Kerri Coombes – BSc (Hons) Chemistry graduate

“As a result of my studies at Plymouth, I was able to competently complete a three month research cruise. I had the skills to complete the laboratory work, practically produce results and document them accordingly, analyse data and produce a report at the end.”

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

After completing my undergraduate, I decided to continue at Plymouth and pursue an MRes in Applied Marine Science. In this time I have been asked to join the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) 26 by Dr Andy Rees (Senior Scientist and manager of the AMT programme) off the back of my final year dissertation project at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. This led to a three month trans-Atlantic trip from September to November where I was in charge of the Carbonate System Chemistry – the annual measurements taken during AMT PML work towards quantifying this effect throughout the Atlantic Ocean, identifying its consequences for life and the cycle of elements. We took samples on board and then shipped samples back to the UK for analysis in the laboratory. 

I still continue to work as a Student Ambassador, part-time. My main roles include manning the student desk in Roland Levinsky and working as a coordinator for the mentoring programme led by the employability team and outreach HE fairs.

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

Definitely AMT 26; having the opportunity to participate in real life science on board a ship was an amazing experience.

What would you do differently since graduating?

Nothing. I am preparing myself for my future career in research and doing all I need to do to ensure that I am the best candidate possible to embark on a studentship.

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

Honestly, I believe I have made the best of my time here: I maintained a part-time job as a Student Ambassador and during the summer I gained research experience to make myself a strong candidate when applying for studentships. I think that I have maintained a good work life balance.

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

Plymouth is my hometown and I always wanted to go to the university here. Particularly with a young family, I wanted to stay close to home. BSc (Hons) Chemistry is a very good course with a big emphasis on practical learning, which is suited to me and my way of learning. The degree was accredited and there was the possibility of seeking a placement in the second year of study.

How did we support you in your studies? If you used any support services whilst at the university how did they enable you to get to where you are today?

I used PALS and became a PALs leader. Pippa Waller in the placement team helped with interview preparation for the summer placement at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

LabPlus was the perfect area for students to study in a relaxed environment – if you’d forgotten your laptop you could always borrow one of theirs.

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

My placement introduced me to a marine research career, which was very interesting because, after the completion of my foundation degree in forensic science at a partner college in 2009, my original career target was to be an analytical forensic scientist.

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

The pub quiz socials led by ChemSoc were attended by all three years and also academic members of staff. These were nights to let your hair down with a few drinks. Socialising is important, especially with chemistry being such a challenging subject.

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

As a result of my studies at Plymouth, I was able to competently complete a three month research cruise. I had the skills to complete the laboratory work, practically produce results and document them accordingly, analyse data and produce a report at the end. I would not have had those skills and the confidence to produce those results without the extensive laboratory practical training throughout the degree. The core chemistry modules have also provided me with the knowledge to understand the chemistry behind processes.

Why would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University?

I was part of a relatively small cohort, so strong relationships were built. I also had the same academic members of staff teach me throughout the course and they all had an open door policy. They were approachable and real role models for their students. It is important to build confidence within your subject and the practical series on the chemistry course really prepares you for the real world of science.

If you did a placement how did this impact on your short and long term career plans?

I completed a two month summer placement after my second year, which formed the dissertation project in my final year. My ability was recognised by senior scientists and I was asked to join AMT 26. This initial placement gave me work experience but has also given me seafaring experience to build into my application for a PhD. I have had a vision of my future career and the experience has confirmed to me that this is the path I wish to pursue.

Long-term, the placement has fuelled the fire to gain a studentship in order to complete a PhD. Short-term, it has encouraged me to continue with my education and embark on an MRes.

If you returned to study (directly or after a foundation degree) what supported you in your return to study?

I completed a foundation degree in 2009 at a partner college. I then returned to higher education after having a family as I knew that I wanted a career in a science-related field. An admissions tutor spent a great deal of time looking at my qualifications and guided me when choosing my year of entry (first or second). PALs helped build my confidence when I came to Plymouth, after being out of an educational environment for so many years.