Alex Strachan – BSc (Hons) Biosciences graduate

Current employer: Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Current job title: PhD student

Current location: Plymouth

“The poster and oral presentations that I dreaded throughout my degree, particularly, have served me well when attending national and international conferences.”

Tell us what you have been doing since completing your studies.

Immediately following my graduation I was lucky enough to gain a PhD position with the Peninsula Dental School in an area which continued on from the research project that formed part of the final year of my undergraduate.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

I have presented at a number of conferences, but I recently had the opportunity to orally present our research at the International Association of Dental Research congress in Jerusalem, Israel.

What would you do differently since graduating?

Nothing, really; it has pretty much all gone according to plan! Maybe be more focussed from the outset of my PhD, but that is easy with hindsight!

Imagine you were about to start university again - with the benefit of hindsight - what would you now tell yourself to have done differently?

Work harder! It was a bit different for me, as a mature student (mid 30s) returning to adult education: I didn’t know what to expect or how I would fit in. I came through an FdSc programme with South Devon College, which was a great way to reintroduce myself to adult education; but completing my final year at Plymouth was again a new and unknown quantity. I would just say be more confident in your ability to do new things, be willing to work with people and bring people together to work to everyone’s benefit.

What was your main reason for choosing to study your course at Plymouth? With hindsight how significant was this for you?

The FdSc course was near to me, which was important as I have a wife and three children and I wanted to keep them settled. I had tried the Open University and, whilst successful, it didn’t suit me. I wanted to be more hands on than you could be doing a distance learning course. Plymouth then provided the opportunity to top up to a BSc.

How did studying at Plymouth change your career aspirations and plans?

I always intended to go on to study for a PhD (in genetics). I am now studying for an immunology based PhD (very little genetics). Both South Devon and Plymouth helped me discover the area that appealed most to me and allowed me to explore it. Now, in the final year of my PhD, I am beginning to explore all the options that may become available to me in the next 18 months. Ultimately, I want to continue with my research whilst teaching others with the same enthusiasm that was shown to me.

What is your favourite memory of studying for your degree at Plymouth?

Walking out of my final exam knowing I had done enough to gain first class honours (I had pushed hard with all my coursework so that my exam results only had to be average). It was such a relief.

How well did Plymouth prepare you for the challenges that you have faced, or will face, in your career?

More than I realised at the time. The poster and oral presentations that I dreaded throughout my degree, particularly, have served me well when attending national and international conferences. Many of the techniques I learnt during my final year project I still employ as part of my PhD, and many of the relationships built with academic staff remain integral to my development to this day.

Why would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University?

As a mature student I highly recommend the FdSc route as an introduction back into education. It is an excellent and supportive way to get yourself up to scratch without destroying your confidence. On completion, the next step up to Plymouth University is much less daunting than it seems at the beginning. I really found that at both South Devon and Plymouth University you put in what you get out: if you make the effort you get all the support and encouragement you could need.