Our partnership with NJTech

The chemistry of great collaboration


In 2011 our unique partnership with Nanjing Tech University (NJ Tech) led to the creation of a pioneering new joint Chemistry BSc degree programme; Chinese students are taught at NJ Tech by our academics for three years before coming to Sheffield for their final year.

For Dr Julie Hyde, Senior University Teacher in the Department of Chemistry, it presented a career-defining opportunity to share her expertise and passion for teaching.

Julie was asked to create and deliver the three-year practical course for the programme, teaching students in Nanjing and helping them gain the skills and experience to launch international careers.

Ahead of her next trip to teach in Nanjing, we caught up with Julie to hear how much she loves inspiring the next generation of chemists and why the programme has led to some lasting global friendships.

Interview: Kate Mitchell   Photos: Dr Julie Hyde and Professor Mike Ward

About the joint BSc programme

Undergraduate students at NJ Tech study levels one and two of Sheffield’s BSc Chemistry course over three years, taught entirely in English by our Chemistry teachers. Then they join the Chemistry BSc students in Sheffield for their fourth and final year – the third year for Sheffield-only students. When they arrive in Sheffield, students from Nanjing have completed the same work as our level three students here. They are experienced at learning Chemistry in English and familiar with the teaching methods used in Sheffield.

julie teaching listening in class
working hard practicals 2

Julie is really proud of her students, who have all worked hard and been successful: "We had 29 students in the first cohort, 2011–2015; 20 came to Sheffield and they all graduated last year. I was in the procession of graduates for the ceremony and I have to say, it was such a proud day...our course has opened doors for them" Photos by Professor Mike Ward

Starting out

“After the joint programme was proposed in 2011, I was initially asked to suggest some laboratory practicals for it. Students who start the Chemistry BSc programme in the UK come from A-Level or BTEC, so they usually have a really good grounding in practical Chemistry from studying it at school. But we were not sure how much practical work Chinese students had done; it seems to vary from school to school. The theoretical aspect of the programme taught in Nanjing is exactly the same as for the Sheffield students. Some of my colleagues in the Department of Chemistry who teach particular modules will go out to Nanjing for two weeks to deliver it.

"I knew that the lessons I’d developed would work, but I got some of my level three students in Sheffield to test out the practicals by planning to teach them to sixth-formers, as part of their schools project. My students had to deliver the practicals as if they were teachers. It’s really nice that they did this project because a lot of them have gone into teaching now themselves!"

Celebrating successes

"Professionally, being given the opportunity to lead the lab side of things and plan the whole three year programme was a great responsibility and experience for me and a great achievement, as it has been a success. After the first cohort finished their practicals in 2014, the team and I had a celebration in Nanjing.

"But it’s not just about me; it’s about being able to show what the University does. The real truth is that each year, our academic team have got the students to the end of the programme and it’s really exciting. The third cohort will arrive here in Sheffield in August 2016 to start their final year, a larger group this year. In the format and style that we teach the course from Sheffield, with native English speaking academics teaching Chinese students in English, it was the first course of its kind in the UK that we know of with the delivery of the laboratory chemistry being carried out abroad by English academics, which is particularly unusual. Our School of Maths and Statistics here at Sheffield are doing a similar programme now and so is Physics.

"Students on the programme in China have the exact same work and grading system as students taking the BSc in Sheffield. We’ve had some lovely comments from the students who have said they love the practical teaching style we offer. The UK English teaching style for Chemistry tends to be very hands-on, whereas in China the way it’s taught depends on the institution but in many cases it leans more towards the theoretical aspect.

"We saw a spike in numbers in the third year of the programme – the cohort size was 79! But now it’s settled to our target of around 60 per year group. There are 180 students over the three year groups in Nanjing now. That’s a lot of lab students to deliver lab teaching to, so by the third year I needed someone else to support me. One of my former schools project students Jamie Wright, together with another student Jonny Simmons, came out to Nanjing to teach with me in 2014 while on the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) scheme during their PhDs. Jamie has been working with me on the China project since he finished his PhD in February 2016. That was a great opportunity for him and the six other GTAs who have been able to travel to China and help me deliver the lab."

george demonstrating a practical Cathryn Julie and Zoe
jamie giving teaching support Jamie teaching

Students enjoy a mix of theory and a hands-on, practical work, taught by Julie and now supported by Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Jamie Wright (bottom row). Julie has also been supported by GTA Zoe (on the right, top right photo) as well as former joint degree students Catherine (on the left, top right) and George (top left). Photos by Professor Mike Ward

Proud moments

"We had 29 students in the first cohort, 2011–2015; 20 came to Sheffield and they all graduated last year. I was in the procession of graduates for the ceremony and I have to say, it was such a proud day.

"Apart from my own personal tutees, who also did a fantastic job, I was so happy for the Chinese students; thinking back to where we had started from, and then seeing them graduate, was excellent. And everyone got great degree results.

Two of our graduates Catherine and George from the very first cohort asked if they could teach with me this year in Nanjing delivering the practical classes and they did, they were amazing. They taught in English! Catherine is planning to go onto to Cambridge for her masters and George is going to Toronto for his.

"We’re really proud that pretty much all the graduates have gone on to do masters courses, some here in Sheffield, some elsewhere in the UK or in China or America. Our course has opened doors for them. A few students went back and secured jobs in chemistry over in China. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a year or 18 months there might be some going onto studying for PhDs.

