Polymer fibres and wearable electronics: PhD student Evie Chalmers
Student experience 8th May 2019
Today we speak to Evie Chalmers. She’s a 24-year-old PhD student in the School of Materials, whose research looks at the creation of elastic, conducting polymer fibres that can be used in wearable electronics.
Her undergraduate studies in Cambridge may have resulted in the loss of her Scottish accent – she’s originally from the Scottish Borders – but they helped pave the way for her move to Manchester:
Hi Evie, why did you want to study Materials Science at Manchester?
I studied Materials Science at undergrad, and in my third year we learned about polymer electronics and wearable devices. I was fascinated as this was such a strange concept, because traditionally we’re taught that all polymers are insulators.
I’d also been interested in fashion and textile creation since I was at school and really enjoy designing and sewing my own clothes; so the PhD offered by Manchester – which combines some quite in-depth chemistry with textile design techniques, such as screen-printing and dyeing – was a great opportunity to combine two of my interests while also being at the forefront of research into wearable technology.
What do you enjoy most about the course?
First and foremost, I enjoy the freedom of direction that my research can take: spanning from polymer chemistry to textile creation in one department. There is a real satisfaction in being able to hold and handle the things that I create – I definitely feel that a hands-on approach helps me learn.
Although my course isn’t taught, I still find myself learning every day, either through reading papers, attending seminars or working with others in the lab on different projects. I really enjoy this; it keeps me interested in what I’m working on and also helps me feel like I’m more on top of current research.
…and the wider University?
Again, Manchester’s focus of world-leading and interdisciplinary research is a big plus. It also means that there are many more facilities and machines here than a lot of other universities, which saves me time and money. The University is more engaged with student life and the overall student experience than my previous university too. The campus-like feel of Oxford Road is fun, and there seems to be a lot more diversity in the societies offered here than in other universities.
What are your thoughts on Manchester as a city?
I really like it. There’s a good sense of community and although it’s a big city, there are small pockets and districts where you can base yourself and get everything you need. I really enjoy the number and range of bands playing here too, and the number of parks that are great for having barbeques and slacklining in the summer. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere so even towns seem big to me – but so far I’m okay with city life!
How do you see your time at the University helping with your career plans?
I feel like the number of people I have met through my research and attending conferences, both within the department and at other universities, will really help with future research collaborations. I’ve also now had a lot of experience in labs and using fancy machinery, while learning how to do ‘proper’, cutting-edge research and write papers is going to be helpful for a research-based career.
Has your time studying here caused you to rethink or alter your plans?
Not really. I think I’m still set on finding a postdoctoral position after I finish and staying in academia for a while. It has, however, made me more aware of what exactly a postdoc would involve, and that there are some interesting (and similar) positions in industry too. I’ve also discovered that I find teaching and demonstrating in labs enjoyable, so I’m looking to pursue more of that in the future now.
What would you say to people considering coming to Manchester to study Materials Science?
To postgrads: definitely take advantage of all the additional, non-research based activities available, such as lab-based teaching and use of the other machines outside your lab (I’m still trying to find a way to get regular use of a knitting machine though…). From experience, living close to Oxford Road and the rest of the student accommodation lets you be more involved in student life, as working all day up in North Campus can feel a bit isolating at times (although the new MECD building will change this!).
And outside university… what do you get up to in your spare time?
Alongside doing a lot of sewing and a bit of art/drawing, I also enjoy getting out into the country – particularly hillwalking and rock climbing, which means that Manchester’s proximity to the Peak District is ideal! I also (occasionally) play guitar and piano and go to a lot of live shows (and am trying to work my way up to forming a band!).