“It’s satisfying to know that something I’m working on will have an impact”: Completing a UROP in Chemical Engineering

This summer the department is hosting several Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) placements, which enable students to take part in research activities at Imperial College London. As well as providing practical research experience, undertaking a UROP can help students develop their interest in specialised subjects, or get a sense of whether a particular career path is right for them.

Henry and Aniket are two Chemical Engineering undergraduates who will spend ten weeks over the summer with the department’s Analytical Services creating a series of videos which will teach new staff and students how to use equipment correctly and safely.

They spoke to us at the beginning of their placement to tell us why they chose to complete a UROP this summer and what their experience has been like so far.

Q: What made you apply for a UROP position this year?

H: I thought it would be interesting to do something different and develop my transferable skills. I’ve never really worked with cameras or made videos before, so I liked the idea of trying something new. I also thought it would be a useful experience to develop my presenting skills and my ability to be able to communicate things concisely.

It’s satisfying to know that something I’m working on this summer will have an impact as well, and help quite a few people in the department.

A: Yeah it’s really satisfying, even if it’s a small contribution that we’re making to science or one of the departments it’s good to know that you’re making a difference. I specifically decided to do a UROP in my second year because I want to try and get as much experience as possible under my belt before I graduate. In my third year I plan to do an internship either in industry or in the city, so that I’ll have an idea of what I’d like to go on and do once I’ve completed my fourth year.

We’re working pretty much 9-5 in a lab at the moment, which has given me an opportunity to experience what it would be like it I was working in one of these roles, and the chance to find out if it’s something I would enjoy doing as a job.


Q: How have you found starting your UROP and getting settled in?

A: It has been good. Our supervisor Brad [Ladewig, Senior Lecturer] was here for the first week helping us with the camera and microphone, and directed us to some resources which would help us learn to use things like Adobe Premiere, for editing what we film. Since then he’s video-called us and continues to support us, and we update him on what we’ve been working on. Patricia [Carry, Head of Analytical Services] is showing us how to use things. They’re busy but they make time for us. On a day to day basis Patricia and Kaho [Cheung, Analytical Laboratory Technician] help train and direct us to which instruments we should be working on next.

H: They’re always really nice and helpful, and always happy to help. We try and take on board what they say too. We recorded a couple of films and they gave us feedback, which we’ve taken on board. Everyone’s been very supportive. It’s been left open to us, obviously they have some specifics they need but we can choose what to do and how we do it. Brad’s given us a lot of encouragement and has a lot of faith in us. He’s really enthusiastic about it as well.


Q:  What have you learnt so far?

H: It’s been a really good learning experience; we have to plan each day out and think in advance, and develop new styles of working. We’re continually getting better at learning to manage our own time.

A: I have got to grips with the basics of video editing and how to put footage together on Premiere Pro which has been quite fun. I’ve also learned to use various instruments from different types of spectrometers to elemental analysis machines to instruments measuring particle size and I’m sure I’ll be covering a lot more in the weeks to come. It’s been interesting seeing the PhD students and researchers come in to use the equipment and finding out what the different instruments are used for in terms of their research applications. We also try to cover a brief principles section in each of our videos so I’ve learned a bit about the background science behind the machines. And in general we manage our own work schedule which has been great at developing my teamworking and planning skills.


Q: What made you choose to study chemical engineering?

A: I liked a lot of different subjects at school, so I chose my A Levels based on the subjects I most enjoyed and was good at; maths and the three sciences.

I really enjoyed the physical sciences and maths, and chem eng is a good combination of these. I wanted to do something a bit more applied than pure sciences. I did a lot of research to try and figure out which degree was for me, and I think it’s hard to know if chem eng is for you because it involves lots of subjects you’ve never studied, such as thermodynamics and fluid dynamics. It’s a bit of a jump into the unknown, but after some research I realised there were some really cool applications of chemical engineering – it’s everywhere, in our phones, cameras, to manufacturing silicon. It’s not just about process plants.

H: For me I’ve always been interesting in science and maths, particularly chemistry. At school we did a careers project where we had to research a career, and I ended up with chemical engineer. It interested me so I looked into it and it’s just continued from there. I’m particularly interested in processes, and how you can design a whole process then see how it can all come together using chemistry, physics and maths.


Q: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying for a UROP next year?

A: Find a project or research area that you’re interested in and then proactively approach a lecturer or supervisor early. The academic doesn’t necessarily had to have taught you before either. In our case this project was advertised quite late in the year and we applied and were selected for it, but in most cases it’s down to you to find and approach a supervisor. You’ll be doing an UROP for quite a substantial period of time so make sure it’s something you’ll really enjoy. And think a little broadly about what you can gain from it as well as technical skills, as especially in our case it’s been great for my soft skill development e.g. time management, communication etc.

H: Our project was advertised, as some others were, but that doesn’t mean to say that these are the only UROPs available. Do some research into the academics in the department and find an area you’re genuinely interested in. There’s a huge variety of research going on in the department. You could choose to do a traditional lab and chemistry-based project or maybe even do some computational modelling using cutting edge software for example. Just approach or send an email to the academic whose research you’re interested in and see where it goes.


Find out more about the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) on the Imperial College London website.

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