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Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Darius Rackus (Canada)

MSci graduate and PhD student

Why did you choose to study Chemistry at Durham University?

I actually came to Durham to study Molecular Biology & Biochemistry.  In my first year, I was required to take Core  Chemistry 1A.  Before coming to university, I never saw myself doing chemistry at degree level, but was actually surprised how much I enjoyed the first year topics and lectures.  As a result, I switched into the MSci course in biology and chemistry.

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

I chose to stay on in Durham for postgraduate studies for several reasons, but I would say that the main reason decided to stay was my experience with my fourth year project.  For my undergrad, I had the opportunity to work in a field of chemistry I had no experience with-electrochemistry-and found it to be really exciting.  Because of the relationship I was able to establish with my supervisor in my undergrad, I was offered a project which lent itself to multidisciplinary work, which I find more engaging.  Durham, both University and City, also seem to have a magnetic quality, which was another reason I chose to stay.

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

As an international student, my first few weeks in Durham were really exciting as everything was new, both surroundings and culture.  They say that university is a great opportunity to start with a blank canvas, but I think I felt that to be more true studying in another country.

What is student life as a Durham University like?

Student life at Durham University is vibrant, engaging, and supportive.  The opportunities available to students are endless, and there is always something for everyone, as well as something new to try!  The support at Durham is also fantastic, on every level.  Academically, staff members are friendly and helpful, both in and out of lectures.  Student welfare is also taken very seriously and help is always available from students, colleges, and the university.

What do you enjoy most about studying and living here?

Durham has so much to offer its students.  As a postgraduate, I get to work alongside world-class researchers who are leaders in their fields, with all the support from a top chemistry department.  As an undergraduate, I felt that Durham was successful at creating an environment where I felt safe to try new things.  I had the opportunities to design and coordinate the largest fireworks display in the county, conduct a university orchestra, and have a go at research as a summer placement student.  These are all things I never would have felt I could have done before coming to Durham.

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

The college system plays a large role in student life.  With around 16,000 students, there are a lot of opportunities and resources across the university.  At the same time, being part of a college means you are part of a smaller community with meaningful relationships and support.  College is where most social events happen, from balls, formals, and large events throughout the year.  Most of my friendships were within college, and, as a result I had friends studying all sorts of degrees and coming from a variety of backgrounds.  I think that the college system is why I enjoyed my undergraduate degree so much and made my experience very different from my friends' back home.

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

My biggest challenge and greatest success in Durham was organising my college's annual fireworks display.  You could say that it was chemistry in action!  This took a whole year to prepare and involved nitty-gritty health and safety, design and choreography of the show, and organising a whole team of students to set off the pyrotechnics at the precise moments.  In the end, having a crowd of over 2,000 people go 'oooo...' and 'ahhhhh...' at my work was a fantastic experience, and I don't think I would have had the same opportunity anywhere else.

What was your most rewarding experience as an undergraduate

There is a great need in this country for science teachers.  During my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to work as a Student Associate in a local school attached to their science department.  I got to work alongside students, plan and deliver lessons, and work to raise aspirations for higher education.  This was a really rewarding experience and gave me a lot of insight into a career in teaching.

What are your career plans and goals for the future?

I am not 100% what my plans are for the future as I do see several opportunities available to me.  Currently, my project is in conjunction with a spin-off company, and I could see myself working in R&D or pursuing an academic career in higher education.

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

Not only has my degree given me a good foundation in chemistry, the transferrable skills I developed along the way have prepared me for whatever venture I choose to take on in the future.  Problem solving is definitely at the centre of a Durham Chemistry degree, and is an invaluable skill that I know I will use.

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

Ultimately, your time at university is what YOU make of it, so where you study shouldn't matter.  However, Durham provides you with so many opportunities so that you can make the most of your degree and your time at university. Because studying in a different country can be a big decision, make sure you have all the information you can get.  Getting in touch with the Department and colleges before applying is immensely helpful, and both staff and students are happy to answer questions.