My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

RSC ChemCareers 2011 Postgraduate Competition

As I wrote in my progress report post, I was selected as a finalist in the Royal Society of Chemistry‘s ChemCareers 2011 Postgraduate Competition. This competition offered postgraduate students the possibility to present their research, either as a poster or a presentation, to other students as well as industry. I decided to take part as I always like talking about my research and, more importantly, learn about other research going on in the wider field.

The first part of the competition required the participants to upload their poster or presentation to the MyRSC postgraduate group within a specific field of chemistry (materials, analytical, computational etc). Once uploaded, other members of the group could ask questions about the works. At this stage the work was judged by 4 student judged who asked questions as well and judged the participants on scientific content, style/presentation and discussion/response to questions.

In total 29 of the originally submitted work was selected for the final: 4 from each category (and 5 in one due to a tie). I was lucky enough to come top in the materials category as judged by peers, so I was very happy about that. However, there was then the final part of the competition, which was to be judged by people in industry.

The final took part at a networking event at the RSC’s Burlington House in London, where posters were exhibited and for those of us who had presentations, presentations given. It was a really enjoyable event, even if it was meant to be a competition, mainly due to the friendliness of the judges, the organisers and the other participants, all of whom were really interested in each other’s work. The good food and drinks on offer also helped.

Presentations over, and the results were in! Even though I didn’t win, I was really happy to be one of two to be given an honourable mention for my work. It showed that the applied and interdisciplinary nature of my research is appreciated even within a pure chemistry forum.

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PhD: Mission Complete!

Three years of work have finally come to an end!

My viva was on Wednesday 19th October. My sister surprised me with a visit to be there for my viva, which I really appreciated. This meant that the night before I just relaxed with her rather than stressed about the next day, which was a good thing.

As is normal, I didn’t know what to expect with the viva. However, luckily for me, it went better than I could have even imagined! The examiners immediately put me at ease – having an experienced examiner was a definite plus.

I felt that most of the questions I got were from the broader chemistry field rather than specific to my PhD. This meant that I had no way of preparing for them. However, the examiners talked me through what they were trying to get out of me such that at no point did I feel threatened.

The lines of questioning meant that I learnt more about my work by thinking about it from a different view point. I believe that this, after all, is what a viva should be about (in hindsight of course!) – you consolidate what you knew but also realise what you didn’t realise you knew!

I emerged from the examination room in around 1.5hrs, PhD in hand! No corrections was the final verdict – what more could I want?

All that is left is that I thank everyone who I have been in contact with through the PhD and who believed in me, from my colleagues in Pisa, to the workshop attendees, people who donated photographs, to conference participants who discussed my work with me. Of course, big thanks goes to my colleagues at UCL and TNA and particularly my supervisors: Matija, Nancy and Kostas – I couldn’t have done it without all of you!

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November 2011
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