How to get the most out of…your postgraduate studies

In the final part of our Welcome Week blog posts on getting the most out of each stage of your studies at SPS, Chemistry PhD student Chloe Skingle tells us more about her experience of and gives us her top tips on making the most out of postgraduate study at SPS.

I am currently a Chemistry PhD student within the School of Physical Sciences working towards a thesis titled ‘The development of sustainable nanocomposite materials’, starting back in October 2018. Before starting my PhD, I completed an MChem at Kent (2014-2018). I decided to stay on at Kent because of the friendly atmosphere of the department, even though this meant changing my area of focus from solid state to soft matter. Although this was quite a big change, I received support from both my masters and PhD supervisors who offered reassurance that I would be capable of this challenge.

My main reason for doing postgrad research was an interest in a career in academia and I felt that a PhD would give me a good insight into this world. So far, I have found that my PhD has helped me to develop greatly both as a researcher and on a personal level.

One of the best aspects of postgrad research is working within a research group. I learnt quite quickly how important teamwork is and that a PhD should not be about working completely alone. A big lesson to remember is that a PhD should not just be about lab work, there are plenty of other opportunities such as outreach activities, conferences and training schools- it is important to say yes to as much as possible!

During my first year I have been involved in multiple outreach programmes, this has involved creating my own workshops suitable for explaining research level science to schoolchildren. I have really enjoyed taking part in outreach and plan to continue to do so throughout the next two years, it has really helped to put the research we do in the labs into a broader context.

I’ve also had the opportunity to attend several conferences/ training schools in: Oxford, Grenoble (France), Edinburgh, London, Warwick, these have been great for development and have allowed me to network with other PhD students (Friends are important!). I’ve also been able to present a poster of my first-year work at conferences allowing me to showcase our research to other academics in the field.

Another reason for choosing my PhD project was the access to exciting equipment both within the school such as 3D-printing and QCM, as well as outside of the department at large scale neutron facilities such as ISIS (Oxford) and ILL (Grenoble). This has allowed me to develop transferable skills in techniques that are in high demand.

My advice to new-starters would be:

  • Say yes to new opportunities (even if they seem daunting)
  • Make time for yourself (yes, your research will take up a lot of your time but staying sane is also important)
  • Remember you’re still a student, mistakes happen but you can learn from it
  • Make the most of everything on offer locally- Canterbury has loads of restaurants to try and the beach is only 20 minutes away!

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my first year as a postgrad at Kent. It’s been a great experience, I wouldn’t have stayed so long if it wasn’t!