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Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Julie Thye (Denmark)

MSci graduate and PhD student

Why did you choose to study Chemistry at Durham University?

I went to the European School of Luxembourg and so was used to studying in an international environment. I was not quite sure what I wanted to study, but knew I was interested in science. Durham was one of the few places offering Natural Sciences, which is brilliant for figuring out what you want to study. I knew it was between Chemistry, Maths and Physics and so I looked at how the universities did in the rankings and realised that Durham was one of the best. The fact that Durham was based on a collegiate system greatly attracted me (terribly cliché, I know) as it felt very Harry Potter-like and is unique to the UK.

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

After graduating I was planning on going travelling, but needed money. I went to Denmark to work as a teacher for a few months during which I visited Durham a few times - I really missed it and I didn't feel challenged enough, so I decided to look into further studies. I had a short meeting with Prof. J. Howard, head of the department at the time, and she introduced me to several research group leaders who then explained which projects they had available. I love Durham and thought it'd be nice to do a PhD in a place I already knew and where I knew the department.

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

Everything was quite confusing (I did Natural Sciences) but it was great meeting new people all the time. I think I was probably permanently stressed out what with trying to go to all my lectures, join every possible society and socialising with my new friends. I was overwhelmed by how friendly people were.

What is student life as a Durham University like?

Fun! There are so many things to do and so many interesting people to meet. It can get busy but at the same time it is worth it because you know that you'll have a degree from Durham at the end. It's difficult to fit everything in as there are so many things to get involved in, but the terms are quite short... However, it is possible to cram a lot into the short terms!

What do you enjoy most about studying and living here?

Durham is a picturesque, cute city - anyone will say that. It's a friendly city and all the staff I have encountered, college and departmental, have been really nice and helpful. There are students from all over the world, societies to suit anyone's taste and just so much going on that it's impossible not to get involved.

Everyone I met during undergrads miss not being here anymore and keep coming back to visit... Many people have, however, stayed on which I think proves what a great place Durham is.

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

The student community at Durham is tight-knit; for most people, college becomes family. People have come to Durham because they're intelligent, and it's interesting how many random people with completely different interests and lives you can make friends with. People are here to get a degree, but also to have a good time, which can be seen in how many things people get involved in and how many crazy ideas come true. One of my friends got an idea for a society and after a few weeks of gathering signatures and planning it, he set it up. It's amazing how much is going on and I love the fact that everyone's encouraged to get involved. So, the student's social life is great (it's hard to wander through town at night without seeing at least one club/committee/ group of friends out in fancy dress!). Students want to make the most of their time here and the collegiate system as well as lectures are great for ensuring that you meet a variety of people with similar and different interests, doing different degrees, members of different colleges and people from all over.

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

My biggest challenge in Durham so far was my fourth year as an undergraduate; trying to balance working hard in the lab and still being involved in a ridiculous number of sports teams and committees was tough. My biggest success was probably when I raised over £2000 for charity to go on the first DUCK (Durham University Charities Committee) trip to Thailand at the end of my 3rd year...it was so much fun.

What are your career plans and goals for the future?

I'm only in the 1st year of my PhD and I have not got any particular career plans right now, but I know that I enjoy learning about science as I think it's useful for the future... There are so many things to be discovered. The only thing I know for certain is that I want to see different parts of the world!

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

A Durham Chemistry degree will help me if I want to work abroad as a degree from Durham is internationally recognised. It will be possible to do nearly anything I set my mind to, as I think my degree will prove that I am willing to work hard. My degree also includes many other skills, so that my studies will have provided me with the ability to work as part of a team, analytical skills, communication skills etc. Basically, all the skills employers look for will have been encountered at some point during my degree either through the department or through extracurricular activities.

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

Go for it - it's been so much fun! Don't worry if you find out that you have done less than everyone else or that you find it more difficult to remember what you're learning, because that just makes it so much better when you get there in the end having done just as well as everyone else. The Chemistry department is extremely well-organised and it's such a friendly one - I was never scared to ask for help whether it was for exam preparation, assignments or just general information!