With a chemistry degree the possibilities are truly infinite

Will Mulcrone
Will Mulcrone
Undergraduate student
Chemistry MChem
Will grew up in Sheffield and, after visiting the University, knew this was where he wanted to study.

What made you decide to study the Chemistry MChem course at Sheffield?

Having grown up in Sheffield, I was aware of the prestigious reputation of the university, be it through visits with school or digital media. I also knew I wanted to continue living at home. I visited other universities in Yorkshire, but after visiting Sheffield, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to study. The staff were welcoming, the facilities were excellent, and the academic who interviewed me, Dr Grant Hill, seemed genuinely interested in previous accomplishments. Having now completed my BSc Chemistry degree, I cannot stress enough how invested the chemistry department’s academics are in seeing students succeed and achieve their potential.  

What have you enjoyed most about the course?

Unexpectedly, the profound world of quantum mechanics! It was satisfying to learn the origins of rules established at A Level – for example, the Pauli exclusion principle. Towards the end of the course, I also developed a keen interest in pharmacology. Learning how the illustrious chemotherapy drug cisplatin was discovered, and its mechanism of action resolved, was fascinating. Through the third year literature review project, I was able to explore this newly found interest further, looking at the preparation and activity of novel therapeutic agents known as benzoxaboroles. 

What did you do for your Level 3 literature review and Level 4 research project? 

I was fortunate enough to work with Dr Benjamin Partridge during both my level three literature review and MChem project. I cannot thank him enough for the amount of support he has given me including time, invaluable knowledge and personal support. This mode of study enabled me to take the research from my third year literature review into the laboratory in my fourth year. My literature review evaluated synthetic routes to several novel therapeutic agents – all derivatives of the same molecule, a boron-containing compound known as benzoxaborole, and their activity. Two of the therapeutic agents are FDA approved, Kerydin and Eucrisa, used to treat onychomycosis and atopic dermatitis, respectively. For my final year research project, I developed a synthetic route to structurally similar saturated oxaborins, which have been seldom explored and have significant therapeutic potential. 

What scientific skills have you developed during your course?

I have gained experience in multistep synthesis using modern synthetic chemistry techniques and the characterisation of compounds using various analytical techniques (eg, NMR, IR, mass spectrometry). In addition, I have learnt to confidently search through the primary literature, analyse data, and use relevant software (ChemDraw, and the NMR analysis software MestreNova). 

What transferable skills have you developed during your course?

The challenging nature of a chemistry degree has encouraged me to develop perseverance, resilience, and diligence. I also have developed my time management and organisational skills from experiences both in undergraduate and research laboratories. Furthermore, I have had several opportunities to improve my ability to present and communicate ideas to peers.    

What do you hope to do after your degree?

In October 2021, I am due to begin a PhD with Professor Jane Grasby and Dr David Williams, members of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, in mechanistic biology. Specifically, it is looking at the repair of a particular type of DNA damage, interstrand crosslinks, that occur in individuals with a genetic disease known as Fanconi Anaemia.

What would you say to a prospective student considering studying the Chemistry MChem at Sheffield? 

Chemistry is a degree that encourages students to develop a wide range of transferable skills, which can open doors that are not directly related to chemistry. From one careers day event, I recall one speaker remarking how he used his chemistry degree to pursue a career in computer programming. A chemistry degree is challenging, companies do acknowledge this fact, and they are willing to employ people despite them not possessing the exact skills that the role entails. 

Another important aspect of a chemistry degree that other degrees may not provide is the practical aspect. Some of the content you are taught in lectures, such as a particular reaction, is then carried out in the undergraduate teaching laboratories. One that comes to mind is the Wittig reaction. After being taught the reaction in second year, students are given the opportunity to perform it in the undergraduate teaching laboratories. Being in the teaching labs week in and out, also trains one to overcome problems that will inevitably happen (like when a reaction does not generate the desired product). Finally, a chemistry degree provides students with the tools to resolve contemporary issues, be they environmental or medicinal. At the risk of sounding cliché, with a chemistry degree the possibilities are truly infinite. 

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