Postgraduate research

Daniel O' Flynn

(Chemistry MChem)

As a local student I have always been aware of having a great university nearby to home. Since Loughborough ranks well in the university league tables for Chemistry and student experience I was instantly attracted to the campus university. Attending an open day confirmed that Loughborough was where I wanted to study for the next 3-5 years as I was really impressed with the Chemistry department, the campus and the sports facilities available.

I took Chemistry at A-Level and although finding it a challenge, I enjoyed it and knew that I wanted to take it further to degree level. I was extremely interested in the vastness of the subject and how it can be applied to a range of career paths (this was ideal because at the time I didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue). Additionally, due to Chemistry degrees being well-respected, I figured that having such a degree could also open up non-chemistry related careers, giving me other options.

Obviously, studying chemistry was never going to be a walk in the park, but I enjoyed the challenge of the course. One highlight was my MChem research project which involved the development of new routes to 1,1-diarylcyclopropanes. With the help of Dr.Pritchard, the project highlighted some great results allowing a novel reaction to be developed and new compounds to be prepared. I also presented the results at an SCI (Society of Chemical Industry) undergraduate symposium and won a prize for my presentation. My favourite modules were based in organic chemistry. I liked learning about a range of chemical transformations, manipulations and reactions, and how they can be applied to the preparation of much larger molecules.

All of the lecturers spoke clearly, confidently and with enthusiasm, and the level of teaching pitched just right for the audience. The course content is interesting, delivered well and the lecturers/professors are friendly and easy to talk to. The modules incorporate all aspects of chemistry including analytical, physical, inorganic, organic and radiochemistry and so the scope of the course is vast. During lectures and lab sessions any questions or problems from students were answered in an understandable manner. During exam period, I would usually have several questions about things I struggled on and in these cases all of the lecturers were extremely helpful and happy to set up a 1-to-1 meeting with me to explain where I was going wrong. Throughout the course of my degree I was able to obtain financial support (maintenance grant) from the university. I also found the support from the careers centre extremely useful when considering placement years, writing CVs and completing application forms.

Generally, a typical day may involve lab sessions running from 9am-1pm followed by a lunch break. The afternoon may then involve a mixture of lectures, workshops and tutorials. There are also well deserved free periods throughout the day and the occasional late morning start which is always welcomed. It varies from week-to-week. The evening then involved at least an hour of writing up coursework or revising for exams (depending on the time of year).

Between my second and third year I did a placement year at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Stevenage working in the Respiratory department labs. The work involved the use of organic chemistry in an industrial based environment, preparing potential drug molecules for the treatment of asthma and COPD. This was an exciting and interesting placement and allowed me to use what I’d learnt at university in real projects. I also presented my findings at meetings on a regular basis, enabling me to develop my communication and presentation skills. As well as the added bonus of getting a salary during the placement year, I found that I came back to university more confident, motivated and clear about what I wanted to do as a career.

I have decided to pursue a career in organic chemistry (academia or industry). With this in mind, I thought studying at PhD level would put me in the best possible position for my career goal. Luckily enough, I have been offered (and have accepted) a PhD position and can’t wait to start in Sept 2013.

I have really enjoyed studying chemistry and the last 5 years have gone unbelievably quickly, so I’m probably a little biased when I say "I would definitely recommend studying Chemistry at Loughborough". I’d say it’s challenging at times and the work load can creep up on you, but it’s well worth it if you put the time and motivation into the course. Think about what you like to learn about and what you enjoy but don’t be pressured into locking yourself into a single career path if you’re unsure, there’s lots of time for that later. The advantage of a chemistry degree is that everybody respects it and it can open up many doors in both chemistry and non-chemistry related jobs. Finally, do a placement year/summer’s the best possible way to see what industry is really like and whether it’s suitable for you. Plus, did I mention earlier that you get a salary?

The social atmosphere on campus is good, the campus has multiple social areas like restaurants, shops, pubs and clubs which are ideal for relaxing during free periods, getting lunch or going on nights out with friends. There are also large open spaces outside where people can socialise during the summer. The department has its own student society called ChemSoc. This society arranges events/nights out and the ‘Chemistry Ball’ which brings the whole department together. They also arrange sports tournaments for the department which introduces some friendly competition between fellow chemists. There are lots of sports and societies to choose from, a great campus atmospher and there are some top student nights out!