IAESTE UK works closely with Dr Fiona Gray, Director of Teaching, to provide projects for trainees.
The School of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews has a reputation for working at the cutting edge of research and engaging with students, employers and researchers throughout the world.
This year, the School offered three research placements and hosted students from Greece, Germany and Austria, each working on different projects within renowned research groups at the University.
One of these students was Apostolos Kaperonis, a Pharmaceutical Design and Engineering student from the Technical University of Denmark. Professor Nick Westwood welcomed Apostolos into the Westwood Research Group and both spoke positively of the visit, and talked about the challenges they overcame in order to make the placement as success.
“I’ll admit that when I first received Apostolos’ CV, I wasn’t sure how our current research projects would be relevant to his studies” says Professor Westwood. However, after meeting, he encouraged Apostolos to use his academic background in Chemical Engineering to his advantage. This included bringing a fresh insight and perspective to one particular project, and imparting some of his knowledge on other trainees through daily interactions and group talks.
Apostolos’ research project was based on an examination of lignin – a complex plant-derived biopolymer and major waste of the pulp/paper industry. More specifically, the project focused on lignin extraction and degradation, and the synthetic conversion of compounds obtained from lignin degradation into potentially valuable chemical compounds. The Westwood group have, until now, been working on small scale projects, but Apostolos’ expertise in chemical engineering led to several valuable discussions on scale-up challenges.
“Employers and students should go for it!...and be prepared to be flexible and plan something a bit different,” says Professor Westwood.
The project has been extremely hands-on, meaning Apostolos has gained a great deal of practical chemistry laboratory experience and familiarity with analytical techniques such as NMR spectroscopy that he had no previous experience of using.
Through an IAESTE placement, Apostolos hoped to further his knowledge of practical organic chemistry, gain work experience in a scientific environment, and expand his future possible career opportunities. The high ranking and prestige of the University of St Andrews, along with the opportunity to explore a “totally different culture” also made it easy for him to accept the placement. The IAESTE Local Committee also played an important role in his experience– organising trips across the country to entertain students in the evenings and during the weekend.
From the employer’s perspective, Professor Westwood described Apostolos as a “model summer placement student”, and spoke of his adaptability and desire to learn more about the practical side of chemistry.
He regarded being able to work in a multicultural environment as “one of the best parts of working in academia” – something IAESTE has been able to encourage and facilitate for several years at the University of St Andrews.
The placement is something that Apostolos will “never regret”. Along with two other trainees placed at St Andrews, they have not only been able to learn new skills and experience a different culture, but have also shared their own knowledge and values to contribute actively to the work of one of Scotland’s leading University research centres.