Wondering what a year in industry would be like?
We asked Brian Shaw, a final year MChem student at University of Edinburgh about his experience.
Brian spent the 4th year of his chemistry degree on an industry placement with Cytec Industries Inc., Stamford, CT, USA. He’s now back at university in his final year. Here’s what he had to say.
Why did you choose to do an industrial placement?
In terms of research, I really wanted to experience the difference between chemistry in academia and chemistry in the industrial setting. Like many industries, Cytec offered the perfect opportunity to do cutting edge research that has a real impact on the world.
The additional appeal of Cytec was that I could go abroad to experience a new country, both academically and culturally. To me, it was important I broaden my horizons before leaving university, to see if a career abroad was something I’d consider.
Do Cytec offer good opportunities?
I wanted variety from my placement experience so I chose to join the analytical team. I worked with a wide range of analytical characterisation techniques, including chromatography and mass spectrometry (MS), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and inductively-coupled plasma (ICP). These were all done using high-grade, industry-standard instruments, which was really cool.
In addition to my own project, I also had the chance to work on many other projects – analysing everything from materials for aeroplane fuselage, to flotation agents for mining.
I found it quite incredible to have daily exposure to such high quality facilities and research across the entire company – all really exciting stuff.
What surprised you the most?
Definitely the large amount of responsibility I was given.
I was placed on real projects from day one, which was an amazing experience. While I gained a lot of support from the team I was working with, having early responsibility in the team made me push myself from the start. This support and independence really contributed to me getting the most out of my year.
What about other kinds of training?
I attended two conferences/symposia on analytical chemistry that taught me about new techniques, different to those I used with Cytec. This broadened my knowledge and gave me new information that I could feed back to the team. I loved contributing to the company with new information that no one else had.
Is there a good social scene at Cytec?
Cytec hires a lot of co-op students for year-long and summer placements. During my time, we had students from Edinburgh (myself plus 3 others), Canada and the USA.
It was great to hear the experiences of other undergrads from around the world and, being on similar time-schedules, we had time to socialise and travel with each other.
What advice would you give students who are thinking about it?
You will be working hard!
It provided a very real experience of working in industry, one that I’d never had before. I feel prepared for what is to come in the rest of my life and I’m excited about it already.
I’d advise you to get to know the people you work with: find out about their career paths, and make a good impression.
Also, take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. The whole point of this year is to develop your research skills. The more you push yourself and work hard, the more rewarding it will be.
Are you inspired to pursue a career in industry now?
In all honestly, it has opened my mind to a huge variety of opportunities I didn’t know existed. As a result, I’m as undecided about the future as ever, but I’m now armed with a lot more information and enthusiasm to explore the opportunities out there.
Spending the 4th year of my chemistry degree in industry was an incredible opportunity that I strongly advise anyone to take. I can’t think of anything that I would change about my year and I think that speaks for itself.