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Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Valentina Erastova (Russia)

MChem graduate and PhD student

Why did you choose to study Chemistry at Durham University?

I went to a chemistry school in Russia. Since I knew English I decided to study in UK.

I was 16 years old at the time and applied to a few top chemistry universities. I got accepted by all with a condition of taking a gap year, while Durham accepted me with a condition of living in St. Mary's College, an all girl's college at the time.

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

When I graduated I was looking to do a PhD. I considered other Universities but was offered a grant to stay in Durham. Since I always liked working with my supervisor (who I had worked with as an undergraduate) and the project seemed the most interesting of those offered to me, I decided to stay.

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

I had to come to Durham one month earlier for the language program, so by the time when all other students arrived I already knew Durham a little bit.

The fresher week was interesting and welcoming, I met many new people. Also there were a lot of activities organised by college, that one can chose to participate in.

What is student life as a Durham University like?

As well as work commitments, there is time to spend playing sports, participating in different societies and going out.

There is a large number of sports to chose from, many are college team sports, though personally I have never participated in those, as I don't like team sports. As well it is great to have such a large number of different societies. They allow students to try new activities always at very affordable price. I have finally started dancing - this is something I always wanted to but previously never had time and easy access to.

What do you enjoy most about studying and living here?

Durham is a truly beautiful city. Even though it is a very small place, after living here for quite a few years I am still not bored of it.

It is possible to walk everywhere in Durham, which makes meeting friends very likely. This should always be taken into account when estimating the journey time!

Durham city is a very safe and friendly place - that is very important for undergraduates. 

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

See Q4.  Durham city itself encourages socialising, while at the same time it offers a good environment to work.

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

As any student I had a number of challenging exams and deadlines, but I cannot state any being a particular one. While being at Durham I have won some awards and successively participated in many events. Many of my successes are linked to the challenges I overcame.

What are your career plans and goals for the future?

It's my last year of a PhD and I should be thinking about this, and I do. Currently I am looking at possibilities. Even though I am interested in research itself, I feel it is also necessary for me to mix it with some other disciplines. Currently I am editor in the Kaleidoscope, postgraduate journal and I enjoy it a lot. I am also participating in media and public events. I like these activities a lot and maybe I will take this route now or later. I am also considering studying patent law or some other subject to add onto my chemistry knowledge.

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

Durham has been a leading University in Chemistry for many years. Having a degree from here will most definitely widen my range of opportunities. A degree from such a University does not only provide the knowledge of the subject, but also develops other transferable skills that will be helping a graduate through whole of their life.

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

I would highly recommend Durham for doing an undergraduate degree. It is a top university, with the Chemistry department being one of the best in UK. Staff in the department are very helpful and friendly. Colleges also offer a lot of support and advice if you need it.

There are many international students in Durham and in my experience they always integrate very well. Local people find foreign students very interesting and, again, are extremely friendly (that may scare one a little, as it is not easy to understand local dialect at first).

The city itself is very safe. And, surprisingly for its size, has a lot of going on at a time. If that is not enough Durham is 15 min by the train to Newcastle where much more entertainment is available.

Durham is very easy to get to (from Moscow 6 h flight via Amsterdam). It is located on the main railway running south to north of UK and has 2 airports nearby.