Charlotte Levy - PhD in Chemistry

Current employer: Plymouth University (sponsored by Omya AG)

Current job title: PhD Research Student

Current location: Plymouth

“The research quality at Plymouth University is extremely high, especially in the department that I’m currently working with. According to HEFCE’s annual report, we’re in the top 10 universities in the UK for quality research.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

After graduating with a 1st class BSc (Hons) in Applied Chemistry from Plymouth University in June 2011, I applied for a few PhDs all over the country. I was then, however, given the opportunity to stay and pursue a PhD within the Environmental and Fluid Modelling Group at Plymouth University starting in October 2011. The research group has developed a computer software called PoreXpert that models porous structures and various fluidic processes that occur within those structures. I was definitely very honoured to have been asked to stay with the research group because the quality of research that Plymouth produces is extremely high.

The PhD project here in Plymouth is an extension of my third year undergraduate dissertation project with my supervisor, Professor G. P. Matthews, and the current working title is 'nanoporous calcium carbonate-based substrates for the controlled delivery of functional materials'. This project involves investigating the controlled release of drugs and flavours from nanoporous substrates, and is in collaboration with Omya AG.

Omya AG are a company originally founded in Switzerland in 1884, and they’re now a worldwide distributor of speciality chemicals. My research involves looking at how we can use their calcium carbonate-based paper coating pigment in the new application of the controlled release of drugs and flavours. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited their headquarters in Switzerland a few times, as well as working in their labs over there for a three week period.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

My role at the University also includes demonstrating the laboratory equipment to the second and third year chemistry undergraduate students, as well as helping to oversee third year students for their dissertation. My experience has led me to become a Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC), and I’ve been lucky enough to have completed the GTA (General Teaching Associates) course and the PGCAP 600 course (in order to obtain my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice), which has led me to become an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). I never had a rigid plan to begin with, but I always wanted to be involved with challenging and interesting work. I’ve definitely had that so far!

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

The most difficult thing I’ve faced is stress: stress regarding how well you’re going to do in exams, where you’ll be this time next year, whether you’re going to get a good job going down a certain route, whether it’ll all work out, meeting deadlines for coursework, competitions, exams, job applications, dealing with rejection whilst still pushing forwards, and trying to have a social life and develop your life in other areas. It all takes its toll. But as long as you’re doing what you’re drawn to, then I don’t think you can go wrong!

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

I’m so glad that I decided to stay in Plymouth, not only because my family are nearby, but the research quality at Plymouth University is extremely high, especially in the department that I’m currently working with. According to HEFCE’s annual report, we’re in the top ten universities in the UK for quality research.

Not only that, but I’ve been so lucky to have had so many opportunities available to me. I’ve been lucky enough to have won the Vice Chancellor’s Enterprise Award (Plymouth Student of the Year) 2011, as well as the IAESTE UK Trainee of the Year 2010 Award (thanks to collaboration with a lovely lecturer here from the undergraduate chemistry course).

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have travelled a lot during my PhD. I’ve been to many conferences and presented at a few, such as in Spain, France, Italy, and in various locations across the UK. I also won a Santander Language Scholarship as a result of my degree from Plymouth University and because I studied Spanish modules with the Open University. Consequently, I was able to study Spanish in Salamanca for a month.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

I’m a local girl; I went to school and sixth form in Totnes, and went to my local university so I could stay near my family. It just so happens that the University’s department that I work in is rather prestigious, especially for a modern university; and the area is so beautiful!

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Make the most of every opportunity: you have to be really enterprising. I’ve been lucky enough to have won several awards, but that was also because of my own ambition and resourcefulness. For example, I was recently shortlisted in the Chemistry World Science Communication competition for writing an article about the chemistry of chocolate and pastry (something I’m very passionate about), and how it relates to the world of art. This gave me all sorts of coverage over the University’s press, Plymouth Herald, and I even had a BBC Radio Cornwall interview! This is all perfect for my CV and experience, as I really enjoy public engagement and have gained valuable transferable skills.