We had an Applicant Day today, when we invite people who have applied to study Physics at the University of Surrey. 22 applicants came, many with parents, to see the Department and the Univeristy. As usual, my involvement started in the morning, when we (the academic staff) hang around in the Physics Seminar Room when everyone is arriving and chat to them over coffee. I'm not a great one for small talk, but I managed to spark up some conversation okay. There are usually good ways in - like asking people how the journey in was, and stuff like that. I moved on to the weather, then asked the applicants if they had just had to sit some A level exams, to be told that they have stopped them at January. I should have know that, really, but I hadn't picked up that this change had come in so quickly. The exam boards must have needed to get their skates on, given the long and careful process they use to prepare exams.
The next stage is more socialising. At lunchtime when the applicants are off getting a tour and lunch with the current students, the parents stay in the department and have lunch with us. The lunch is a sandwich buffet provided by the University catering department. It's quite decent as these things go, and for some reason, they brought far too much today. The picture shows the state of things after everyone had had their fill. The emptiest plate is the one with the batter-coated chilli cheese things that leave a satisfying greasy spot on your paper plate after you've eaten them. In case you worry about the waste of food, you can rest assured that such a quantity of leftover food never seems to go to waste in a University. The student grapevine soon gets to work.
A little later on in the day, we have a kind of interview with the candidates. It's not an interview in the sense that we are using it to decide whether or not to take the students, who have actually already usually been offered a place with a conditional A-level grade requirement. Rather it's to have a chat about the applicants' interests and about the University and the course. I only had two students to see today, and had an enjoyable chat to both of them. For the rest of the afternoon, when not with me they are in the practical lab. Ostensibly this was set up (by me when I was admission tutor) to be a place where we would demonstrate some experiments and talk about some physics concepts, but it has since transformed into a place where - although that happens a little bit - the applicants all end up chatting to each other, and with the current students who demonstrate the experiments. When I pop in there to pick up or drop off the applicants for our "interview" I'm more likely to hear the applicants being told about the nightlife in Guildford as a diffraction grating. It's certainly good that they get a holistic view of life at the Uni.
I hope the applicants and their parents had a good day. We must be doing something right. Our current first year is our biggest ever, and the lousy picture I've included at the top of the post shows a photo taken with my phone of the video display screen in the Department. It's a slide from a couple of weeks ago showing that our application numbers are up quite a bit on what was already a record year. We just learned today that, with applications via UCAS now having just closed, that we have gone past the 1,000 applicants mark for the first time.