In this blog, we spoke to chemistry PhD students Sidonie Aubert and Tania Katsina. Sidonie joined Queen Mary University of London in 2016 with Tania arriving in 2017. They are now both coming towards the end of their PhDs during which they have been working in Dr Stellios Arseniyadis’ research group.
Tania and Sidonie (left to right)
What has your PhD experience been like at Queen Mary?
Sidonie: The University is very nice with a real international atmosphere. The campus is beautiful and the facilities are great – the lab was completely new when I arrived. As we were the first wave of students in our research group, we also helped to set up the lab.
Tania: It was quite a big step for me to move to London but I’m really enjoying the experience.
What is it like to live and study in London?
Tania: It’s amazing, a little expensive but a great experience. It’s a nice city to live in as an international student; it’s really big and you can find pretty much anything you’re looking for.
Sidonie: This city is so diverse that you don’t really feel like you’re abroad at all. You never feel isolated and you get an international feeling both inside and outside the university campus.
Tell us more about your research
Tania: Our main focus is on pure organic chemistry. We try to develop new tools to build molecules with intriguing architectures and exceptional biological properties. The methods we develop span within the areas of organocatalysis, transition metal catalysis, natural product synthesis and, more recently, DNA-based asymmetric catalysis, so it’s pretty diverse!
Sidonie: Everybody in the group has several projects running at the same time; sometimes we work on our own and sometimes we work hand-in-hand. This paper for example, which just came out in Organic Letters, is a joint effort between Tania and myself trying to develop a new palladium-catalysed transformation.
Tania: It was very stimulating to work with Sidonie on this project as we were both very driven. It was nice to be able to tackle the problems together and find the solutions. In retrospect, we put so much effort into this work, but it was worth it.
Sidonie: Having papers published, for us at this stage in our career, is like winning the World Cup.
Tania: Being recognised by the scientific community gives you a great feeling of satisfaction and it helps to keep you motivated.
What are your plans for the future?
Tania: Right now we’re in the process of summarising everything we’ve been working on in the past three years, the successes and failures. Luckily the reports we’ve been doing throughout our PhDs have been very helpful in completing our final write-up. In the future, I will be looking to work in industry; I’ve always been attracted by that.
Sidonie: I haven’t made my final decision yet but think I am going to try to stay in academia.