Cosmic Grades: Unlocking the Future of My Astrophysics Journey

It's Friday, 28 July, 2023: Judgement Day. Today is the day that I receive my grades for the Strathclyde STEM Summer School.



There is a lot riding on this grade, as I have been working towards this moment for a long time. After getting a very disappointing D for my SQA Higher Mathematics exam the previous year, I completed the Access to STEM course at college, passed with flying colours, and applied for an integrated master's degree in physics at the University of Strathclyde.



Having passed the access course, Strathclyde gave me a conditional offer for entry to the degree: that I had to pass their STEM Summer School with a 70% grade in mathematics. Six weeks ago, I started the summer school, worked through all of the material, completed the end-of-topic assessments (getting 90% for these overall), and sat the final exam. And for the last week, I have been waiting for my final grade. The anticipation and suspense has been unreal. 

The Gateway to My Astrophysics Dreams

Let's start with me waking up this morning. It was 6 am, and the first thing I did after opening my eyes was check for my grade. We had all been told that our grades would be communicated through Strathclyde's Pegasus portal, so I went straight to the website and logged in. I clicked on every tab and menu option that I thought might take me to the course results, but I couldn't find anything. Frustrated, I closed my phone, and forced myself to go back to sleep. I told myself that my grade would be there when I woke up, and I should just put it to the back of my mind.



Having gotten another couple of hours of sleep, I got up, got dressed, poured a cup of tea, and switched on my TV. I've been watching the Talkville podcast, as I'm making my way through Smallville again, so I put the podcast on in the background to keep my mind occupied. Rather than continually checking my phone, I decided to boot up my laptop and keep the Pegasus portal open, checking it occasionally while watching TV. Unsurprisingly, but annoyingly, my results were still nowhere to be seen. 



I continued refreshing the page for the next couple of hours, getting more and more anxious as time went on. While I was checking the Pegasus portal, I also went on to the MyPlace course pages. When I checked the mathematics course, I noticed there was a section labelled "Grades". Excited, I clicked on it and found that it was a list of my grades for the course. My end-of-topic assessments were listed (for which I already knew I got 90%), and although there was a grade for the written section of the final assessment, there was still no final grade listed anywhere on the page. I did find out that I got 14.5/15.0 for the written section so that was very promising, but I was so frustrated that the overall grade hadn't yet been published.

Heartbeats Echoing: The Grade Is Revealed

After checking the portals in vain a few more times, I had all but given up and just resigned myself to the possibility that my grade may not be published until later in the day. Until I suddenly remembered receiving my grade for the summer school two years ago. I had a memory of checking for my results on my phone, and it wasn't on the website - it was on the Strathclyde app. I might have felt stupid in that moment, if it wasn't for the fact that the university told us to expect the results on the Pegasus portal. I was so annoyed that I had been continually refreshing pages on the wrong websites. But as soon as I realised that all I had to do was open the app, I grabbed my phone and went straight to the results tab.



My heart could have exploded. I was nervous, excited, apprehensive, and overwhelmed with anticipation. My grade loaded on the screen, and I froze. Not only had I passed the course, I had done it with a 90% grade!

I didn't know what to do with myself. It actually took a moment for the realisation to set in. I did it! All of my hard work had paid off, and I had passed the summer school. The first feeling I remember was one of relief. I was just so relieved that I succeeded and didn't need to worry anymore. After the sense of relief, I felt a burst of excitement, as it dawned on me that I was now going to university. I gathered my thoughts and went to tell my parents the good news. They knew that I had been waiting all morning for the result and were very excited for me when I told them my grade. My dad immediately started talking about preparing for university, and my mum was just so relieved for me that I didn't need to wait any longer. I could tell that they were immensely proud, and that gave me a boost.

From Doubts to Resilience: Lessons Learned

This is a huge moment for me. I've been working towards it for the last three years, and I'm finally going to university. The next step on my journey towards becoming an astrophysicist. 



I've always been very aware that astrophysics involves a lot of complicated mathematics, and that fact was the most daunting through everything that I did. Given that I had already failed my higher maths exam and the mathematics summer school in the past, I didn't have much confidence in my abilities and thought that I may not be able to make it. However, going through the access course and studying maths, from the basics through to higher level, really put things into perspective for me. It showed me that I could do anything, as long as I put my mind to it and did the hard work. 



Although I had greater confidence in my maths skills, the summer school was at a slightly higher level than the material I was used to at college, so it was a challenge. I was worried that I wasn't good enough to do it, but I have learned that I need to believe in myself. I remember looking at some of the topics and the material in the summer school and thinking that they were quite scary in terms of difficulty. But I managed to get to grips with each and every one of them in a very short space of time, and I can look back on it and be incredibly proud of myself. 



I know that there will be many more moments through the degree that will scare me, and I will struggle to understand some of the concepts. What I need to remember is that I have done it before and I should have faith in my ability to overcome my fears.

Friends Who Lit Up My Academic Path

There are many people in my life who encourage me and me and push me to succeed, not least all my friends and family. Among them all, there was one person who really lit up my journey through college and summer school. I remember meeting my classmates at the beginning of the college year, and she stood out right from the start. We had to introduce ourselves as part of the first communication class, and it turned out that we both shared a common interest. From that moment when she turned around and winked at me, announcing that she loved astrophysics, I knew that we were going to have a good connection and go on this journey together.



I was always impressed with her tenacity and her determination to get better with every single class. I could feel the passion for learning in her, and that energy always spurred me on to do my best. It was a wonderful privelege to watch her grow throughout the year and realise that the passion was only getting stronger. And I sometimes get the feeling that there was a mutual admiration there. There was a running joke between us where she would call me "Sir Duncan", usually after I got a good grade for an assessment, or I managed to explain a concept to my classmates and help them understand it better. Although it was a joke, I could tell that there was still sincere sentiment behind it.



Since we finished college, she has still kept my spirits up and encouraged me to keep going. Her faith in my abilities has never wavered, and that has been absolutely priceless for me. Thank you to this very special person. I am so grateful that we crossed paths, and although you won't be joining me at university while you're at college, I really hope that we stay in touch and continue to support each other through our separate journeys. 

Carving My Space in Astrophysics

Now that I have my mathematics qualifications, I can look forward to university. The next step is receiving a full offer from Strathclyde, when I will accept and start making preparations for starting the degree. I actually checked UCAS today to see if my conditions had been fulfilled, but I wasn't expecting to see anything. I know that I need to allow Strathclyde some time to go through all of their conditional offers and post firm offers, so hopefully that will come in the next few days.



In the meantime, I will keep up-to-date with all things astrophysics, but I'll also take a break from studying. I'll focus more on this blog, writing about my thoughts and feelings as things happen, but also taking some cosmological concepts and trying to put them into terms that you all can understand. 



Thank you for joining me in this triumph. Even if I have managed to inspire one person to follow their passion, and I've shown them that anything is possible if they put their heart and soul into it, that will make me a very happy chappy. Follow me on all of my socials for updates on my journey, and feel free to drop a comment on one of my posts if there's anything you'd like to ask.



Love and peace, everybody, and keep looking up!

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