With the initial aspiration to study medicine at university, Rob studied chemistry at A-level – a requirement of most universities for those going on to study medical courses.
“I sent off a strong UCAS application and was confident about my chances of receiving an offer to study medicine. But much to my displeasure, I didn’t receive a single offer – medicine is notoriously competitive.
“It was really only then that I started to ponder over whether that career path was really what I wanted to follow. I thought about what I excelled at, and most importantly, what I enjoyed. My A-level chemistry teachers were enthusing and allowed me to realise that I was talented at chemistry. So from thereon in, I wanted to take my understanding of the subject to the next level. I realised that was where my passion lay.”
Proving his belief that every setback is an opportunity, Rob progressed to the University of York, where he graduated with an MChem degree in chemistry. He was also the recipient of the Chancellor’s Leadership Prize for making a significant and lasting contribution to the university community and the city of York.
Joining the Royal Society of Chemistry during that time at university, Rob says that his membership encouraged him to read chemical literature, such as the RSC journal Chemical Communications.
“My academic supervisor at York had an ongoing collaboration with a biochemistry group at IOCB Prague, one of the leading research institutes in the Czech Republic. I had coincidentally gained an interest in a synthetic chemistry group based there through reading ChemComm.”
This combination resulted in Rob being accepted as a visiting research scholar at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (IOCB) of the Czech Academy of Sciences, working on synthetic helicene chemistry.
“The experience allowed me to engage in meaningful research while expanding my professional network and developing my competencies, ultimately spiking my interest in synthetic chemistry further.
“On returning to York, I joined the organic molecular materials group led by Dr Alyssa-Jennifer Avestro for my fourth year Master’s research project. Being a member of the Avestro group allowed me to continue primarily engaging in organic synthesis research. My project also exposed me to an array of interdisciplinary methods including spectroscopy, electrochemistry and computational modelling in order to study our molecules. My time in the group was undeniably valuable for both my personal and professional development and confirmed my aspirations to advance onto postgraduate research.”
Let’s advance chemistry, together. Reach your full potential with RSC membership.
Rob is currently studying for a PhD in organic and supramolecular chemistry at Durham University, where he is based in the McGonigal group focusing principally on the synthetic chemistry of fluxional carbon cages and their ‘shapeshifting’ properties.
To support his research, Rob is part of two RSC interest groups – the Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry group, and the Heterocyclic and Synthesis group.
“Being part of these groups has given me some valuable opportunities to become familiar with world leaders in the field. At PhD level and beyond, it’s important to keep up to date with current research literature and develop a scientific network. You never know where it might lead you!
“I’ve previously attended the RSC Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry (MASC) conference – an annual two day scientific meeting that attracts both world-leaders and early career scientists. While the 2020 conference was virtual as a result of COVID-19, I was really impressed with how the conference was put together and it was great to see so many people attending. I will no doubt attend more MASC events and conferences throughout the rest of my PhD.”
After his PhD, Rob would like to apply for a postdoc or pursue opportunities involving leadership or science policy.
“While completing my MChem studies at York, I was fortunate enough to be lectured in physical chemistry by Professor Sir John Holman (former president of the RSC between 2016 and 2018), who is a great educator, but an even better man to know. As ChemSoc president and York Science Conference executive, I approached John to present at our events on a number of occasions where he inspired me with his experience in education and science policy. Since then, I myself have become more interested in science policy, and his influence may have a lasting effect on my career.
“Being a member of the RSC will benefit me in the future as it will give me professional recognition that is important for both my personal and professional career progression. Moreover, the network I’ve developed could be particularly useful in allowing for collaborations in the future.
“I’ll continue my membership because I deem the RSC a professional organisation that gives you recognition for your chemical knowledge and career achievements. There’s also a vast range of opportunities to get involved in, along with the sense of belonging to the chemistry community.”