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Postgraduate Study


Lu, from China, is a PhD candidate at St John’s College. Based in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, his research focuses on biodegradable polymers

I knew I wanted to come to Cambridge as a postgraduate researcher while I was still studying for my undergraduate degree – it has one of the best Materials Science departments in the UK. I wanted to get my PhD from a world-renowned university, where the academics are leaders in their field and people are working with frontier knowledge.

I studied for an MPhil in Materials Science and Metallurgy at Cambridge before starting my PhD here. I had always wanted to experience Cambridge, and while I was working for a summer school programme as an undergraduate I visited St John’s College and thought the city looked absolutely beautiful. Cambridge is full of intelligent and passionate people; the atmosphere of learning is great – and if you’re surrounded by intelligent people you learn from them. There is this unique and fascinating intersection between the innovative and the traditional sides of Cambridge. My college is soaked in history and tradition, but parts of the West Cambridge site, where my department is based, is almost futuristic and the equipment is state of the art.

When I was at high school I was interested in physics, chemistry and maths, and I wanted to do something related to those three subjects. Materials Science was like a crossroads between them, it’s very interdisciplinary. During my undergraduate degree, in Materials Science and Engineering, I found that the biomaterial aspect of the subject was what interested me the most.

My MPhil was a research degree, and the whole experience with the team and my supervisors made me sure a PhD at Cambridge was a good choice for me. I’m very interested in engineering, and making something real, something you can hold in your hands. I find that very fulfilling. As part of my PhD research I’m synthesising a new biodegradable polymer that should have antibacterial properties.

When it came to applying to study at Cambridge I was able to find a lot of information online, and St John’s helped with finding college accommodation. Cambridge is a very peaceful place to live, but there are lots of interesting things going on. The colleges have regular events, like concerts and Evensong, and you get to meet lots of different people at Formals – students and academics. There are also many clubs and societies. And punting of course! It’s a welcoming place, people are friendly and helpful and there is a real sense of community. There are people to reach out to directly - you get support from your director of studies, and from your college tutor.

There are a number of funding opportunities at Cambridge - I’m funded by St John’s College and the Cambridge Trust. There’s information on the University’s Postgraduate Admissions page about scholarships and I also spoke to my college’s postgraduate tutor, my supervisor and other PhD students. It’s quite a long process, and my advice would be to start looking into that as soon as possible.

I’ve felt safe during the pandemic. Protocols have been put in place by my college, including hand sanitisers across the site and instructions about facemasks etc. My department has given us safety briefings, and has introduced a lot of layers of protection, in terms of organising how people work and carry out experiments. People know what they should be doing when they’re in the department.

I see education as an investment, and a degree from such a prestigious university will definitely help when I’m looking for a job. I haven’t decided on a specific direction yet, but I may be looking to go into industry, possibly a biomaterials research role at a company. There are definitely options in Cambridge, because of the science parks and the tech firms based in the city, and the post-study work visa for international students in the UK. There is also a very dedicated careers service at Cambridge, and the opportunity to be part of a wide network of researchers made up of people from all over the world.