PhD in the Department of Materials

I had a bit of an unusual route to studying a PhD. I did my Master’s degree in the UK in 2014 and then worked as a Chemical Engineer in South Africa. At the same time, I was studying a postgraduate diploma part-time in Intellectual Property Law. 

This led me to work in a university based in South Africa, where I was responsible for managing the protection and commercialisation of patents for technologies developed by researchers from across the university. This inspired me to want to be doing my own research, which is what led me to Imperial to study my PhD. 

My research 

I’m in a large multidisciplinary research group and we’re focused on solving key problems in regenerative medicine, biosensing and therapeutics. I’m in my third year of PhD study in the Department of Materials and my research is based more specifically on non-invasive cancer diagnostics using a platform developed at Imperial.   

The technology I’m working with is patented and there’s a spin-off company involved. For me this is very exciting as there is a clear path for my research to have real-world impact. 

The research benefits of Imperial 

I was drawn to Imperial for the quality of research and the research impact. This was really important for me coming from a technology transfer background.  

My research group is so supportive, everyone’s so keen to help you get your project to be the best it can be, whether that’s collaborating with different researchers or providing access to different tools. There’s always the opportunity to learn something new, because of the multi-disciplinary research environment.  

Making the most of the Graduate School  

I’m a student programme partner for the Graduate School, specifically in the research impact programme. The Graduate School offers courses and tools to make your research the best it can be, how to communicate your research and how to make your research have impact. It also offers courses to prepare you for your career after the PhD, whether that is in research or industry. 

I’ve found the courses very useful and interesting. Even if the course itself doesn’t always give you the answers you need, it’s really easy to be signposted and find out where you should go. You can always find the information you need. 

I’ve really enjoyed being a student programme partner. My tutor is fantastic and has been open to giving me opportunities to teach. My role is all about helping the Graduate School put together courses, by finding out from my peers what they would like to learn about and what would be interesting to them. 

Being awarded a grant to visit the Karolinska Institutet 

I was awarded a grant through the Turing Scheme to go and visit the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and work with some of our research collaborators there. It was such a fantastic opportunity to visit a different university and to network outside of Imperial. I learnt new techniques specific to my research field and will be applying these to my ongoing research at Imperial.  

It was great to get exposure to how things work at different universities, because it’s not all the same. It’s useful when studying a PhD to know how different universities operate in different parts of the world. 

Studying in London 

Living in London, you’re exposed to so much – there’s so much culture, variety and exciting things going on. You meet all sorts of people from different walks of life and different backgrounds. 

I knew people in London before I came to study at Imperial, but even so there’s so much going on you get lots of opportunities to meet new people. It’s difficult to not be busy, with so many things to get involved in. 

Looking to the future  

I’m really interested in the startup world and want to make more of the Enterprise Lab before I leave Imperial. I think the UK has a really good ecosystem to support early-stage companies, to help ideas go from lab to industry. 

I’d advise incoming students to be open to new opportunities, go to events and find things that interest you. You’ll meet people from all over the world who are interested in the same things you are! Make the most of extra-curricular activities and things that supplement your studies, as they really do give you a toolkit for how to prepare yourself for the future.  

If you open yourself up to it, you’ll be able to network with future employers, investors, collaborators and other academics – you just need to take the bull by the horns!