Chemistry graduate Benjamin Arenas's time at Edinburgh was characterised by a sense of community, both in and out of the lecture theatre.
|Year of graduation||2015|
Your Time at the University
My standout memory of my time at the School of Chemistry is the sense of community. The close-knit first year tutorials build your relationship with your Personal Tutor and a small group of peers; labs, group projects, and shared outside courses expand your academic circle; the staff are always open and willing to provide help and advice – pastoral, academic, career, and most things in between; your classmates quickly become one of your greatest sources of support, encouragement, social interactions, lecture notes, and exam revision buddies.
I also had the privilege of being elected to several Staff-Student Liaison Committee and Student Council positions, where I had the opportunity to work at improving things directly in the School of Chemistry and then exchange methods of best practice with reps from schools across the University.
In a wider sense, I was also heavily involved in Edinburgh University Archery Club (EUAC). I started shooting in my 2nd year, and club’s novice program quickly propelled me to four intense but enjoyable years of representing the university at national competitions (and even to winning a few medals and trophies along the way). On the one hand, this was due to my enjoyment of the sport and the people I met, and on the other hand, to the excellent coaches, programs, and facilities at Sport & Exercise and the emphasis the university puts on sport and extra-curricular activities in general. Again, I had the opportunity to pay this forward to the next generation of archers with tenures as EUAC’s Social Convenor and Club Captain.
Whilst an excellent degree from a world-class university, a handful of sports medals, and experiences in various roles and committees are all wonderful achievements to have after your undergraduate degree, the things I relish the most from my time at the University are the groups of friends I made. Whether from student accommodation, my course, my sports team, a combination of the three, or something entirely different, they are friends for life, and we have our shared time at Edinburgh to thank for that.
Your Experiences Since Leaving the University
Directly after my MChem, I moved to Hamburg, Germany to pursue a PhD at the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter and the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron. During my PhD, I studied the pure rotational spectra of molecules that are relevant for astrochemistry. This fusion of chemistry and physics was new for me, and it proved to be both challenging and rewarding. The glamour of international conference presentations, a research semester at MIT, and working with industrial partners was accompanied by long days and nights of data collection and analysis, experiments that didn’t work, and vacuum pumps that broke down at the most inconvenient of times. Patience and perseverance are PhD skills that are just as important as the science you learn and do!
During a short stint as a postdoctoral researcher in my PhD group, I had the chance to build on the work I did during my PhD as well as take responsibility for several teaching activities, including lectures and undergraduate lab sessions. I transitioned into an education-focused academic role at Durham University, and after 18 months there, I moved back to the University of Edinburgh as a Lecturer in Physical Chemistry Education.
My snippets of advice...
Get stuck in. The city, the university, and the school have so many opportunities for meeting people, developing skills, contributing to the community, finding your passion, and making a difference.
Enjoy it. The years you spend in Edinburgh are sure to be some of the best in your life.
Stay connected. If you ever leave Edinburgh, you will no doubt miss the city and the people you met there – I certainly did (so much so, I eventually came back)! Keep these connections alive and be open to new ones; as you explore the world, you will find fellow Edinburgh alumni in the most unusual and unexpected of places.