Sam Shand

MChem Medicinal and Biological Chemistry with a Year Abroad 2015

Your Time at the University

I grew up mainly in the Highlands of Scotland and was the first in my family to get a degree. An initial interest in medicine - and slates of rejected applications - meant medicinal chemistry was a good fit. I chose Edinburgh for the specialised course, allure and reputation of the university and Edinburgh’s beauty. Though it feels like a big town now, it felt like a metropolis when I arrived!

For me, the experience of being a student really got going once I had established a core group of course pals by the end of 1st year. I remember always thinking the teaching and lab sessions were top quality and engaging, though the standout feature of the programme was definitely pastoral care from Personal Tutors. Dr Steven Henderson made a huge difference to my self-belief at some of my lower points, and was always a friendly, accessible sounding board. Thank you Steve!

Sam Shand

I was lucky enough to be elected as Co-President of the University’s Chemistry Society (the oldest in the world!) in my 3rd year - my memory of that year is a flurry of activity, between society business and otherwise very academically demanding year. The personal highlight of the course was 4th year abroad at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. Between researching, experiencing Singapore and travelling the region, it was a perspective-changing experience which really helped me understand the type of person I am - I would recommend it to everyone! Some of my fellow-travellers during that year at NTU are now some of my dearest friends.

Finally, working the Edinburgh Fringe festival during 1st year changed my life - I’ve been involved in some capacity most summers since. The Fringe is another amazing feature of studying in Edinburgh and occupies a key place in my heart.

Your Experiences Since Leaving the University

I personally struggled a lot in deciding what to do after my MChem degree. Whilst I enjoyed research, I felt like more of a people-focussed career suited me better. After casting around about 6 months, I accepted a place on the management consulting graduate scheme with PwC. A benefit of coming to that type of work from chemistry is that alongside being able to manage relationships with people, it really needs strong numeracy and analytical skills, too. A really diverse set of skills! I was fortunate to get a dizzying amount of experience in a few years, and a variety of work too as I had clients from charities to technology companies and financial services companies. I decided to specialise on work around behaviour change programmes when I was promoted out of the graduate scheme. Questions like ‘what makes people tick?’, and ‘what does that mean for different organisations?’ really interest me.

One of the big benefits of consultancy roles is travel, but it's definitely a double-edged sword. To be in Edinburgh more often, I took up a job here as a Change Manager in January 2020 - at the University of Edinburgh of all places! That was an incredibly insightful period of time - a very different perspective to being a student. Since by this point I had strayed considerably from my original degree, I was interested in looking more deeply into the science behind behaviour. That led me to a specialist postgraduate masters degree in Behavioural Science at the University of Stirling, which I am around half way through as I write this. It’s quite a new interdisciplinary field, incorporating insights from economics, psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and sociology, to name a few. Much like chemistry, intense study of something fundamental like this changes the way you see the world!

Alumni Wisdom

Firstly, your mental health should always be a priority - protect and cherish it!

Secondly, try and do a year abroad if you can - it will change your life.

Lastly, you will regret the things you do and don’t quite turn out how you imagined more than those you don’t do at all.