Imperial College London

A ‘thank you’ from Professor Tom Welton, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences

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Current Schrödinger scholar, Sasha Corby, reflects on her PhD and thanks donors for their support

Current Schrödinger scholar, Sasha Corby, reflects on her PhD and thanks donors for their support

An event last Wednesday showcased activities made possible thanks to donations to the Faculty from our alumni and friends.

In his welcome address, Professor Tom Welton reflected on his early ambitions as a chemistry student, highlighting significant moments in his own career made possible thanks to scholarship funding. As his tenure as Dean draws to an end this winter, Professor Welton wanted to thank individuals who had made donations to the various financial support avenues within the Faculty, including The Dean’s Fund. Since becoming Dean in January 2015, the fund - supported almost wholly by Imperial alumni - has enabled Professor Welton to help support the ambitions of over 100 students and kick-start cutting edge projects for which no other funding was available.

The evening also gave beneficiaries of Faculty scholarships and bursaries the chance to meet donors in person and thank them for their support. In a series of short talks, recipients highlighted the ways in which they had benefited from opportunities made possible by financial support, sharing insights into how these experiences had impacted both their current studies and ambitions for the future.

Undergraduate research opportunities

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) and International Research Opportunities Programme (IROP) are two ways in which Imperial College students can explore the world of academic research beyond undergraduate study, either within Imperial, or at one of our international partner universities.

If any student is considering research or a PhD, they should really do one of these projects beforehand, just to see what it’s like. Lisa Winkler Third year physics undergraduate student and UROP recipient

UROP enabled third-year physics student, Lisa Winkler, to meet and work with PhD students in both Imperial’s Atmospheric Physics group and the Grantham Institute for two months over the summer holidays. This provided her a unique insight into two different research environments, broadening her perspective on the myriad contexts in which a scientist can use their skills. She was particularly impressed by the interaction of multidisciplinary science at Grantham, and how connected this was to the world beyond the lab:

‘[Academics at the Grantham Institute] often do press releases or they appear on BBC news and that really interests me, that science can have such a direct impact … I always thought there were so many steps between science and policy, between science and government, but actually they are much more closely interlinked that I ever would have thought.’

She emphasises how invaluable the UROP experience has been: ‘if any student is considering research or a PhD, they should really do one of these projects beforehand, just to see what it’s like.’

  • Professor Tom Welton welcomes guests, thanks donors and introduces the evening's speakers.

    Professor Tom Welton welcomes guests, thanks donors and introduces the evening's speakers.

  • Lisa Winkler, third year undergraduate physics student, used a UROP opportunity to spend last summer working between the Atmospheric Physics research group and the Grantham Institute.

    Lisa Winkler, third year undergraduate physics student, used a UROP opportunity to spend last summer working between the Atmospheric Physics research group and the Grantham Institute.

  • Third year Maths MSci student, Jasmine Daley, used IROP to spend the summer in a research group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Third year Maths MSci student, Jasmine Daley, used IROP to spend the summer in a research group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

  • Undergraduate students Cai Linton and Ewen Whooleys talk about being part of the team that won this year's FoNS MAD competition.

    Undergraduate students Cai Linton and Ewen Whooleys talk about being part of the team that won this year's FoNS MAD competition.

  • After the talks donors, recipients and guests had the opportunity to meet each other over an informal drink.

    After the talks donors, recipients and guests had the opportunity to meet each other over an informal drink.

Fourth-year chemistry student Jonathan Hedley used IROP to spend last summer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a group researching computational chemistry, completing his own project that built on work that they hadn’t yet had a chance to develop, which is now set to be used in a published paper. Since returning to the UK, Jonathan has sustained the momentum and applied for a PhD – ‘right now the biggest challenge for me doing a PhD is funding … that’s the only limiting factor.’

The Schrödinger Scholarship

The single biggest vote of confidence anyone has ever given me is a scholarship. Dr Ewen Gillies Schrödinger Scholarship recipient and Imperial alumnus

The Schrödinger Scholarship is another of the Faculty’s awards, open to the most outstanding PhD applicants. Dr Ewen Gillies, who completed his PhD in the Department of Physics as part of the second Schrödinger cohort, emphasised how significantly the scholarship impacted his career ambitions, particularly in nurturing a sense of self-belief:

‘The single biggest vote of confidence anyone has ever given me is a scholarship, and that forms a foundation for you to be confident in yourself and go for things that are maybe a little bit ambitious … so that by the time I graduated I was this very fulfilled person, and confident in my abilities because I’d been given the space and the platform to do so.’

