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Meet the lecturer: Dr Tippu Sheriff

Dr Tippu Sheriff has been teaching in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary since 2002. He teaches a number of undergraduate modules in Chemistry, including Practical Chemistry, Solid State and Inorganic Chemistry, States of Matter and more. We interviewed Tippu to learn more about his passion for Chemistry.

What do you enjoy most about being a Chemistry lecturer?

I just enjoy interacting with students. I enjoy imparting knowledge and teaching. There is pressure in terms of teaching but it is something I have got used to and I try to do a good job. Getting good student feedback is very satisfying too.

Tell us about your public engagement work

I’m Outreach Coordinator for Chemistry, so I arrange a number of outreach activities, whether it’s here at Queen Mary or going out to schools and giving talks  primarily on Chemistry but also science. I give talks encouraging young people to consider science careers. I give some fun lecture demonstrations that I’ve built up over a number of years, involving liquid nitrogen and cardice, so I get up close and show them things that perhaps they’ve only ever seen on TV. It creates great fun, lots of smoke and coloured solutions, which is very exciting for children.

What I’ve found out is that with Chemistry, you can do a lot. It opens you up to such a wide range of career choices.

How has Chemistry changed since you became a lecturer?

The fundamentals of teaching have stayed the same whereas research has become a lot more interdisciplinary now with Chemistry interacting with Materials, Biology and Physics. It is a subject that is developing all the time. You always feel inadequate that you never know enough. For me, it’s a constant seeking of knowledge and then trying to disseminate that to students in a way that entertains and informs them. There are approximately 110 elements and many new ones are being made. I ask students to guess how many chemical compounds there are. Usually students start too low, but eventually we get to around 60 million, approximately the same as the population of the UK, so effectively that’s one compound for every man, woman and child in the UK. It’s quite amazing there are so many compounds. So Chemistry is all about those chemical compounds and their uses. It’s an incredibly vast subject and that’s what’s fascinating about it.

What advice do you have for young students?

When you’re 18 you have to make the very difficult choice about what you are going to study at university. When I was 18 I didn’t know that I could study Chemical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering. I was good at Chemistry and things seemed to click for me; I enjoyed it. What I’ve found out is that with Chemistry, you can do a lot. It opens you up to such a wide range of career choices. Even outside of the traditional science careers, you can even work in the City because accountancy firms and financial firms love graduate chemists. The degree course in Chemistry is just so encompassing in terms of problem solving, writing reports, thinking analytically, being good with Maths, good with your hands because we do lots of laboratory work. These interpersonal skills are what financial employers are looking for, so if you’re not sure what you want to do as a career and you like the sciences and Chemistry, try Chemistry, as I don’t know many people who’ve studied Chemistry who are out of a job.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I like to play football on a Sunday in our local park. It’s fun, with a good mix of ages and abilities. I also love beaches, which you don’t see in London but when the summer comes, my wife and I and the two boys get down to the beach and spend time by the sea. We like to go to Shoeburyness near Southend-On-Sea and we go to some nice beaches we’ve found in Kent too.