Shin Wei Chong
MEng Chemical Engineering with Industrial Study, 2021
Microfluidics PhD student, University of Sydney
Originally from Malaysia
I am currently working towards my PhD, where I am interested in applying microfluidic approaches to understand cell behaviour and how to modulate it by changing the cell microenvironment. My day entails a range of research activities – from keeping updated with the latest literature in my field to working in the lab and presenting my research. Beyond my main PhD work, I am also involved in teaching-related activities.
What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
There are plenty of opportunities to interact with people from across different research areas. It is very exciting to be working in an interdisciplinary environment because I am surrounded by a broad set of ideas and perspectives, which means that there is always something new to learn!
What made you interested in doing a PhD?
I have always had a keen interest in life sciences, so when I was introduced to the world of microfluidics by one of my lecturers at Birmingham, I was fascinated by the potential of this technology as an alternative platform to animal models for studying fundamental problems in biology and healthcare.
How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
After graduating from my MEng degree in Chemical Engineering, I moved across the world to join the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Sydney for my PhD. It has only been a couple of months since I started, but safe to say my time at Birmingham has prepared me well for a smooth transition from my undergraduate studies to my PhD research. I continue to apply my chemical engineering knowledge in my current work (especially the fluid dynamics part), but I am now able to focus on biomedical-related problems – which represents the best of both worlds for me.
What motivates you?
The curiosity to keep learning and a desire to contribute to improving the quality of human lives.
Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
I chose to study Chemical Engineering for my undergraduate degree because I was more interested in the formulation aspects of engineering, particularly those relating to healthcare technologies. I saw that this is one of the core research strengths in Chemical Engineering at Birmingham, so naturally it became my top choice.
What are your fondest memories of the University?
The friendships and connections that I established; amazing staff who helped us navigate through our degree programme, all the hard work and fun times… Initially, a 5-year degree might sound like a long time but in retrospect, those years went by so quickly and you’ll be amazed how much you can achieve within that time.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?
I participated in The Birmingham Project at the end of my first year in 2017. My group had the idea of establishing a student-led community garden on campus as a solution to our challenge titled ‘How to build a healthy campus?’. Our group was selected as the category winner and after the event, we continued working on implementing this idea which eventually led to the ‘Grow with Joe’ community garden in the University’s Green Heart. This experience, I think, taught me a lot about managing a project and collaborating with different partners across various disciplines.
How did your time at university help you start your career?
The staff in Chemical Engineering are very supportive of us obtaining industrial experience whilst at university, and there are plenty of career events held in the School, and at University-level, that exposed me to a range of potential opportunities out there. I had several work placements including at Jaguar Land Rover and GlaxoSmithKline (Consumer Healthcare), which was especially valuable in providing me a platform to develop and hone my soft skills. Even though I am currently not working in industry, these skills have been very useful in my PhD work which requires a lot of organisation and problem solving.
What advice would you give to current students studying on your degree programme?
No doubt some days can feel quite tough, but if you persist at it, all your hard work will be worth it. You will also realise how many doors a Chemical Engineering degree from a university such as Birmingham can help open up after graduation.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I had a truly great learning experience during my 5 years at Birmingham. Special thanks to my lecturers and peers for making my time at the School of Chemical Engineering a wonderful one.
“It was during my time at Birmingham that I learnt about academic research as a potential career path. I liked the idea of having the freedom to explore problems that I am interested in, so when it came to choosing what to do after graduation, I decided I would give this a go.”