Elizabeth New (Australia)
Commonwealth Scholar and PhD graduate
Why did you choose to bring your prestigious Commonwealth PhD Scholarship to Durham Chemistry?
I knew that I wanted to study in the UK, and when I was looking around at the different departments, Durham really stood out to me as having a lot of really strong groups in areas in which I was interested. When I talked to my undergraduate lecturers, they also suggested that I come to Durham - and I'm really glad that they did! I was fortunate to get the Commonwealth Scholarship, because it meant that I could come to Durham, and that I wasn't restricted to universities which have more endowments for international students.
What did you enjoy most about studying and living here?
I came to really love Durham, and the surrounding areas. Coming from a country where no buildings are older than the 1800s, it was amazing to live near a thousand-year old cathedral and castle. There are so many beautiful places to visit within 90 minutes' drive of Durham, so it was great to be able to explore the area on weekends. I also loved being so close to Europe, and being able to plan trips there with my friends. I certainly saw much more of the world while I was in Durham!
What was your biggest challenge and your greatest success during your time at Durham?
At first it was daunting to move to another country and try to negotiate the different accents, customs and food! But I found that living at Ustinov College, amongst other international students, made the transition much easier.
My greatest success - it was great to have a problem to tackle throughout my PhD, and to be able to look back and see how much I'd learnt. My project involved gaining an understanding of the cellular behaviour of a broad range of luminescent lanthanide complexes developed in Prof. Parker's group, and it was great to be able to use a wide range of tools, both chemical and biological, to study this. I also loved getting the opportunity to present our work at a couple of European conferences, and to present posters at British and international conferences.
What has been your career path since obtaining your PhD at Durham?
Since I graduated from my PhD, I've been working as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. My fellowship is from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. I am working under Professor Chris Chang on developing tools to better understand the roles of copper in the body.
In January next year I will go back to Australia, to take up a lectureship in Chemistry at the University of Sydney. It's where I completed my undergraduate degree, so I'm very excited to be going back. I'll be lecturing in inorganic chemistry, and running my own research group, working on understanding redox stresses in the body.
How has your Durham Chemistry PhD degree helped you achieve your professional goals so far?
I have no doubt that my PhD from Durham helped a lot in obtaining an academic job back in Australia, but, perhaps more importantly, the experience helped develop my skills as a scientist. I learnt to so much working under such a great supervisor, and interacting with the other academics in the department. Since Australia is relatively isolated, I really enjoyed being closer to the action; having access to equipment, hearing great seminar speakers from across the UK, and being able to attend conferences in Europe and throughout the UK.
Is there any advice you'd give to other international students (or, specifically, to potential Commonwealth Scholars) thinking about doing postgraduate degrees in Chemistry at Durham University?
I'd say definitely to go for it - I loved my time in Durham, and it's a great place to do postgraduate study. Being an international student in Durham is really the best of both worlds - you get to interact with all the postgraduate chemistry students who are following the same path, and share the experience with them, but you also get to be part of the vibrant international community in the university - it's a great chance to learn about much more than just chemistry! I also think you should make the most of all the opportunities that Durham has to offer - learn as much as possible about the area, and about English culture.