"I really like to think I am a dedicated teacher and I’m excited when my students succeed. I’m passionate about improving the course it as it grows. That’s one of the things that prompted me to go and speak at different educational conferences, to learn from people and share knowledge. I’ve since spoken in America, across Europe and in England a number of times about the China project. It’s been quite exciting and challenging professionally to have the opportunity to take this course out and talk to other people about it. Things are likely to progress as there is a joint initiative likely to be launched with NJTech and some things might change as a result of the joint initiative but it is currently in the planning stage.

"I’ve been involved in the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) for a long time doing a lot of outreach work and hands-on practicals, together with being a member of various committees. Currently I am the chair for the Secondary and Further Education (SaFE) group and as such I ran the SaFE conference on 12 July here at Sheffield. This is a national conference that brings teachers together from schools across the country, giving them the chance to network and share ideas about topical chemistry. I am excited that we secured Professor Sir John Holman, the president of the RSC to be the keynote speaker this year; and, to close the day, Professor Tony Ryan of Sheffield.

purple lecture purple lecture

Julie's passion for teaching means her students enjoy engaging lectures like this Royal Society of Chemisty seminar. Julie did live demonstrations to tell the story of the discovery of Perkins Purple Dye in 1856 and how this important discovery led to some major advances in the chemical industry. Various dyes were derived from this discovery. Photos by Professor Mike Ward

Julie’s career at the University

2007: Joined the University as a Teaching Fellow from a background of further education and teaching. Joined predominantly to teach in the laboratory, managing the Undergraduate second year Organic Chemistry labs.
2011: Prepared lab programme for 3+1 NJTech programme
2012: Started teaching at NJTech in China. The initial three-week visit has grown with the student group, so it’s now three months.
2015: Became a Senior University Teacher as her first cohort from China on the joint degree programme graduated here in Sheffield.
2016 Second cohort due to graduate and the large cohort due to arrive in August.

Forging links for the future

"I spent a lot of time on the delivery and developing the materials. During the first two years of the programme I tailored the materials delivered so that they try to take account of the students’ English levels, but gradually adjusting them so that by the third year the materials delivered to the students are exactly the same as the Sheffield level two and as they’ll encounter when they come to Sheffield.

"In terms of language skills, Chinese children learn English right from primary school but they don’t get a lot of opportunities to practice it. This means their written English can often be quite nice, but maybe their spoken skills and understanding will vary. I’m mindful of this but I gradually speak more quickly as the students progress through the three years. This means the students can adjust but they’re still getting used to being taught fully in English.

"In the first couple of years of the programme, my colleague at Nanjing, Professor Haijian (Karen) Shi, also team-taught in the labs with me, so if we had any language issues she could unravel the mystery for the students. As we have just completed the fifth year some other Chinese teachers will support me with the large number of classes we deliver. Karen has an excellent command of English as well and always team teaches with me for the final year. For all years we do have the policy of teaching in English for student development.

"When they come here to Sheffield, the students are totally integrated with our third years, not separate. I tried a pen pal system to break the ice with the group that they’re going to join which has been successful."

Friends and colleagues

"Working with such supportive colleagues in China was so good. Karen was very supportive and we have become good friends. She has been to England for six months doing some research. Now we know each other’s families as well. Karen’s technician Shirley is also wonderful and looks after everything we need from my detailed lists.

"And everyone was so welcoming. The very first year I went out there, I was on my own because I overlapped by only one day with my UK colleague and I was a little worried, I should not have been! Apart from support from Karen, the students really looked after me and they took me out sightseeing and to a restaurant. I was able to take a few days to acclimatize before I needed to teach, I did need that.

"We are very good friends, myself and Karen and the students. We’re always in touch on WeChat, a mobile app Chinese students use for communication. Also, each year group of students has a WeChat group and we are always in contact about what they might need to do, even when I am in Sheffield!

"I’m learning Mandarin and I’m now confident at buying food, finding out the price. Last year I went to buy some train tickets and whereas I would usually have taken someone with me, this year I bought them on my own and asked for them in Chinese so I was pleased with that. But it is a challenging language and I certainly do not expect to be teaching in Mandarin in the near future!

"What do I enjoy most about the NJTech programme? Definitely the dedication of the students and the warm welcome the Chinese staff show us. We feel part of things."

A typical day at NJ tech

"Breakfast is fruit or a Chinese steamed dumpling, preferably red bean. There’s a lovely variety of good food including tasty pancakes. The fruit there is lovely, I buy fresh fruit all the time. You can buy three pineapples for a pound, all ready to eat. We start teaching at 8.10am, introduce the practical, demonstrate, then they would get on with it; the end of a normal day is 5.20pm.

"Some practicals take about a day and a half. In the UK in my lab they would work on their own but in china they work in pairs, I mix them up so they work in different pairs for each session. Every fume cupboard or bench will have all the equipment; the technician will get it ready, she has been very keen to make sure that the practicals run smoothly, which they have.

"We go out to eat lunch together on campus with the staff, and often many students join us; there are lots of places to choose from selling delicious dishes. I am a fan of noodles or the stone bowl which is a rice based dish.

I like sightseeing when I can although you don’t get as much time as you might think to travel. It’s still a full time job. I have been able to travel a bit and there have been some long bank holidays. I have managed to visit the major cities, Shanghai, Beijing and of course Nanjing over the last five years.

Julie's gallery (photos by Julie Hyde)

jamie julie and karen



lotus flowers nanjing

karen mike and julie

Grounds of NJ tech


sugar decorations nanjing

forbidden city beijing

terracotta warriors


yuling tower