Rachel Evans

Chemistry (MChem), followed by a PhD in Physical Chemistry

Current post: University Lecturer, University of Cambridge

What are you enjoying about it?

My job is extremely diverse – it’s rare that one day looks like the next and so it’s impossible to be bored. I’m fortunate to be able to define my schedule and even the job description to a large extent. I get to pick my own research topics and have the opportunity to make a small contribution to help solve important societal challenges such as renewable energy. I enjoy interacting with students a lot, both through teaching at undergraduate level and mentoring postgraduate research students. I also participate in outreach activities to promote science through the Royal Society of Chemistry and am involved in governance of the society. My job also requires me to apply for funding, manage budgets and file reports, so I don’t get the chance to spend as much time in the lab as I would like. However, I do take my research group to external X-ray and neutron facilities each year to perform exotic experiments so I still get my hands dirty from time to time! 

What did you enjoy the most about studying at Swansea from an academic perspective:

I particularly enjoyed the strong practical element of the undergraduate chemistry course. We gained training in a variety of experimental methods, from synthesis to a variety of instrumental techniques, many of which I still use in my own research. The third and fourth year research projects were particularly excellent and provided an opportunity to sample an academic research environment and different topics of state-of-the-art research.

From a personal perspective, the warm and friendly environment made the Department of Chemistry a great place to study. From the first day of my undergraduate studies, right through to the end of my PhD, the academic and technical staff were always on hand for advice and support or just a friendly chat! The student ChemSoc was extremely active and hosted a range of academic and social events which made it easy to find friends and feel at home in the Department. 

What skills did you learn from completing your programme of study (transferable skills) and how do you think they will help/have helped you to get a job in the future?

An undergraduate degree in Chemistry equips you with a whole host of transferrable skills, from numeracy and analytical thinking, through to problem-solving and practical skills. It might be surprising for some people to learn that communication skills are also a key element of the training you receive in Chemistry – from working effectively with your lab partner through to presenting your research results to your peers. This combination of skills opens up a variety of potential careers paths – I use my chemical training directly in my job but many go on to have successful careers in diverse areas such as communication/journalism, publishing and finance.

Did you undertake any additional work-related support while at Swansea University? (eg Careers advice, SEA award, placements)

I participated in a number of summer work placements during my undergraduate studies, for example I undertook an internship in Lonza AG, Switzerland, through the IAESTE programme (http://iaeste.org). I received support and mentoring from my academic tutor to obtain a place on this highly competitive scheme. I also spent 3 months at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, on an Erasmus placement as part of my final year research project.

What would your advice be to new students thinking of applying to study at Swansea?

Make the most of what Swansea and its University has to offer. There are very few universities in the world which have such a fantastic location – being that close to the beach is a real privilege. Don’t be afraid to ask for help - the academic staff at Swansea are friendly and supportive and there are no stupid questions.