This latest instalment of SCI Energy Group’s blog delves deeper into the working life of one of its own members and SCI ambassador – Reace Edwards. She is currently pursuing an industry funded PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Chester and, through this blog, answers some questions to shed some light on her experience so far.
Reace Edwards: Head shot
Can you please provide a brief summary of your research?
My research is concerned with the establishment of a hydrogen gas network, in the North West, as a method of large-scale decarbonisation. This cross-disciplinary work will examine different elements of the hydrogen economy from production to end-use and explore the opportunities and barriers possessed by the region. Whilst technical and economic considerations are key components of this, policy, regulatory and social aspects will also be explored.
Reace Edwards: Riding a bike that generates hydrogen from pedalling
What does a day in the life of a Chemical Engineering PhD Student look like?
“It’s hard to define a typical day for a PhD student as no one day is ever the same.
At the beginning of the PhD, I spent a lot of time reading literature to help contextualise my research and appreciate its importance at a local, national and international scale.
Within time, I began to not only read but review and analyse this literature, which ultimately led to the construction of my literature review (this is regularly updated still)! Through this process, I identified research gaps, helping me focus my research questions, and inspired my field research and methodology.
Since then, I have applied for, and gained, ethical approval. At my current stage, I have chosen semi-structured interviews for data collection. So, now, my typical day consists of conducting interviews and transcribing the recordings.
Alongside this, there have always been ample opportunities to attend conferences and networking events, which, provides another form of skills development. So, there’s lots going on. But, what’s for sure, is that though each day is busy, the results are definitely rewarding.”
How did your education prepare you for this experience?
“In 2018, I graduated, from the University of Chester, with a first-class bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Therefore, I was eligible to apply for the PhD studentship when it was advertised.”
Reace Edwards: Graduation
What are some of the highlights so far?
For me, one of my main highlights had been to travel abroad to deliver a presentation on my work at an international conference.
Another highlight was the opportunity to co-author a conference article with a colleague from my industrial sponsor, and others, which was presented at another major, international conference.
In addition to this, I’ve done a TEDx talk and appeared on the BBC politics show. Where, on both accounts, I have discussed the opportunities for hydrogen.
Without doing this PhD, none of this would have even been possible!
Reace Edwards: After delivering TEDx talk
What is one of the biggest challenges faced in a PhD?
Time management is definitely a challenge, from two different perspectives.
Firstly, there are many different things that you can be tasked with at one time. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to prioritise these things and assign your time accordingly.
But, as well as that, because of your passion for the research, it can be very tempting to work exceedingly long hours. Whilst this may be necessary at times, it is important to give yourself some rest to avoid becoming run down.
Reace Edwards: Whilst being interviewed by BBC
What advice would you give to someone considering a PhD?
“If you’re passionate about the subject – do it!
You won’t regret it
Jenny Gracie was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary for an internship with the Naked Scientists based at the University of Cambridge. Here she describes how her internship has helped her to develop her skills and confidence in science communication, which she can now use to help shape her future career.
Jenny in The Naked Scientists studio.
I am currently in the final year of a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde. My project seeks to better treat cardiovascular disease, which is still the world’s leading cause of death. I am working towards a drug delivery system which utilises hollow gold nanoparticles as a ‘vehicle’ for delivering statins to the fatty plaques that block the arteries. Although I’m still interested in my research project, I’ve developed a real enthusiasm for science communication over the last few years and would like pursue a career in this field.
As a STEM ambassador I have attended fairs, festivals and schools to help spark a curiosity in science among children. During my PhD, the opportunity of an eight-week internship with The Naked Scientists came up, and I simply couldn’t let it pass. Without the funding support from SCI I could not have taken the internship, and so I am extremely grateful for the Messel Travel Bursary, and I know that this contribution helped make this transformative career experience a reality.
The Naked Scientists are an award-winning science production group based at the University of Cambridge. They create one of the world’s most popular science shows, achieving over 50m downloads in the last five years. They broadcast weekly on BBC Cambridgeshire, BBC 5Live, ABC National Radio in Australia and also publish a podcast of the show. Podcasts are free, available on-demand and are a widely accessible source of science information to the general public. The Naked Scientist internship programme develops the skill set of early career communicators and provides first-hand experience in the world of science media communication.
Podcast production has grown exponentially in the last few years, however chemistry still remains underrepresented compared to the other traditional physical sciences, like physics and biology. As a chemist who is interested in a career in science communication, this role has allowed me to gain the necessary skills to make my own podcasts in the future.
As an intern I was part of the production team from the first day! It was a catapult into the world of radio broadcast and podcast production, but perfect for understanding how a show is produced from scratch. Our weekly show consisted of two parts – one half would cover the news and recently published articles, and the second half would cover a specific topic within science.
Media privileges gave me access to all the journals to be published that week, with them sealed under embargo until publication. We tended to pick articles that have a global impact and capture the interest of the listener. Each team member would be assigned an article, and we would then have to contact the authors to scope the story and arrange a recorded interview. The skills I required to organise and execute a good interview improved over the course of the eight weeks. I could see a real development in both my style and confidence.
During the internship I also learned how to use software to edit audio, and stitch together multiple tracks to create build pieces with music and sound effects. To accompany the interview, each week we also wrote a short article on the research. This required converting high-level science into a form that could be understood by the general public… something that is much harder than it sounds!