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Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Cen Chen (China)

MChem graduate and PhD student

Why did you choose to study Chemistry at Durham University?

The chemistry course at Durham University is definitely one of the best in the country (as stated in 'The Times Good University Guide').  Durham offers a very broad range of courses that bridge Chemistry well with other science subjects such as Physics, Maths and Biology. The depth of the chemistry knowledge provided by each course is also excellent. In addition, Durham is a pleasant and peaceful city that is excellent for academic study and research. Overall the high teaching quality, excellent research facilities, and good graduation job aspects encouraged me to choose Durham.

Why did you choose to stay at Durham for your PhD?

First of all my proposed supervisor Dr. Sharon Cooper had research projects available in the areas I am very interested in and she was very kind to offer me a place in her group. Secondly I knew the Chemistry Department and the staff at Durham reasonably well through my undergraduate course. This department has very advanced research facilities and the people here are very nice to work with.

What are your memories of the first few weeks as a newly arrived undergraduate student in Durham?

Durham is a beautiful and historic city. The town has a large student population in so it is a very active place. People here are kind, friendly and willing to help. I have lived in Collingwood College ever since I arrived and it is a welcoming community. I would imagine other colleges are very similar. 

What is student life as a Durham University like?

Many people would ask me: 'in a small place like Durham, is the student life very boring?' The answer is 'No, not at all'. In fairness, the life here is as busy and colourful as any other university. The normal study duty would occupy most of the weekdays. For Chemistry, this means attending lectures, doing laboratory practicals, writing reports, and loads of preparation and revision. Besides studying, there are various societies available to fill everyone's free time. In terms of practicality, Durham has many shops, restaurants, pubs, tearooms and a theatre/cinema, which are sufficient for everyday life. Also Newcastle is only 15 mins away by train and there are more shops, restaurants, pubs and cinemas.

What do you enjoy most about studying and living here?

What I enjoy most about studying here is the academic environment. Most of the students at Durham are very hard working; and this generates a very positive attitude and a good atmosphere for our study. For example there are always many students studying in the library, in the café area and many other places, no matter whether it is in the examination period or not. For living aspects, Durham has its natural beauty and it is a small, safe and friendly city. It can be very busy but is normally a very relaxing place, and this is what I really like about Durham.

What is the student community and students' social life at Durham like?

There are various student communities to join in Durham University, ranging from sports, art, music, language and many international societies such as the French, Korean and Chinese Societies. Here at Durham, the activities organised by sport communities mostly take place on Wednesday afternoon when there are no lectures for undergraduates.

For social life, Durham University is based on a collegiate system and each college will hold formal meals (followed by entertainment) frequently. Each department and community will also organise social events such as nights out in town and winter/summer balls. There are many pubs and clubs in the city and each college has its own bar that offers drinks at affordable prices.

What was your biggest challenge and your greatest success in your time at Durham so far?

My biggest challenge so far occurred in my final year of MChem course when I was away from Durham for an industrial placement at Pfizer. At that time, I needed to manage my project at work, finish my Durham distance learning courses, and also apply for next year's PhD position. It was a quite tough time for me, especially as an international student where there is restricted number of funding sources that I can apply for. Luckily, under the help of my Pfizer supervisor Dr. Cheryl Doherty, my Durham supervisor Dr. Ivana Evans, and my PhD supervisor Dr Sharon Cooper, all the problems were solved and I graduated with a high 2:1 degree as well as having a PhD project lined up for afterwards.

What are your career plans and goals for the future?

I would like to follow a career in academic research after my PhD, as this has been my dream and goal for years. The next step that I would take is probably to find a suitable postdoc position in a university or a research organisation worldwide. This is to gain more experience before applying for a permanent position in the relevant area.

How will a Durham Chemistry degree help you achieve these goals?

A Durham Chemistry degree is well-recognised around the world due to the Department's fame in teaching and research quality. As a result, it is one of my main strengths in competing with other candidates in a similar area.

Is there any advice you'd give to other international students thinking about doing Chemistry at Durham?

Chemistry at Durham would certainly be one of the best course choices. It has a good reputation and a promising future after graduation. However, hard work is required in order to make the most of the experience.