Current Schrödinger recipient Sasha Corby (Chemistry) also highlighted the practical benefits of the scholarship; in January 2018 she travelled to California, for the Gordon research conference in Ventura, which was ‘amazing, and I couldn’t have gone without that scholarship … it’s very prestigious,  and it was a very cool experience to be able to engage with top researchers and present our own work.’

She continues: ‘from a network side of things, you’re meeting people and they’re learning who you are and what your research is, which may have untold impact in the future when applying for positions [and] in deciding what sort of avenues to pursue’.

Make a difference

If we hadn’t got that funding then we’d be graduating with a half-baked idea, but with FoNS MAD we’re in a position to potentially ... graduate with an actual viable business. Cai Linton Second year bioengineering student and member of Multus Media, winners of the 2019 FoNS MAD competition

The Faculty of Natural Sciences Make-A-Difference competition (FoNS MAD) has enabled this year’s winners, Multus Media, to develop a prototype technology to reduce the cost of lab-grown meat and help the food industry become more sustainable. Members Cai Linton (Bioengineering) and Evan Whooley (Life Sciences) explained that the funding they received allowed the team to stay in London over the summer, and develop their project in the lab, completing ‘all the research we needed to get data to present and put us in a much stronger position – it’s much easier to concentrate on the project over the summer’. The team won the FoNS-MAD Accelerator Prize, funded by a donation from alumnus Dr Allan Samuel (Chemistry 1972, PhD 1975), which has reinforced their motivation: ‘if we hadn’t got that funding then we’d basically be graduating with a half-baked idea, but with FoNS MAD we’re in a position to potentially win a bigger competition, which would allow us to fund ourselves through next summer, and we can then graduate with an actual viable business’.

Team member Reiss Jones (Life Sciences) says the competition has made him think more seriously about the future: ‘we’re evolving to be more like a start-up [so] I have the choice now – I can pursue this project or I can pursue a masters … it’s absolutely increased my opportunities.’

Reiss noted that, though the process was 'tough', learning how to keep each other motivated, communicate ideas and manage individual expectations and aims also proved ‘really empowering because now we can go forward into other teams and use that experience – those team skills are really useful.’

He sums up the experience: ‘it’s difficult to put into words – it was so chaotic [but] something amazing came out of it and now we’re in this situation where people are coming up to us and actually trying to place orders with us, which I never even thought was possible … I just kind of feel grateful, for having that opportunity.’

Dr Gerald Larrouy-Maumus received kickstarter funding for his project in the area of anti-microbial resistance.
Dr Gerald Larrouy-Maumus received kick-starter funding for his project in the area of anti-microbial resistance.

The kick-starter fund 

Dr Gerald Larrouy-Maumus, from the MRC Centre for Molecular Biology and Infection, also offered his thanks for kick-starter funding, which has enabled him to take a ‘risky’ idea and develop it into an easy-to-use, affordable technology that will allow clinicians to determine if bacteria is resistant to colistin, the last resort antibiotic, in just ten minutes, as opposed to 24-48 hours. This has potentially huge benefits in the fight against increasing anti-microbial resistance, and in the running of clinical labs and patient management, by helping to avoid prescription of the wrong antibiotics. He said, ‘what I really like in this funding is they are not afraid to take a risk’, and he thanked the donors and the kick-starter panel for being able to envision the potential of an idea: ‘I was convinced this idea was needed and that it would work, and just needed the proof’.

Thank you to our supporters

Professor Welton closed the event by thanking the alumni, friends and supporters who have enabled the Faculty to support students, research and those in financial hardship by donating or giving their time. He then introduced the new Dean, Professor Richard Craster, who remarked on how impressed he was at the motivation, ambition and talent of the night’s speakers and his excitement at the prospect of his upcoming tenure and continuing to work with the Faculty’s wonderful supporters.

Professor Richard Craster closed the event.
Professor Richard Craster closed the event.

Reporter

Claudia Cannon

Claudia Cannon
Faculty of Natural Sciences

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