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Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Wee Kian Pek (Singapore)

MChem student

Why did you choose to study Chemistry at Durham University?

The Chemistry department at Durham University is highly ranked amongst the UK Universities and enjoys a good longstanding reputation. It is one of the best Chemistry departments in the region and is well-equipped with an excellent research facility.

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

It is my first experience of education in an overseas institution, and I was really adjusting to life of being a student again after my compulsory military service in Singapore. The weather was gloomy and cold, nothing like what I experience back in my tropical home, but the people here, both the staff and my course-mates, are warm and welcoming. I remembered I felt slightly awkward being an international student amongst all the locals, but we made friends easily and that helped me assimilate into the culture here in Durham.

What is student life as a Durham University like?

Being an undergraduate in Durham University we learn how to be more independent in our degree. Long gone were the days in high school or secondary school where students can rely solely on notes and handouts given by their teachers to survive their examinations.

Being an undergraduate a lot more discipline is required of each individual to stay abreast of their work and timetable their weeks to complete assignments. The mixture of individual and group work allows us to learn how to work independently as well as cooperatively with others, a life skill all should pick up. I am very grateful to the Chemistry department for their meticulous planning and structuring of lessons to allow us to learn at a comfortable pace. The professors and lecturers are helpful and would never reject help to students who need them. Academic tutors assigned to every student also offer advice when needed; they often prove to be invaluable referees in work/internship applications.

Living in a college is part and parcel of most Durham undergraduates' lives. College life is as amazing as one allows it to be. The Formals, Balls, Socials, or even just the company of friends make college life interesting.

What do you enjoy most about studying and living here?

I enjoy experiencing new cultures and making friends here in the United Kingdom. I spent 21 years of my life living and studying in Singapore, and when I came to Durham, everything had to change. Everything once familiar to me was not there, my family, my close friends and even the style of education. I like the challenge of assimilating into a new environment, learning how to interact with the myriad of people I meet here, and making friends with them. It broadens my perspectives and gives me new outlooks of life, experiences which I would not have had if I had stayed back in my own comfort zone in Singapore.

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

Unlike many metropolitan universities in large cities, there are fewer distractions here in Durham. However having said that, studying here offers a balance of both education and activities in which we can participate out of the classroom. There are a thousand and one societies ranging from cheese/wine appreciation, to martial arts and sky-diving. I believe most Durham students have 'study-life' balance, where they juggle their academic commitments with the activities they do out of the classroom.

For internationals the International Students Association and the various country societies like Singapore Society, Malaysian Society, etc are active student bodies here where students from different countries can still find a home away from home. I believe these societies play a big role in helping freshers assimilate into student life in Durham.

There is also a good mix of international, Erasmus and local students in Durham, which makes living in Durham interesting. The exchange of culture and knowing people from all over the world is definitely an enjoyable experience.

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

The biggest challenge I encountered here in Durham has to be the initial mental barrier on my expenditure, as everything was priced in pounds and hence relatively expensive when compared to my home country.
My greatest success was being able to experience studying overseas in a renowned university and share my thoughts with potential juniors interested in studying Chemistry in Durham.

What are your career plans and goals for the future?

Being on a government scholarship I will be serving as a civil servant back in Singapore upon graduation. I will however, not discount the possibility of going into research and academia work to pursue my interests in Chemistry in later years of my life.

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

My degree course has taught me the importance of time-management and social networking. Especially in the final year of MChem, devoting sufficient time to different aspects of the degree is vital, where laboratory work usually takes up the major portion of the time. The laboratory work and final year project, dissertation writing and presentation experiences equip Durham Chemistry graduates:

  • i) with the confidence to do independent research,
  • ii) to engage colleagues socially in day to day work,
  • iii) to structure our minds for proper writing,
  • iv) with the confidence to present our ideas to superiors and co-workers alike.

These experiences and life-skills will prove to be helpful in dealing with my future work.

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

Durham Chemistry strikes a balance between time-tabled academic commitments as well as time for independent research and building up of life-skills essential to work life in the future.

They offer a range of quality and well-planned engagements, in terms of mass lectures and small group tutorials to assist students to grasp the concepts being taught. What's left is the student's initiative and attitude towards learning.

Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. -Lou Holtz

Most people say that is it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character. - Albert Einstein