Why should a science grad do Relay?

Ally Macleod 18 Oct 19

As the three or four years of a uni degree tick by, there’s one question that every student eventually has to face up to: what am I going to do with my life after graduation? We’ve interviewed Christians who took different routes after leaving uni to help you think through your options from a Christian perspective. To kick off the series we spoke to Ally Macleod, a former Relay worker in Edinburgh.

Hi Ally! Thanks so much for agreeing to be our first interviewee in this blog series. You graduated a couple of years ago - can you tell us a bit about what your uni experience was like?

No worries, thanks for asking me! It’s 2 and a half years since I finished uni now (which feels pretty mental!). I studied Physics with Teaching at Strathclyde in Glasgow and had a wonderful experience. I made lifelong friends from various church and cultural backgrounds, but didn’t make the most of the chances uni offered me to get into the world of non-Christians in the form of sports teams etc. that I had been excited about before uni. I put this down to not having time, but I feel if I could have prioritised more efficiently this wouldn’t have been an issue. I also worked as a teacher for a year between uni and Relay, and I had so much more free time in uni, which amplifies that regret slightly.

After uni you moved to Edinburgh to do Relay, UCCF's ten month graduate training programme, working with Heriot Watt CU. What made you decide to do Relay?

I was good friends with a few people who went on to do Relay and heard so many good things about it. I also enjoy talking to people and discussing things with them. Different CU events that directly involved speaking to the campus (text a toastie, question boards etc) were fundamental in making me question, do research and learn how to put across why my faith makes sense to those who don’t know Jesus.

My staff worker was a pretty notorious recruiter for different CU events and floated the idea when I started 4th year. The chance to serve students and CUs similarly to the way in which I had been served was very exciting to me.

The study programme was another big part of why I was interested in Relay. Being a physicist, I’m more of a numbers guy and I don’t read all that much. This programme offered the chance to read books about many aspects of the Christian faith, which actually turned out to be a real joy!

At this stage in life, it’s a great chance to learn from people all around you about the Lord we all worship, the mistakes you make, and how to tell people about the glorious news he brings to us, and I’m so glad for it!

Lots of people reading this blog might not know much about what a Relay worker does. Can you give us a flavour of what your Relay year involved? What were some of the biggest joys and challenges?

So much!

I was lucky enough to read through different books of the Bible with a few students, Christian and non-Christian. This was a joyful and challenging experience in equal measure. I could have honest conversations with them, trying to point them towards what the Word has to say to them and share my experience of their particular uni situations. Together with an older student, I also led a hall group for freshers, going through Acts and a Bible overview.

This brought up big challenges to my own view of what I could do and my own self-reliance: a non-Christian fresher I met up with regularly said he was progressing in his journey towards faith, only to come up with the same objections no matter how many time I used the arguments I had at my disposal to try and dispel them. Through the advice of a fellow Relay,  I realised that by the end of the year, he didn’t actually want to believe the gospel. It was a blow to my pride, but a necessary one which showed me that God doesn’t work on our time, or to our expectations.

Our CU’s weekend away, mission week and follow up events were all things I was involved in putting together. We had a great team around us for all of these and seeing how much goes into them even at the early planning stages was really eye-opening.

Team life was a particular highlight for us in Team Scotland. Weekly supervisions with my staff worker and his other Relay were a great chance to both reflect and look ahead to what was coming up. We also had the chance to look through a book of the Bible together and lead studies on it when we met as a 3, while looking through another book when just meeting with my staff worker. Edinburgh team meetings every Friday allowed us to pray for the city’s CUs as a whole. We also had regular team days, where the whole of Team Scotland came together in Edinburgh to encourage, equip, be trained and pray for one another.

The team felt like a family with whom we could rejoice in all that God was doing and support each other through the rough and smooth of both ministry and real life itself.

One of your areas of focus during your Relay year was being involved with the Science Network, including taking the SN elective study programme. What did that look like?

There were reading materials and study responses to be handed in a couple of times a semester. The great thing about these is that you get feedback from published Christian scientists who have decades of experience in these areas. As well as the elective study, Science Network runs small Christian Persuaders conferences during the year*. I was able to go down to Newcastle and practice writing my first science-themed apologetics talk. This was scary, but was a great source of encouragement and feedback which I was able to use later on in the year, when I was asked to give one of the lunch bar talks during our mission week.

*Christian Persuaders conferences are training weekends designed to equip students, recent graduates and early-career scientists for public evangelism. Email science@uccf.org.uk if you're interested in coming along to a conference.

It sounds like you had a great year! What would you say to someone who's coming towards the end of a science degree and thinking about doing Relay?

It’s not for everyone, but please do consider it! Speak to your staff worker, past Relays etc. about it. I found that many of my course mates took the worldview of naturalism for granted, and were ok with that! I’ve studied with people at uni, and even taught teenagers at school, who do not see the connection between science and faith. The notion that science is a complete worldview is more prevalent than we think.
In my experience, scientists and science students (ironically) tend to be the least scientific people I’ve met when discussing this vital topic, and need to be made aware of this. An unwillingness to consider an explanation of the bigger questions outside of an equation or a test tube is difficult to get around, and while you won’t get all the answers on Relay, it’s a great help to try and start the conversation. People going into the working world need to be well informed, as those you work with will have put more thought into the issue than you think, and Relay allows you to engage with those kinds of thinking, and fall more in love with the Lord as a result.

The first round of Relay applications closes in early November. Speak to your staff worker to find out more and apply here.To find out more about the Science Network elective and other ways that Relay workers can get involved with the Science Network, read Relay worker Jemima’s blog post or get in touch with Emma Nicholls, the Science Network Coordinator, at science@uccf.org.uk

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