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Anatomy of student life

Chemical engineering student and scholarship recipient Ali Khan talks to us about making the most of every opportunity.

Three years down, two to go

Student Ali Khan
From rowing and judo to representing his classmates, chemical engineering student and scholarship recipient Ali Khan is making the most of every opportunity.

"Take advantage of all the opportunities to try new things" is a piece of alumni advice echoed by many.

One student who has really taken this to heart is Ali Khan. Come mid-September, he'll be starting his fourth year studying towards an MEng in Chemical Engineering.

We talked to him about student life in and out of labs, and the impact of receiving an alumni-funded scholarship.

Applying skills

On choosing chemical engineering

I'd actually wanted to study medicine at one point but changed my mind and instead sought a course that presented a challenge and involved maths and chemistry. Chemical engineering is a course in learning applied science skills and learning to learn quickly. I have come to really enjoy it.

On the most enjoyable part of his course

In the field, safety is regarded as boring but necessary, yet I find it to be a fascinating challenge. The risks are very dynamic yet often people treat them as static and so a lot can go wrong in ways you don’t expect. But you can mitigate those risks and, if you do it right, then you are safer in a chemical plant than you are in your bedroom, so that fascinates me.

On building relationships with lecturers

The faculty give you a lot of opportunities to engage with them and help impact your degree as well. Not everyone takes advantage of this, but I saw it early on and I have been a class representative every single year of my course, ensuring that fellow students’ views are heard on academic matters. I know all the faculty and we get along quite well. They are very engaging and enthusiastic about improving things.

Sporting activities

On rowing with the Boat Club

University has given me so many things in terms of experiences. I rowed with the Boat Club in my first two years and became treasurer in my second year. It’s a very collective endeavour. It was a lot of training - five or six sessions a week, including getting up at 5am twice a week to get to the canal at 6am, whilst managing everything else - labs, lectures, and life more generally.

I tried judo for one semester as well actually, which was fun. The university gym is my favourite place in the world.

On getting a lucky break

One of my favourite memories so far is rowing at the Scottish Boat Race against Glasgow. I wasn’t even on the programme. It was dead last-minute that people got injured and I ended up getting a spot in the novice eight boat. I’m glad to say we won the race! Funnily enough, we rowed more than one kilometre more than we had to because neither team knew where the finish line was.

Juggling costs

On receiving an alumni-funded scholarship

I can’t tell you how much it means to me. All those worries about money - living in an expensive city like Edinburgh - and making difficult choices, they all disappeared when I found out I got the scholarship. I felt I could now face the new exciting challenge head on.

The scholarship gives me confidence and helps with long term planning. For example, I am interning in a small but highly reputable fire engineering consultancy. It is in London and I wouldn’t have been able to confidently come here if I did not have the financial support in place.

It’s been a priceless contribution to my success and I would want to come back and brighten up somebody else’s future too.

On part-time jobs

Thanks to my scholarship I haven’t had to rely on working loads of shifts just to get by, though I have worked a bit during the semester. I’ve tutored and also work as a Student Ambassador, both very flexible jobs. Being a Student Ambassador involves helping prospective students at open days and giving tours around campus. I wish I could do it much more because I really enjoy talking about life here.

I also worked at the Sutton Trust Summer School that's held here and honestly, it’s a challenge to not get overexcited when talking to a school pupil about studying at Edinburgh.

Grand ambitions

On career plans

I have planned this all out. I had three years out after college and before coming to Edinburgh to really talk to people who had been to university, so I have grand ambitions.

My long-term goal is to become a process safety engineer. I’d like to move to Norway. Scandinavia is a place I am really interested in in terms of their work-life balance.  I taught myself Norwegian in those three years and I still retain quite a bit of it, so that is in the plan.

Part of me also really wants to go into politics one day and try to implement structural changes in society to help more people have the same opportunities as me.

But first I have two more years at Edinburgh to enjoy!

Related links

Edinburgh Fund - Scholarships

School of Engineering

Edinburgh University Boat Club (external site)