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When Sarah Fothergill began her MSc in Advanced Materials Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, she did not expect to stay on for a PhD. And yet, that’s where her journey has led her today. She credits the unbeatable opportunities presented by the programme and Imperial’s well-rounded offerings for giving her a strong foundation in her PhD journey.

“I connected well with the research group,” she says of her experience. “One of the nice things about the MSc programme was that it was truly global, and it was normal to have a mix of backgrounds and cultures. Now I stay in touch with friends from all over the world.”

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Scientists from various materials science backgrounds are invited to explore their niche at Imperial. Source: Sarah Fothergill, Imperial College London

After completing her undergraduate degree in natural science, Fothergill was drawn to pursue a postgraduate degree in materials and engineering. Imperial’s MSc programme was appealing as it allowed her to select the most relevant modules to her interests and aspirations. Today, she is applying engineering concepts to medical applications in her PhD.

Expand your potential in materials science

With an 84% student satisfaction score by the National Student Survey 2021, Imperial College London is now ranked first among fellow London universities and at the top of the table of Russell Group institutions. It ranks fifth in the UK, according to the UK University Guide 2022, and eighth globally, according to the QS World University Rankings 2021, attracting students from over 125 countries. The Department of Materials — which offers the MSc in Advanced Materials Science and Engineering  — ranks third in the UK for Materials Technology by the Complete University Guide 2022.

“With the need to develop materials for climate change, new technology and medicine, materials science is crucial to improving society,” explains course director Professor Andrew Horsfield. “An MSc in Advanced Materials Science and Engineering can provide you with knowledge and skills to address key societal issues, enable positive technological change, and contribute to a future that will benefit everyone.”

Its best reviews come from graduates who have gone on to chart fulfilling career paths in materials science. Take Xiaodong Hu, who was driven to the industry by his passion for skiing.

“I was astounded by the fact that ski equipment, made of novel materials, can be light, hard but ductile simultaneously. With the curiosity of how these magical materials can be made and how their properties can be predicted, I chose to continue my study in the same area,” he says.

“Imperial Material was my first choice because it not only provides a solid theoretical foundation of innovative technologies in the area of materials, but also gives us the opportunity to have a glimpse about how these technologies are applied.”

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“With the need to develop materials for climate change, new technology and medicine, materials science is crucial to improving society.” Source: Imperial College London

Ling Liu from China, who came from a polymer materials science background, notes: “Students are encouraged to express their own thoughts during class. No matter what questions we raised, simple or complex, they were all valued by our professors who are willing to clarify to their best [ability].”

Fothergill concurs that the Department of Materials is highly welcoming and supportive to its students. Her professors did more than lecture — they engaged, supported, and guided her. “Talk to potential supervisors, particularly before committing to a research project. It’s also important that you get the best group for your research interests,” she advises.

Explore cutting-edge research and facilities

Fothergill knew she wanted to apply her knowledge of physics in a medical setting and chose biomaterials and nanomaterials as her main modules. In addition to this, she also enjoyed and benefited from modules on optoelectronics and thin film.

On top of Imperial’s excellent institutional standing and faculty guidance, candidates are also supported by tip-top research and teaching facilities. MSc candidates can make full use of the lab equipment at the Advanced Characterisation Facility Suite, where they develop their project and are exposed to an active research area with the support of an experienced professor.

Fothergill recalls her experience with Dr Fang Xie and her team fondly. As a novice to lab work, the project compelled her to take great leaps and risks. “One of the hardest elements was adjusting to the mindset that experiments do fail,” she shares. “In the end, I scored well in the project not because my results were perfect, but because I learnt how to properly write a publication-quality report and present results in a scientific manner. It was a learning experience, so I went into my PhD well-prepared.”

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Through a guided research project, MSc candidates learn to apply what they have learnt in a practical settingSource: Imperial College London

Since completing the MSc programme, Fothergill has been developing an ultrasensitive biosensing platform in her PhD. “I am really interested in applying engineering concepts to medical applications and have done a variety of things since leaving the MSc — from working with Cancer Research UK to presenting in parliament and taking part in EU initiatives,” she shares.

The PhD candidate encourages aspiring MSc candidates to explore additional connections outside the classroom via the many societies and facilities available on campus. “Imperial can foster entrepreneurship, so if you have an innovative idea, there is support available,” she enthuses, drawing from her experience in Imperial’s Techcelerate programme and Impact Accelerator programme. After spending four years in the lab, she is now learning how to commercialise her innovation.

“Being within the diagnostic world, I have developed a real interest in medicine and care deeply about helping patients. As a result, I also help in hospitals and have taken part in hospital placements and volunteering,” she shares.

With her enriching experiences at Imperial, Fothergill is set to make her mark in the world — and you can, too. Click here to explore the MSc in Advanced Materials Science and Engineering programme.

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