David August

Masters in Chemistry with Industrial Experience and PhD 2016

Your Time at the University

I began my studies at the University of Edinburgh in September 2007. My parents both have PhD’s in Chemistry/Chemical Physics, so you might have thought my path to chemistry was inevitable. However, chemistry was actually my back up option after I failed to get into any of the Scottish Medical schools. A failure that I no longer have any regrets over! But whilst there’s no doubt that my background and simple love of chemistry led me to apply – I had no plans at the time for what to actually do with a Chemistry degree.

As well as my studies, I was also keen to get involved in all manner of extra-curricular activities at the University. To begin with, I continued my passion for windsurfing with the University club and enjoyed some amazing trips up to the University’s outdoor experience centre at Firbush, Loch Tay (Please go if you can!). In second year, I took up something completely new – Karate. Despite starting as an absolute beginner, within the next few years I had progressed from enjoying a simple pastime to President of the club and competing at the British Universities.

In the 4th Year of my MChem, I was given the opportunity to spend 1 year working in industry. Sadly, my initial placement location was shut down amid the financial crisis before I even started. However, I landed on my feet working at MacFarlan Smith based in Edinburgh. This new experience really helped me broaden my chemical horizons and anyone on or considering the MChem programme should look forward to their year in industry/abroad (now taken in the 5th year).

After my undergraduate, I stayed on at Edinburgh to study for a PhD in Chemistry with Prof. Paul Lusby – partly for the exciting science, but also to stay close to family. During this time, I gave up karate and took up more sedate activities including a role producing the Edinburgh University Science podcast.

Your Experiences Since Leaving the University

During my PhD, I was keen to pursue a career in academic research and I was lucky enough to secure a Postdoctoral research position in the group of Prof. David Leigh at the University of Manchester. After a frantic summer of a new house, new job and new car, we moved to the Hope Valley in the Peak District. Despite the ups and downs of short recurring contracts, I was also lucky to stay put for 5 years, during which I bought my first house and had three children. For much of this time, I was also able to work part time to spend time with my kids – something that is often rare in postdoctoral experiences but becoming increasingly common so do look/ask for it.

My research focused on understanding the properties of knotting and entanglements at the molecular level – with the goal of selectively preparing molecular knots as the usual starting point. However, this led on to the development of molecular weaving which, whilst very challenging, resulted in a complex multidisciplinary project that really put me out of my comfort zone. But the end result was a publication, a Guinness World Record and a shortlisting for the Times Higher Education – STEM Project of the Year.

Despite all this, I had always kept one foot in the door of teaching – something I have always been passionate about. In 2021 I was promoted to lecturer within the same group which allowed me to take on a much broader teaching responsibility. Unfortunately, that contract quickly ended, and I had a short period of significant stress whilst I figured out what to do next. Over the years, I had applied for numerous academic positions without success, but I was then fortunate to secure a position back here at the University of Edinburgh to focus on my passion for teaching.

Alumni Wisdom

University is a very different experience to School. Whilst there is ample support provided, you really are free to choose how, what and when you want to do things. Not just for your subject courses, but for all of your life activities - whether that’s sport, societies or just going out with friends. So be brave, try something new and grab the opportunity to get involved whenever you can.