"We produce papers and patents but the real products of our work are the students.”
Dr Antoine Buchard and Dr Ulrich Hintermair from our Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies reflect on the impact that doctoral researchers make.
They become the real driving force of project, the heart and soul of our research groups: they are the keeper of our research integrity and pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
Doctoral students choosing to come to Bath benefit from working with some of the very brightest minds. Many go on to make incredible discoveries of their own.
Dr Antoine Buchard joined our Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, along with Dr Ulrich Hintermair, in 2013. Since then, they have made such remarkable progress that both were awarded Royal Society University Research Fellows in 2017.
Antoine’s recent breakthrough was creating plastic from sugar and carbon dioxide. Biodegradable and biocompatible because it uses sugar found in our DNA, the new plastic could eventually be used for medical implants, or even to support the artificial growth of replacement organs for transplant.
As part-chemist, part-engineer, Ulrich’s interests lie in improving our understanding of catalysis. To help them develop new and better catalysts, he has set up a world-leading facility at Bath to watch chemical reactions take place in real time.
Vital to Ulrich and Antoine’s research teams are PhD students, whom they mentor. Ulrich explains: "As an academic researcher you are only as good as your students, because they are the ones performing experiments and analysing data in the first place. So if you want to do first-class science, you have to train first-class PhD students.
Our role as their supervisor is making sure they use appropriate methods and techniques, follow paths worth investigating, guide them through difficult parts of their work, and set them realistic aims and challenges that help them develop into proper scientists themselves.
Along the way we produce papers and patents, but the real products of our work are the students. They could go on to invent something amazing later on based on the training they had in our group, and this supply of future leaders and innovators is our contribution to society."
Antoine added: "One of the most gratifying thing as a supervisor is to see students maturing as researchers throughout their PhD, taking real ownership of their project and becoming expert in their field. They become the real driving force of project, the heart and soul of our research groups: they are the keepers of our research integrity and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. Their intellectual input becomes invaluable and it is always sad to see them go.
Some of them go on becoming academic researchers, teachers, project managers in Industry or scientific consultants. Some of them change fields completely but wherever they go, students take away with them the rigour and high standards, the adaptability and the resilience that they will have acquired during their PhD, and will transmit these values further. This makes them highly employable.”