Daniel: School of Chemistry - Learning Through Research Intern

Why did you choose to do an SEI?

I chose to do a SEI Learning Through Research internship in order to experience independent research for the first time, which prepared me for starting my MChem project. I also chose to do an SEI since I was unsure what I wanted to do after I graduated, and I thought the opportunity to work within a research group would help me to decide if I wanted to remain in academia.

Give a brief snapshot of your role:

During my 8-week internship, I prepared laminar molybdenum disulphide sandwich membranes. I then functionalised these membranes with acidic and basic organic dyes and used them to filter nitrates from aqueous solution. I measured the ability of each membrane to remove nitrates from water using electrochemical methods and spectroscopy. I also read lots of papers to learn and understand why dye functionalised membranes could remove the nitrates from solution, but membranes which weren’t dye functionalised couldn’t.

This research was important since high levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause ‘blue-baby syndrome’, and with an increasing reliance on nitrate-containing fertilisers, this is a disease likely to become more common in the future.

What were the most enjoyable aspects of your role?

I really enjoyed being an active member of the Manchester Electrochemistry Research Group, making a real contribution to the research output and attending weekly group meetings to learn about the research of other group members.

I also enjoyed the events, such as CV and LinkedIn workshops, put on by the Careers Service during my internship. These were really useful to prepare myself for PhD/job applications before the academic year started.

It was also great that my results were consistent and were as we hypothesised.

Did you have any worries or concerns before your internship? Were these overcome and if so how?

I was a little concerned that members of the research group might not be so welcoming and see me as an imposter, but honestly that wasn’t the case! I had a great team of PhD students and postdoctoral research associates around me for the whole duration of the internship, as well as my academic supervisor/manager. I was invited to group meetings and social events and really made to feel welcome. The opportunity to network with these people will no doubt be useful later in my career.

What did you gain most from the role in terms of insights and skills?

The internship has affirmed my decision to continue in academic research by studying for a PhD, which I am now in the process of applying/interviewing for.

To gain the internship, I had to go through a similar process to what I have done for my PhD applications – i.e.) make contact with the academic supervisor to discuss the internship, fill out an application form and then interview. The internship gave me invaluable experience of the application/interview process, which is now of benefit as I complete my PhD applications.

The careers service workshops taught me how to write an effective CV and make the most of networking on LinkedIn. The careers service also gave me guidance on how to make the most of my internship.

Do you have any words of wisdom for future interns?

Take the application process seriously – it might seem tedious, especially if you know the supervisor, but it’s a great opportunity to practice your application writing skills and interview technique. This will help you after graduation!

Make the most of your time as an intern! 8 weeks is not a long time to get a mountain of experiments done, so don’t set yourself unrealistic targets!

Most importantly, have fun! A Learning Through Research internship is something not many Undergraduates get to participate in, so enjoy yourself.