Postgrad Lives: 'I've enjoyed teaching'

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The Independent Online

William Wise, 25, is about to finish a PhD in organic chemistry at Leicester University, having started an undergraduate degree course in chemistry at the same university seven years ago.

How did you come to do this PhD?

After my first degree, I wanted to get a better idea of what research was all about, so I did a Masters in green chemistry at Leicester. That gave me a good idea about research methodology, which is about doing experiments and background reading, and then writing up the results. I discovered I liked scientific intrigue, so wanted to do research in greater depth in a PhD.

What has your research centred on?

I've been looking at a rare molecule called TTQ (tryptophan tryptophylquinone) which is part of a number of different enzymes in the body. We're trying to get a better understanding of how the enzymes work, which might help us to understand particular diseases, and come up with drugs to target them, although this is a long way from the work I'm doing. My involvement and knowledge is confined to the chemistry of TTQ to find out how it works. It is the biologists who will then apply that knowledge to work towards understanding and possibly curing a disease.

What's been your day-to-day routine?

I've pretty much spent three years in the lab, from 9am to 6pm or 7pm. It's a very stereotypical laboratory setting, wearing a white coat, working with test tubes and glass flasks in fume cupboards, with bubbling potions, whizzes and bangs.

Have you enjoyed it?

Yes, it's very nice to have a research programme that you can call your own – even though you have a supervisor who makes sure that you're not going off track. And I've enjoyed the teaching element, passing on knowledge I have learnt to undergraduates. I've also enjoyed the responsibility of helping undergraduates with their research projects, and being entrusted by the academics to do that. But the research hasn't been an entirely easy ride. If you're going along at a nice pace and you hit a full stop, it can be very tough to get round a problem and to solve it. But when you do, there's an overwhelming feeling of joy. You feel that you've really achieved something.

How have you paid for it?

My PhD has been funded by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which paid my fees and gave my supervisor enough money to pay for all the materials I've used. And it also covered some of my living costs.

What do you want to do next?

I hope to finish writing up my research by May this year, and then I might take a break from research and go into sales. Not double-glazing sales, but medical, pharmaceutical or petrochemical sales, something that uses the knowledge that I've amassed.