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Chemistry graduate Megan Critchley talks about her experience and decision to pursue a PhD

MChem Graduate and PhD Student

What made you decide to study at UCLan?

I chose to study at UCLan because of the location away from home, not too far but not too close! In addition, I really liked the chemistry course; it is not a big cohort, which allows for plenty of hands-on laboratory experience to concrete the theoretical knowledge and apply it into practice. The course content being so varied also appealed to me, especially the medicinal and green chemistry aspects.

Upon attending an Applicant Day, I felt like UCLan was the right place for me, where I could see myself studying, but also I felt like the course was able to support me as I undertook my undergraduate degree, especially after not being as confident at A Levels. Overall I really liked the UCLan campus, location of halls were close by, and the university is close to the city centre.

Megan Critchley
Megan Critchley

What was it that attracted you to the course specifically?

As previously mentioned, it is a small cohort, a lot of hands-on experience, especially with equipment like NMR, IR, LCMS, UV-VIS-NIR. I have had the opportunity to use these machines hands-on in most lab sessions, which adds to employability and skill set.

I originally applied for the BSc but upgraded at the end of my first year to the MChem, which I think, is one of the better decisions I have made, as the MChem allows for a triple-credited research project module, alongside three taught modules.

For my PhD, there was a studentship working with Dr Robert Smith, in an area I had done an internship with, and had an interest in the subject. I applied for the studentship based on the project and supervisory team, as I had previously worked with them.

What are the facilities like?

JB Firth Building houses the chemistry laboratories and analytical suites. We also use some labs in Maudland. The labs are great for teaching in, there are always technicians on hand as well as the leading academic for that module/practical’s and student demonstrators in most taught practicals, so plenty of people to get advice from, and question techniques. The analytical suite houses a multitude of equipment, such as 300MHz & 400MHz NMR, UV-VIS-NIR, IR, LCMS, HPLC, GCMS, RAMEN, SEM and XRD to name a few. Majority of the analytical techniques I have hands-on experience using, and the technicians can support you, and train you on equipment if needed.

What is the teaching like?

Chemistry is a high contact hour course, with a lot of lectures, seminars and laboratory sessions. The teaching varies from different lecturers, however I really liked the lecturers that asked questions, really engaged you into what they were discussing. The teaching team is made up of a variety of experts in their field, and majority are available to go and discuss issues with you about lecture material or assignments.

Have you been involved in any projects? If so, please describe and detail how they have benefitted your learning.

Throughout the degree you undertake a variety of group mini projects, and a solo chemistry research project. All these projects tend to be laboratory based, allowing you to utilize your knowledge and apply it to different situations. They also help develop skills such as team working, organisation, problem solving and decision-making, which are essential for future careers as well as helping you to  understand core chemical concepts and put them into action in the lab.  I have done two summer internships.

The first one was at the end of my second year; I applied for the URIS scheme, to work with Dr Robert Smith and Will Stockburn. This was a non-laboratory internship looking at science communication. This project improved my time management, lone working, written communication and organisation.

The other research internship was working with Dr Robert Smith. This internship improved my laboratory skills, including purification techniques, scale-up reactions, and improved analysis skills in NMR, LCMS and UV-Vis-NIR. It has also allowed for basic understanding and practical experience in a microbiology laboratory, which helps when coming to utilise this skill in my PhD. The internship allowed me to put the theory into action in a working research group and this internship really helped my problem solving ability, using my knowledge from undergraduate to try to overcome obstacles.

Without the latter internship, I would not have been able to have knowledge and additional practical experience for a range of techniques that I use regularly in this PhD project.

Have you had to overcome any obstacles during your time at UCLan?

Throughout my degree at UCLan I really struggled with self-confidence. I attained poor A Level grades despite putting in the hard work, and came to UCLan a bit unsure of who I am, and what I could achieve. However, throughout the degree I have pushed myself to work hard, go the extra mile and try new opportunities that took me out of my comfort zone.

One memory that sticks out from your time at UCLan so far?

As cliché as it sounds, walking across the stage at graduation will always be a highlight, so much hard work and achievement for me to get to that moment, and it was great to have my family their cheering me on, as they had been a great support throughout my undergraduate degree.

Some other stand out moments:

  • Going to Barcelona with the Maths Society;
  • Presenting my research (1st internship – URIS Scheme) at their internal presentation. Winning the YSC Demo Competition 2018 (then performing it at LSF)
  • Since embarking my PhD: presenting my research at two conferences has to be a highlight and having synthetic methods published online on ChemSpider Synthetic Pages.

Any tips to prospective students?

Once at uni, get involved, use this time to develop who you are, take part in paid work, volunteering and sports and societies as they allow you to develop great skills for future careers, and really work hard at your degree, make sure you pick the right subject for you. Undertake internships that could help you specialise or decide what to specialise in.

All your experiences at university (work, internships, volunteering, socialising with societies/sports teams) all help you develop and improve skills required for the workplace and are great examples for application forms, and interview questions.