William Murphy

MChemPhys, Chemical Physics with Industrial Experience 2005

Your Time at the University

It would be difficult to overstate how formative an experience Edinburgh was for me. At 18, when it came to picking where to apply to university, I had never been outside Ireland and was hoping to become part of the first generation of my family to attend university. I knew I wanted to study chemistry, and my chemistry teacher provided two criteria for picking a degree course: first, pick a top university (he provided a helpful list published by the Royal Society of Chemistry) and, second, if an aspect of chemistry interests you, don’t be afraid to specialise. To these, I added a third – I wanted to live in a vibrant city with a rich history. Chemical Physics at the University of Edinburgh ticked all the boxes and so was my first choice.

William Murphy

It did not disappoint. Academically, the degree was challenging but tremendously absorbing. I was particularly struck by the respect that the professors had for their subject. It was clear that they were trying to impart the ability not just to use and manipulate the science that had been uncovered already, but to come to a deeper understanding of the universe.

More broadly, Edinburgh is a fascinating city. I spent an inordinate amount of time perusing second-hand bookshops, and I don’t regret a second. 

Another big part of my life in Edinburgh was leading a student-run soup kitchen for the homeless in the Grassmarket. Each of our clients had their own story, and I was fortunate to work with enthusiastic students of all disciplines, to make their day just a bit better with a hot meal and a friendly chat. All walks of life can be found in Edinburgh; don’t be afraid to seek them out.

Your Experiences Since Leaving the University

Perhaps like many science students, I came out of my degree intending to continue in science as an academic. So, after Edinburgh, I did a doctorate at the University of Oxford, having great fun firing extremely large lasers at very small metal targets and seeing what happened. For this kind of research, which involved the interaction of radiation and matter, my Chemical Physics degree from Edinburgh set me up well.

Towards the end of my doctorate, although I enjoyed it immensely, I realised that perhaps academia was not for me, and I switched to become a patent attorney, which is a little-known profession that involves helping inventors protect their inventions. It is a good fit for scientists who like learning about a wide range of technologies and who don’t mind writing for a living. I qualified as a UK and European Patent Attorney before family took me to Canada where I requalified as a Canadian Patent Agent.

More recently, I and two colleagues started our own firm here in Canada, which has been challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Each of us have different technical backgrounds so it is always interesting to hear about what everyone is doing. With my chemical physics background, I get to work with clients with cutting edge cleantech inventions, including in, for example, water purification, renewable energy, greenhouse gas monitoring and carbon nanofiber generation. By helping our clients who are solving significant problems, we hope that we are making the world a better place.

Throughout my career so far, I have found that Edinburgh is a respected university both in the UK and abroad, and having that brand recognition makes the degree that much more valuable.

Alumni Wisdom

I’ll pass on a thought from one of my professors (of Statistical Mechanics) which stuck with me, which was this: it would take years to fully understand the material in this course, if that is even possible, so just try to familiarise yourself with the material. That is all we can ask at this stage. And later, after you have finished, come back, reflect on the material and delve deeper.