Postgraduate diary

Andy Brown, a Masters student in polymer science, explains its appeal

Just suppose you had no idea what was involved in the postgraduate study of polymers and surface coatings science, and you were asked to imagine the typical profile of a postgraduate student of that discipline. I'd guess you might not immediately land on the image of a member of a cheerleading team – let alone a male member of a cheerleading team.

Well, Andy Brown, 30, a Masters student studying at the University of Leeds, would prove you wrong, since he fits both of those activities into most of his weeks.

"I juggle girls," he says succinctly, as he describes the role he plays in the university's cheerleading team, the Leeds Celtics. It's much more about acrobatics than chanting and pom-pom waving, he explains.

But it was the more serious pursuit of polymer science that brought him to Leeds last autumn at the start of his one-year taught Masters. Before that he'd spent a few years working in a hospital laboratory analysing blood samples, something which, he says, didn't really require much use of the chemistry degree he'd earned at Bangor University.

"I realised fairly quickly that I wanted to do something a bit more high-end than basic lab work," he explains. "I looked at trying to convert my chemistry degree into something that would qualify me to work in pathology, but found out I'd have to do another first degree. And then someone suggested I look at polymer science at the University of Leeds." So just what is polymer science?

"A polymer is any repeating chain of chemicals, so paper is a polymer. Paints, plastics, and you and me; we are polymers as well," says Brown. "Polymer science has a wide range of applications and brings in chemists, engineers and biologists."

He's particularly interested in the way polymers are used in medicine. One example he cites is paracetamol. "If you go to a supermarket and buy a cheap, own-brand bottle of paracetamol, you'll be getting something different from the more expensive, branded stuff, which has a range of clever polymers built into each tablet, which control and prolong the dose that's released into the blood stream."

He's one of just five students on this course, which for the first semester has consisted largely of lectures and learning some of the practical skills linked to the science. "For example, we did paint formulation," he explains. "I know, it sounds incredibly dull, but there's a lot of science and maths behind the process of producing a paint that matches a particular colour."

The second semester will be wholly devoted to a research project, which Brown describes as a mini chunk of a PhD. And his choice of project has potential for a revolutionary application in medicine. "I'm doing work towards making gas sensors that can potentially be applied to developing a new and quicker method of diagnosing tuberculosis," he explains. "Diseases produce unique profiles of gases on the breath. If these gases can be accurately identified using a breathalyser type device, the diagnosis – which currently takes four to six weeks for TB – might become almost instant."

Along with this fascinating research, Brown has to sit three exams each semester. These, he says, are more challenging than the ones he remembers taking as an undergraduate, because you have to remember information and apply it during the course of the exam. Now that he has found an area that both interests him and offers a chance to make a good living, he wants to continue in the research field and do a PhD once he has completed his Masters programme. "I'm really enjoying it, and it's opened a lot of doors that I never thought I'd see. Plus polymer chemists are in quite high demand."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager / Graduate Trainee

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Key Sales Account Manager/Graduate Trainee i...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum