Hope Aitchison graduated from Sussex with an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, she is now a technology consultant. Hope spoke to us about her time at Sussex and how her degree helped encourage her to go on to study a PhD, which led to her chosen career.
How chemistry helped Hope's career in technology
Hope Aitchison is a technology consultant for IBM. Her job includes complex problem solving and travelling all over the UK.
What made you choose chemistry at Sussex?
"I chose Sussex primarily because I wanted to live in Brighton, which is somewhere I had visited a lot growing up and loved the vibe. I also love hiking and being outdoors, so the beautiful Sussex Downs that surround Sussex campus definitely helped influence my decision to apply. The Sussex chemistry department seemed really friendly, welcoming, and I loved the fact that classes were small."
What was your standout memory of your time on the course?
"I have two standout memories. I really enjoyed the first time me and my lab partner got to design, plan, and then perform an experiment. We chose to study the levels of antioxidants and caffeine in different types of tea leaves, to determine which variety offered the most health benefits. This was my first taste of scientific research and sparked my desire to continue working in synthetic chemistry after I graduated.
"My second standout memory has to be when one of our lecturers offered to run an evening demonstration on explosive chemistry – this was nothing short of epic. It involved fire balloons, light sabre-esque sounds, and bright blue explosions that had the whole lecture hall cheering and laughing."
What were you proudest of?
"Originally, I enrolled onto the BSc programme when I started my Sussex degree, as my A-level grades were not high enough for the MChem. I worked hard in my first year and successfully upgraded to the MChem, and then worked even harder for the next two years to achieve the highest grade in my class in third year. This was a really big achievement for me and made all the late-night library revision sessions worth it."
What experiments/modules were your favourite?
"My favourite modules were anything run by John Turner – particularly his course about the lanthanides and actinides. He always had the most interesting anecdotes to go with the subject matter, and I really enjoyed his style of teaching.
"My favourite experiment (aside from the tea study I mentioned) was when my lab partner and I made an inorganic molecular wire. The synthesis involved a lot of complicated steps, and we were given the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and to really start thinking like researchers. Even though it was difficult, I remember laughing a lot during this project – it’s important in research to not get too frustrated when things go wrong (because they often do) – and I found the concept and purpose of the experiment very interesting, which definitely helped us stay motivated."
What are you doing now?
"After I graduated from Sussex, I went to University of Bristol for my PhD. I studied the mechanism of a catalytic process designed to upgrade bioethanol to butanol, which is a more advanced biofuel. I thoroughly enjoyed my PhD, and as much as I loved Sussex, I am really glad that I lived in a different city for four years as it was a great experience.
"After my PhD, I decided that I wanted to move away from academia and try something completely different. I now work as a technology consultant for IBM, which involves a lot of travel all over the UK. I chose consultancy as a career as it gives me the opportunity to use many of the skills I learned during my PhD, such as complex problem solving, creative thinking, and means I am constantly learning."
How did your degree at Sussex help you in your career?
"In my final year I was hugely encouraged by my lecturers to do a PhD. I was close with some of the Sussex PhD students, and spoke with them at length about what I would expect and which universities and research groups I should consider. I am very grateful for all the advice I was given from the chemistry faculty, both the pre-interview coaching and after work chats at Falmer bar.
"As a class, we were encouraged to apply for summer projects so that we could have a taste of scientific research. I did a microscopy project with Mark Osborne between my second and third year, and a synthetic project with Geoff Cloke between third and fourth year.
"Both provided me with brilliant lab skills and definitely helped me in my final year. I think the fact that we were quite a small class meant that I was able to form really good relationships with my lecturers and lab demonstrators. This was super helpful and gave me lots of ideas about what I could do with my PhD after finishing, which was reassuring and definitely influenced my decision."