quantum world and am now starting two and a half weeks of intense revision to prepare for the exam. This has been by far the most enjoyable module to study in my Open University mathematics journey so far, even if it was also the first one without face to face tutorials.

While I am very happy at studying on my own, one of the aspects I have really enjoyed in previous modules was spending a few hours every month with fellow students. Not so much to solve problems (as I am always well behind where everyone else is!) but to be inspired. When work and family commitments get overwhelming, study is easy to put to one side, having a checkpoint in the diary helps prioritise and I always left tutorials feeling motivated. I’m not sure whether SM358 didn’t have face to face tutorials because it is a physics module or if it’s just a module that has never been successful with these. Online tutorials are just not the same. Partially because I don’t get home early enough to attend them, but also after a day at work, trying to switch to student mode and find a quiet corner of the house just isn’t possible.

Fortunately, this course was engaging enough that I managed to keep on top of it, albeit about 4 weeks behind constantly, but I wish there had been the opportunity to engage with my tutor other than through email. The assessments were all done in time, despite my percentages inversely correlating with some pretty harsh deadlines at work, and I’m pretty happy with the results. The decision to do only one level three course this year rather than the two I attempted last year was the right thing to do!

What has really struck me about this course was how all of my previous subjects of study have really come together. The pure mathematics of the degree course so far, particularly complex numbers, group theory, and calculus, gave me an advantage in the mathematical side. My first degree in biochemistry gave me the thorough understanding of the periodic table, familiarity with spectral lines, atomic bonding and the overall properties that quantum theory was trying to explain. As I came to the end of the last book, everything I had studied up until that point started fitting together. I think there’s certainly a case to be made for a longer combined undergraduate degree that includes the equivalent of (bio)chemistry, physics and mathematics together, probably over six years, to give students a deeper grounding in how these subjects interact.

The poem at the enbd of the book really struck home for me. I finally feel that I understand concepts that were introduced at a basic level back in my A-levels. I’m back where I started, but it’s familiar. The parody song by A Cappella Science really sums this up. With this course, I feel intimately familiar with every part of this song. If you’ve not seen Tim Blais’ work before then you’re in for a treat – watch his whole back catalogue.

While I have a single module left to do after this one to complete my maths degree with the OU, I can guarantee it won’t be the end of my education journey.

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.

6 thoughts on “Quantum Journey – coming to the end of SM358”

  1. Hi, very much enjoying your posts! Revisiting OU study myself in October and have found your posts very motivating and inspiring! All the best.

  2. Hi Janet,
    I am also studying a maths degree with the OU. I’m currently studying first year. As its my 3rd degree (first was an arts degree, second in classical music) and I’d like to use my time as wisely as possible, I would love to speak with you about your experience of the degree, the pitfalls, different modules, exams etc. If this would be of interest to you I’d be delighted to speak with you. Many thanks for your time, Laura

  3. Hi Janet

    Thanks for your nice posts about your OU experience. I’ve just started a Math & Phys degree with OU but I have some questions and doubts in my mind. I would like very much to have a brief chat with you, if you could.
    Thanks for your time


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