Milena Trmčić (Serbia)
Why did you choose to do your PhD in Chemistry at Durham University?
In the terms of quality and rankings, Chemistry Department at Durham is associated with epithets such as 'one of top chemistry departments in the UK' and 'research graded as world-leading or internationally excellent'. This good reputation was confirmed to me by the personal experience of my older sister, Dr. Jelena Trmčić-Cvitaš, who also got her PhD in chemistry at Durham University. In addition, I personally had a great experience as a summer research student at Durham Chemistry (in the group of Prof. Andy Whiting, two and a half years before staring my PhD). I was impressed by the Department and the gorgeous city as well. All of this contributed to my decision to choose the Chemistry Department at Durham over other PhD opportunities offered to me elsewhere (in Europe and North America). And if I could go back in time, I would choose Durham, again and again!
What did you enjoy most about studying and living here?
My PhD project took me through organic, bio-organic and physical organic Chemistry and was very challenging and exciting. The joy of doing interesting chemistry and learning a lot about different areas was combined with daily contact with very pleasant and helpful people around me, from the time of filling the initial PhD paperwork all along to my viva. The supervision of Dr. David Hodgson was very motivational, extremely supportive and educational; the lab group provided a good working atmosphere; it was a great pleasure to communicate with very kind, friendly and efficient people in the excellent departmental technical facilities. In addition, the collaboration between the groups at the Chemistry Department and also with other departments (e.g. Biology) was extremely good and useful, adding to the quality of the research.
Durham is a really gorgeous city. The advantages of life in smaller places are obvious. Even though Durham is a bit hilly, feet and bikes are the main means of transportation. You can run across people you know in the street; it feels safe, the atmosphere is warm, so you can really consider it home. If you feel in need of a big city, Newcastle is a 10-minute train ride away. Durham is kind of central in Britain, so it is quite easy to explore both Scotland and England, which is very important for the international students hungry to get to know the UK.
Durham University offers a huge number of additional activities. The ones that I took advantage of are sports. I played for the Durham University volleyball and basketball teams, the Ustinov College hockey team, enjoyed recreational squash, tennis, table tennis, swimming, rock climbing, cycling...This enabled me to continue competitively doing sports that I enjoy, try new ones, travel across UK and meet a lot of nice people.
All of this contributed to the successful completion of my PhD studies, which were for me a pure pleasure and no pain; meeting many interesting people and cultures, gaining some very good, hopefully for-life, friendships and having a very good time all three and a half years.
What was your biggest challenge and your greatest success during your time at Durham?
Starting a PhD in Chemistry with a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy was quite a challenge. I had to deal with many new subjects in chemistry, both theoretical and practical. This was sometimes very demanding but, with the great help of my supervisor, members of my research group and others, I think I could hold my own among other chemistry PhD students.
While in the UK, I totally stopped thinking in my native language, and felt as comfortable speaking English as I did speaking Serbian. I was actually able to completely understand local Northern (e.g. Newcastle) and Scottish accents! Possibly one of my best sport successes ever happened during my three years on the University Volleyball Team. From the second division in the Northern Conference, we got to the fifth position in the overall British Universities & Colleges Sport Volleyball League. I was extremely proud of my team mates and myself!
What is your current job?
Since the completion of my PhD studies, I have held a permanent research associate position at the Chemistry Department, University of Belgrade, Serbia. My work involves organic synthesis, with the aim to produce novel anticancer drugs.
How is your Durham Chemistry PhD degree helping you achieve your professional / career goals?
My PhD in chemistry from Durham University has enabled me to present myself as a desirable candidate for many job positions, both abroad and back home. As a result, I have got a position that makes it possible for me to continue doing research in the academic environment that is both very interesting and pleasant. In addition, the experience of constant exposure to the English language made me very comfortable to communicate in English, both privately and professionally.
Is there any advice you'd give to other international students thinking about doing postgraduate degrees in Chemistry at Durham University?
Durham Chemistry Department offers a wide range of research areas and many interdisciplinary projects with joint mentoring and supervision. The technical facilities are excellent, well-equipped both with instruments and experienced staff, enabling good progress in research. Durham is a place where you can learn a lot of science and get additional skills that will surely help you towards your professional goals. This has proven to be true in the examples of all my friends from the department and myself - all of us found jobs that we wanted! The department and the Chemical Society organise lots of useful lectures, but also other activities, like student-stuff cricket and BBQ, rounders, Christmas parties, Chemistry balls and others, where you can have fun and get to know people better.
Beside enjoying postgraduate studies, you should definitely: go to the Gala Theatre on world-cinema Monday evenings, the films showing are phenomenal; try rowing, I missed it and cannot get over it; join some sport society or any other kind of activity, try new things; meet many people, but not too many; just enjoy every second spent in Durham. I know this may seem like a Durham University advertisement, but these are very much my honest feelings, memories and opinions about Durham Chemistry and about England - an amazing part of my life!