Katarzyna Sokol

MChem (Honours) with a Year Abroad 2014

Your Time at the University

Going abroad to study in the UK allowed me to broaden my scientific and cultural horizons and deepen my passion for Chemistry. I chose Edinburgh since the University was one of the best in the world and the Chemistry program was strong. Not to mention great financial support thanks to Baden Bursary and Student Awards Agency for Scotland covering my tuition fees. I quickly fell in love with this city full of Gothic architecture and cathedrals, with a castle and an old inactive volcano, and four years of my undergraduate studies passed by like a blink of an eye.

Katarzyna Sokol

The first year was intense but rewarding, I entered directly into 2nd year and it took me a few months to adapt. I spent two of my summers undertaking NERC- and EPSRC-funded summer research placements, in the Schools of GeoSciences and Chemistry, which allowed me to gain multidisciplinary research skills and experience. I also had the amazing opportunity to give a talk at the Universitas21 Undergraduate Research Conference in Shanghai. Joining University sport clubs and societies was a great way to make friends. I joined the Kendo Club and Salsa Society, which until this day are my two big passions. In my free time I enjoyed hiking and camping trips in Scottish National Parks.

Amongst most notable experiences during my studies was certainly my year abroad in Singapore. I learnt a lot about Asian culture, cuisine and traditions. A truly unique experience was participating in Chingay, the biggest parade in South-East Asia! I travelled around Asia, including backpacking in New Zealand and Japan. I fondly recall my final year and Master’s project in the laser laboratory, celebrating School’s 300th anniversary, my first Christmas pantomime and ghost stories with Chemistry staff, followed by mince pies and mulled wine in Teviot – such a great night!

Your Experiences Since Leaving the University

After graduating in 2014 with an MChem degree, I decided to pursue a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. My PhD work focused on developing 3-D nanostructured electrodes for solar fuel synthesis with enzymes in photoelectrochemical tandem cells. I currently work as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Materials and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My research focuses on the development of new generation all solid-state Li-based batteries and memristors, using solution-phase processing and fabrication techniques.

Edinburgh had a great impact on my career choices. The flexibility in choosing elective courses enabled me to take Maths and Physics modules of my interest and specialise in Materials Chemistry towards the end of my degree. The staff members were extremely friendly and encouraging, whenever I needed some help or advice, I was listened to and supported. Well-structured lectures, practicals and tutorials laid a strong foundation for my PhD. The Chemistry of Functional Materials module in my final year was my favourite course, especially Electronic Materials lecture series inspired me and had a big influence on my choice of a PhD topic in the solar energy field. The summer research placements helped me develop useful practical skills and broaden my horizons beyond one discipline. During the year abroad in Singapore I got fascinated by artificial photosynthesis and nanotechnology for the first time, which also significantly inspired my PhD topic.

I think my most notable professional achievement so far was publishing the core two years of my PhD work in Nature Energy. We developed the first fully solar-driven enzyme tandem system for full water splitting, and the paper received a lot of publicity and media coverage. Moreover, as the Kendo Club captain in my final year, I introduced many positive changes to the club. My future ambition is to dedicate my research career to work on smart energy materials and devices.

Alumni Wisdom

Make the most of your studies by being pro-active and open-minded. Join societies or sport clubs of your interest, develop your hobbies and passions – you will meet interesting people, it will keep you healthy and motivated. Work hard and do your best, but keep in mind that work is not everything. Define success on your own terms – there is not one predetermined recipe for life and successful career – do not be afraid to follow your own path! The University offers a lot of opportunities – take advantage of them, apply for summer internships, conferences and international exchanges. Finally, go on a year abroad in Asia. You will expand your horizons and possibly make life-long friendships.

Image credit: Andreas Wagner