Dr Matt Keith
MEng Chemical Engineering, 2015; PhD Chemical Engineering, 2020
Process Development Chemist, Johnson Matthey Plc
In my job, every day is different! Sometimes I'm in a lab making catalytic converters, and other days I'm testing those catalysts, analysing data or supporting our manufacturing facilities around the world. There is quite a lot of problem solving in this role, as well as the opportunity to meet lots of different people from all the countries we operate in.
My work often involves validating new raw materials – that means making sure our products are of consistently high quality if a supplier expands their manufacturing processes in order to keep up with demand. Other key projects involve working with product development chemists to make sure new catalysts are manufactured properly in our processing plants. It is very varied work!
What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
For me, it's the opportunity to be hands-on a lot of the time – sitting at a desk most of the day doesn't really suit me, but it's rare that that happens! In my work, I'm in the lab probably around two thirds of the time.
What made you interested in your current role?
The reason I chose to study Chemical Engineering was through a desire to improve sustainability and that's why I applied to work for Johnson Matthey after my PhD; around 90% of their products contribute to the UN's sustainability goals. In terms of this specific role, I get to work on projects ensuring our catalysts are always high quality and within specification, which means they will meet global emissions legislation. This helps keep the air clean and people healthy, which is in line with the sustainability goals I've had for a long time, and allows me to use the skills I gained whilst studying Chemical Engineering at Birmingham.
How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
I've actually had two jobs since finishing my PhD, both at Johnson Matthey! I started as an Applications Engineer which involved organising different types of testing, running research programmes for new catalyst formulations and supporting customers. With this came a lot of data analysis which I enjoyed initially, but after a time I wanted to spend more time in lab. That's when I started looking for other opportunities within the company, and so I found and applied for my current role as a Process Chemist.
What motivates you?
The desire to make a difference. I am very pleased to be able to work for a company which prides itself on acting ethically and a company who makes products which help reduce people's impact on the planet.
Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
Simply put, it felt right. I had seen Nottingham and Leeds Universities on Open Days and had visited the campuses of universities in Liverpool and Manchester and they were all good, but nothing struck me just how Birmingham did. I stepped off the train at University Station on a grey, damp Thursday morning in October 2010 and as soon as I saw it, I knew that this was it.
What are your fondest memories of the University?
Meeting students, running lab sessions for undergraduates and running events as part of Carnival RAG, the University's largest student fundraising society. The most enjoyable part of doing my PhD was the teaching I was able to do as part of this, particularly in lab sessions. To be able to engage with others, share knowledge and demonstrate key engineering principles was incredibly rewarding.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?
Yep – during my PhD I was Vice-President and then President of Carnival RAG. This mostly involved planning and running events, working with external charities and ultimately trying to raise as much money for charity as possible. We organised and ran nights out to different cities, hitch-hiking events, and national and international challenges which aimed to give students the experience of a lifetime, whilst raising thousands of pounds for good causes.
How did your time at university help you start your career? What was your biggest influence?
Studying at the University gave me the opportunity to explore; to generate ideas, test them out and then problem solve when things didn't go so well. This exploration has, I think, developed resilience which allows me to face lots of different challenges, both at work and in my personal life. Amongst the biggest influence were my research supervisors who provided amazing support and guidance throughout my research project, whilst giving me the time and space to figure things out independently.
What advice would you give to current students studying on your degree programme?
Enjoy it as much as you can! I was very lucky during my time at Birmingham and loved it, but it can be very challenging. If anything ever feels overwhelming or too much, always reach out to your supervisor, other students or friends and family. It's also always worth getting involved with some extra-curricular activities as they definitely enhance your time at university and there's nothing quite like them in the working world.
“University is a wonderful place to develop as a person and UoB encourages this in a unique way. There are many opportunities within the University and the Guild so try out new things – you may find something which sticks with you for life.”