September 28, 2017, by ZhiYuan
Calling it a Year!
Blog post from Zhi Yuan Kok, a first year PhD student who is working in the division of Biomolecular Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry. His supervisors are Professor Barrie Kellam, Dr Shailesh Mistry and Professor Steven Hill.
Having graduated with an MPharm from the university in July last year, I returned to this place I called home for the past 2 years to embark on my PhD journey in the field of medicinal chemistry with the Vice Chancellor’s Research Scholarship funding, which I am humbly grateful for. After settling down for a week, I then had a meeting with my supervisors and a full-month of literature review commenced in order to familiarise myself with the project. It was not too hard as it basically involved reading and taking notes – something I’d been routinely doing during my undergraduate studies. It was then that I recalled my supervisor saying to me: ‘Be prepared, it is going to be a steep climb’ and I began to question the legitimacy of this advice. Boy, was I wrong.
The first challenge was a huge knowledge gap which presented itself on my first day working in the laboratory. I was completely clueless as to how things worked and what to do. Despite the fact that I had done several research placements previously, none of them involved complex and hardcore organic synthesis. With limited knowledge and practical skills with regards to organic synthesis and having to fully dictate and bear responsibility towards my project, I struggled, panicked and lost self-confidence. A steep climb was an understatement about what I believe was a big leap. Nevertheless, I worked tirelessly from 9 to 5 in the laboratory to develop my practical skills and studied an organic chemistry textbook to brush up on my knowledge of organic chemistry after work. It was a very tiring 6 month period.
As my MPharm degree was a 2+2 (first 2 years spent in the Malaysia Campus), I came to the UK in 2014 with friends of a similar background, culture and language. I used to hangout with my Malaysian friends and never pushed myself to know more people. That all changed last year. With my usual circle of friends gone, I learnt that I had to make new friends and I spoke English a lot, in pharmacy terms a dose change from p.r.n. (pro re nata or ‘as needed’) to many times every day. Never in my life have I interacted with so many people of such diversity and thanks to this, I have friends from 5 out of the 7 continents in the world. (Note: a Kenyan will soon be moving into the room below mine and I am confident I could get to 6 out of 7 in 2 months but a 7/7 would be impossible unless penguins count as friends).
I gradually settled in to this new life and by May, I reached the first milestone of my PhD. I had successfully synthesised my first novel final compound, with a molecular mass of exactly 1000. It gave me a confidence boost as the results of the effort that I had put in for the last 6 months had finally materialised. I spent the subsequent 3 months working on my first year report as well as preparing for the viva voce exam. I passed the exam and life after that seemed much easier because it involved doing some chemistry work whilst waiting to go over to the cell signalling laboratory for compound testing plus occasional outings with colleagues.
Looking back on the past 12 months, I started this journey not with a bang but instead with a ‘boo’ and honestly I would not have made it with my sanity intact if not for the support of my family, friends and colleagues which include my supervisors, post-docs and fellow PhD students. Nevertheless, I was also able to do some of the things which I love the most during my PhD, including some travelling.
As of now, I have 3 days remaining of my annual leave which I am going to use for a trip to Munich for the annual Oktoberfest. With this trip and this blog, I am going to call it a year.