What is it Like to Study Chemistry?

Chemistry at Imperial College London – Areeb

Areeb hopes that his MSci in Chemistry
will lead to a career in academia

Areeb is working towards an MSci in Chemistry at Imperial College London. Areeb has lived in London all his life and achieved an impressive 4 A*s in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Further Mathematics at A-Level. Despite obviously excelling in a number of subjects, it was Chemistry that captured Areeb's imagination and lead him to applying to the course at Imperial. We caught up with Areeb to find out more about his studies:

What inspired you to study Chemistry?

Since I began my studies within Chemistry, I have realised its importance in a whole array of applications and I intend to use my chemical knowledge to benefit the medical community. Prior to my undergraduate studies, I undertook an Open University module in ‘Molecules, Medicines and Drugs’. This allowed me to understand the importance of molecular design in antibiotics for example and how certain structural features of a compound account for its biological activity.

Furthermore, I was looking to undertake a degree which had a significant extent of intellectually challenging theoretical concepts but one where I was allowed to apply the theory that I learnt in a practical manner. In addition, Chemistry teaches one how to be objective, how to reason and solve problems.

Why did you choose to study at your university?

The first reason I chose Imperial College is because the campus is situated in the centre of London and the surrounding atmosphere is constantly buzzing, whether it is at 9am or 11pm. This means that there is always something new to do and explore.

Secondly, Imperial’s Department of Chemistry has its historical roots as the original Royal College of Chemistry (RCC). The Department is still situated in one of the earliest RCC buildings on the South Kensington Campus and this aspect of historical significance appealed to me. Although the department is one of the oldest it has been upgraded over the years with world class teaching and research facilities, including well equipped laboratories.

Lastly, Imperial College also places a strong emphasis on a practical chemistry education that is relevant to industry, which is invaluable for a career in academia. All of the Chemistry degrees at Imperial include intensive laboratory experience, which provides a framework for developing transferable skills alongside chemical techniques and scientific method.

What do you like about the course?

The course is very fast moving with there being a constant excitement in conducting new experiments on a weekly basis, allowing us to consolidate what we have learnt during the course. I thoroughly enjoy the constant challenges thrown at us and in addition to this the competitive environment at Imperial. There is a good mix of theory based modules ranging from biological chemistry to quantum mechanics which believe it or not feed in to each other and allow you to extend your knowledge in the subject and appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of Chemistry.

What learning methods does your university employ?

The Chemistry degree at Imperial College requires a significant amount of independent learning, where you are expected to extend your knowledge of the subject beyond lecture notes. After every experiment you will always be assessed either through an individual lab report where you critically analyse your findings or through vivas (discussions with a member of academic staff) about the experiment. At the end of every year there is also a group project, encouraging everyone to work together in a team of approximately 6-10 students to research/solve a scientific issue. Lastly, the department also employs a series of seminars in the different fields of chemistry from external speakers from industry.

What aspects of the course do you find difficult? Does the university support you well?

Time management is highly important and the efficiency at which I can work has definitely been challenging at times. However, deadlines set are always reasonable and tutors and lecturers are always approachable and open to discussion out of teaching hours to talk through any problems you may have. In addition, if you do encounter issues with particular courses, the staff provide interactive problem classes at the end of each module to rule out any difficulties you may experience with the theory, ensuring that everyone is confident with the concepts ready for the end of year exams.

How do you fund your studies? If you have taken a part-time job please include details.

Throughout my undergraduate studies I have been employed as a part-time tutor, teaching Science and Mathematics to classes of students ranging from Year 9 to A-Level three times a week.

What about the social side of things at university, does a Chemistry student find much time for it? What sort of things do you get up to?

Chemistry at Imperial College is an extremely intensive and time-consuming degree. That said, there are opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities. I have always been a fond believer of the 'work hard, play hard' attitude and this has enabled me to take on many activities outside of my degree. During my first year I was an active member of Imperial College Finance and Entrepreneurs Society, through which I made it to the semi-finals of ‘Imperial’s Apprentice Challenge’. In addition to this I mentored students from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring they had the awareness and motivation they needed to apply for their chosen degrees at leading universities in the UK. During the last two years I have been on the committee for a wide variety of societies, some of which include the Imperial College ‘Save the Children’ Society, Entrepreneurs Society and Bright Futures Society.

Commuting to university from home for the past two years, I actively try to find time to meet and go out with friends, whether they are on my course or from other courses at Imperial. Moreover, as someone who is very fashion-oriented I am also a freelancing model and partake in photoshoots on a monthly basis, which helps me to take my mind off Chemistry.

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated? If you’re moving on to postgraduate study please tell us about your career ambitions as well.

After I have graduated I plan on undertaking a PhD in Organic Chemistry/Chemical Biology, after which I hope to undertake a post doctorate and secure a position in academia. During my postgraduate studies I also hope to be a part of/set up a couple of start-ups.

How has your university supported your career aspirations?

In support of my ambition to move into research/academia after graduation, Imperial College has provided me with many opportunities to undertake research placements (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) during the summer of my second and third year for a duration of 8 weeks each. The first of the two placements was conducted at Imperial, whereas the second was conducted in the United States of America at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During my third year I was very passionate about securing a research placement abroad and in America in particular. At the time, such an opportunity was not available and after having extensive discussions with the department I managed to initiate an exchange programme between Imperial College London and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After being selected by both departments to take part in the scheme, I can truly say that it was a rewarding experience and I hope it continues to run in the future. Moreover, there are an endless number of opportunities to interact with employees from industry through regular networking sessions and company presentations.

Personal tutors are always willing to share experiences, answer questions and offer guidance on career options and ways to support your interests. They are always very open minded when offering advice and it is the honest, open discussions which have helped me to learn more about the professional choices which may follow the degree and what to expect when entering the science industry.

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