Jack Lownes - Class of 2015

Jack Lownes (MSci Chemistry, 2015) tells us how he's made the transition from undergraduate to PhD student

“Whatever you do, don’t fall down the steps!” were the words that were running through my head on my graduation day last July. I was about to graduate from the University of Birmingham with an MSci in Chemistry. I did not fall down the stairs and I returned to my seat certificate in hand! As I sat through the rest of the ceremony I had some time to think back over the last four years and reflect on my time as an undergraduate. My personal highlight was performing in concerts with the University Chorus at Birmingham Town Hall, an experience I’ll never forget! I’d also been involved with loads of ChemSoc events and my time as a Student Representative gave me the chance to meet loads of new people throughout the University community. I’d met some wonderful friends and been a part of some great things.

Having spent the last six months of my degree in a research lab, I knew that this was where I wanted to make a career. With this in mind, I started applying for PhD projects. After a few weeks I was absolutely thrilled to be offered a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at Birmingham; an offer I grabbed with both hands. So although graduation and saying goodbye to some of my friends was hard, I knew that I’d be back soon.

Returning to Birmingham in September felt like coming home. Although things were hugely different now that I was a postgraduate, staying here made the transition easier and allowed me to be more focused on research during the early days of my PhD. The most striking thing about being a PhD student is the greater amount of responsibility and how differently people treat me just for having some letters after my name. Even though I’m still technically a student, doing a PhD is much more like having a regular job: I’ve had to learn to be independent at work, deal with success and failure, and manage my time in a way that every day is like a mental game of Tetris. It can be difficult challenging, and frustrating at times; but it’s also immensely rewarding when reactions work and you make the molecules you want. Challenges are there to be overcome and I love getting home after a busy (and sometimes successful) day feeling like I’ve achieved something, made a contribution to something good, solved a problem that’s been there for weeks, or made the molecule I want.

On a final note, a few months ago I was phoned by an undergraduate student working for the Alumni Office. She asked me “what advice would you give to me as a first year?”. I’d been put on the spot so I gave a mumbled answer of the usual clichés. But it got me thinking, and eventually I came up with this: you’ll only be an undergraduate once – make the most of it in whichever way you choose.

In summary, I loved my time at Birmingham as an undergraduate. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

If like Jack you would like to share your story, please email eps-community@contacts.bham.ac.uk.