Chemistry 4th year Part II projects

For many students the final year of the fourth year is the highlight of the Chemistry course. During this year students complete a year-long project in one of the chemistry research groups. In the section below, Wouter, Georgie and Jack describe experiences of their Part II projects


A Part II project in Inorganic Chemistry

My name is Wouter and I just finished my fourth year of Chemistry at Hilda’s working in Professor Charlotte Williams Research Group in the Chemistry Research Laboratory. It is an inorganic group and my project focused on the synthesis and design of a new bimetallic catalyst for polymerisation and incorporation of carbon dioxide as a monomer in polymers, which couldn’t be more relevant to current events.

In the fourth year, you focus entirely on research and have no lectures or tutorials, which is very different from the previous three years. Generally, I worked 9-5 with some slightly longer days if required. I was assigned a post-doc to help me with my day to day issues and had monthly meetings with my supervisor to discuss my project and progress in detail.

It is a great experience working in a group. You really get a feel for what true academic research is like and see that everyone within a group helps each other. As a Part II especially, people are always there to give you a helping hand. The group I worked in was quite large and I never felt that I was not given enough guidance as there was always someone there to help if I needed it, though I also learned to be more independent in my research over the course of the year.

My project involved a lot of lab work, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Learning how to use gloveboxes, CO2 lines and high pressure reactors amongst many other experimental techniques was amazing and super interesting. I got on well with everyone in my lab and everyone helps each other, jokes around, play music and also socialise outside the lab with drinks on some Fridays at a pub and Christmas lunch.


Another Part II project in Inorganic Chemistry

My name is Georgie and I have just finished my 4th year project in Professor Stephen Faulkner’s Research Group based in the Chemistry Research Laboratory. My project was in inorganic chemistry and focused on exploring the energy transfer between metals in binuclear lanthanide complexes. 

At the start of my degree I looked ahead to my Part II with slight trepidation at the thought of having an entire year devoted to practical work. However, the experience of working in a research group and doing something completely different from the previous years of my degree was really great! The group setting meant there was always someone to answer my questions and give me support if I needed it, but also provided a fun and relaxed atmosphere. The group socials and daily tea and lunch breaks meant I got to know everyone really quickly and soon felt completely comfortable in the lab environment; the lab radio helped too! 

My average day ran from about 9-5 with my time split roughly 50:50 between lab work and other tasks such as running and processing spectra or planning the next step of my project. As well as using some techniques from the undergrad course I also learned how to use an HPLC machine and spent lots of time using a fluorimeter to study my lanthanide complexes. I also had regular catch ups with my supervisor to discuss how things were going. 

Having ownership over your own project in the Oxford Part II year helps to make it such a unique experience. With no lectures, tutorials or exams you are completely immersed in your research. Furthermore, having regular hours with free evenings and weekends gives you an opportunity to enjoy Oxford to the full. Looking back on this year I can see how much I have learned and grown in independence. I am incredibly grateful that I had the chance to do this 4th year and would recommend it to all! 


A Part II project in a synthetic Organic Chemistry lab

My name is Jack, and I’m currently in my fourth year of Chemistry at St Hilda’s, and as such am working in Professor Stephen Davies Research Group in the Chemistry Research Laboratory. The fourth year is starkly different to the first three. By this point, you’ve done 75% of your degree, and you’re working on a project that you write a thesis about, which is the remaining 25% of your degree. This means no lectures, no tutorials and no exams!

A typical day begins with my alarm at 7:30am (or 6:30am on days I tear myself out of bed to go to the gym), ready to get into the lab at 8:30am. From this point on, routine flies out of the window. There’s no such thing as a typical day, but I’ll try to summarise some of the things I do. I might get in, analyse some data (NMR data, mass spectrometry data etc), write up the safety precautions and procedure for a reaction, quench a reaction, put on a reaction, or purify my latest compound. I generally plan my day around lunchtime and “home-time”, aiming to take lunch for just under an hour at about 1pm, then aiming to leave the lab at 6pm, or 6:30pm if I have a lot to do. It seems like a long day on paper, but it seems to fly by.

I’m doing a project that aims towards making a known drug but by a new synthetic route, so it’s about as relevant to everyday life as research chemistry gets! I generally work on one or two steps of this synthesis at a time, optimising them to make them more efficient, or just trying to make them work in the first place! Often it takes a while for things to work the way you want them to, but when they do it’s hugely rewarding.

Fortnightly meetings with my supervisor check up on my progress and ensure I’m pointed in the right direction, and once a month the whole group has a ‘problems session’, which is similar to a tutorial worksheet. Other than that I work closely with a DPhil (PhD) student who helps me with day-to-day activities.

I thought lab-work might be a bit dull, but it’s far from it in reality. I work in a fairly large group and get on with everyone in my lab. We don’t work individually in silence – we help each other, joke around, play music, and we socialise outside of the lab as well, with Guest Night dinners at different colleges, the Christmas Party, Part II Seminar Dinner, and occasionally just drinks in the University Club on a Friday after lab work is done.

The fourth year of the Chemistry degree at Oxford is unique. When I stop and look around me at where I am working and who I am working for, I really am amazed at the opportunities that this year has given me: working for world-class academics in a world-class Chemistry research laboratory is something that courses at most other universities simply cannot offer.