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Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Ishika Saha (India), MChem student

Why did you choose to study Chemistry at Durham University?

I chose to come to Durham for my studies in Chemistry for several reasons, the department’s consistent high rank being perhaps the major determinant. Its high rank in terms of safety and quality of student life were major factors in my decision as well. 

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

As an international student that had grown up in an entirely different background, the thought of having to start afresh in a society with different ideals and traditions was quite frankly, unnerving. However, my first weeks at Durham were beyond anything I had ever hoped for. Between academic advisors, tutors, college mentors, college parents and the college executive, it was impossible to not feel instantly at home. I found everyone to be very approachable and easily made friends. It has been an exciting few months being exposed to different cultures from around the world.

What is student life as a Durham University like? 

One of the best things about the collegiate system is the number of people you meet outside your course. There is hardly an instance when you are not around people, meaning there is very little scope to miss home. That said, it is always possible to find a quiet place in this picturesque city. There are innumerable societies to join, ranging from debate to salsa to free fall and one is sure to find something to one’s fancy. The University is very enthusiastic about sport and every college has its own teams, meaning that there is ample opportunity for everyone to take up a sport and try something new.

What do you enjoy most about studying and living here?

Even though I have always enjoyed Chemistry, my studies at Durham have made me look at the subject in an entirely different light by exposing me to aspects of the subject I had never before considered. One of the things I have come to particularly appreciate is the way the course is structured. Between lectures, tutorials, problem classes and ready advice from professors, it is possible to explore study material to a great degree of detail. All the professors have an open door policy meaning that one can seek clarification to problems with the guarantee of a prompt reply. However silly your question may be, someone will always be there to help.

In your opinion, what is the key to successful acclimatisation to studying Chemistry in Durham as an international student?

The conditions at Durham are ideal for having an all rounded student experience. Durham allows one to explore aspects of both academic and general learning outside one’s comfort zone. The Chemistry course is structured in such a manner that as long as one is consistent in their study, there is plenty of time left to devote to other activities.

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

Durham students have a thriving social life. One meets people from different backgrounds not only in college but in the department itself. The division of the course into lectures, tutorials, problem classes and practical sessions means that one works closely with a large number of people. Between college formals and balls and society socials, the social life at Durham can be quite busy.

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

What comes to mind instantly is the process of looking and signing for a house for next year since most students tend to live out in their second year with a group of friends. Working out our budget, going through the legalities of signing a contract etc. was definitely a challenge. At the same time though, the relief once we signed was unparalleled. I believe however, that in general, the entire process of learning to become independent while at University is a challenge and a success in itself.

What are your career plans and goals for the future?

I would like to do a PhD in Chemistry and possibly move into the industrial sector thereafter.

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

Although I have loved the subject, one does not really get the scope to explore it in much depth while in school. I believe that this course of study will help me to crystallize my interest into fruitful research going forward. With the international recognition that a degree from Durham University has, I believe I will be able to pursue this goal.

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

The transition into University life is a daunting process to say the very least, but having spent a term at Durham, I say with the greatest conviction that the effort I had to put into the sometimes tedious journey up to University was more than worth it. If you come with an open mind and the wish to meet new people and try new things in one of the most picturesque locations in the world, you are sure to have the best time.