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Student testimonials

Erin Phillips - Zoology BSc

Why did you decide to study at St Andrews?

In the area I grew up in, going to university is not very common, and going to a university as prestigious as St Andrews, even less so. Because of this, I didn't consider that St Andrews could be an option for me until I was in my 5th year of school, when I successfully applied to a Sutton Trust summer school, a programme designed to encourage students from low income backgrounds to attend university.

That summer, I spent a fully funded week staying in St Andrews with other 5th year pupils from all across the UK, staying in student accommodation, attending lectures in my chosen subjects (Biology and Chemistry), receiving advice on applying to university and obtaining scholarships, and being mentored by current students who had come through the same programme.

From that very first day setting foot in St Andrews, I knew it was the place for me. The town was beautiful, the people were friendly and the teaching was world class, and I couldn't imagine going anywhere else.

What is one of your degree highlights?

The field trip we took to Orielton, Wales in the summer before 3rd year was one of the best weeks of my university career – we got to know our classmates very well and were able to work on independent projects. My partner and I studied a very rare starfish species that can be found no where else in the world but that beach. We found that the species was still going strong and had a lot of fun doing it!

What advice would you give anyone considering a Biology-related degree at St Andrews?

Don't worry if you don't know exactly what area of biology you're interested in, or think you might change your mind down the line – the degree programme is really flexible and you'll learn about things you've never even considered before, so stay open-minded! If you can, be sure to attend a visiting day and come along the Biology presentation – you can meet staff and current students and find out about the modules you can take, and generally get a better sense of what biology at St Andrews is like!

Student Erin Phillips in front of a University building

Matt Maerz - Biochemistry BSc

Why did you decide to study at St Andrews?

My sister studied at St Andrews a number of years before I did and consequently our family visited her several times throughout the year. I fell in love with the town, its small size, the age and history, and as a Canadian the idea of a rounded four-year degree was more appealing to me than a very direct three-year course.

What is one of your degree highlights?

BL4211 – Antimicrobials- Mode of Action and Resistance – This module by Dr Peter Coote was my favourite module during the course of the degree. It highlighted to me one of humanity's greatest threats; Antimicrobial resistance, but also encouraged me in that we have the power to drive change and potentially save millions of lives.

What advice would you give anyone considering a Biology-related degree at St Andrews?

I think that the best advice I can give to someone considering a Biology-related degree is that Biology is an incredible field that gives insight into many aspects of life, sport, health, diet, the environment, it gives opportunity for travel, exploration, and discovery. My advice though would be to find good friends; people who will support you and people you can support. Work hard and enjoy your studies, but rest well and pursue a balanced life.

Angus Lovely - Biochemistry (MBiochem)

What is one of your degree highlights?

Placement Year In Industry: an integral part of my degree was a year working in industry. I worked at a pharmaceutical company called Heptares Therapeutics. This was a fantastic year for me, as it allowed me to learn lab techniques way beyond the scope of my degree and I experienced working full-time in a scientific environment. This has really helped me prepare for both scientific and non-scientific careers in the future.

What advice would you give anyone considering a Biology-related degree at St Andrews?

I would encourage everyone to get in touch with group leaders early on in their degree, and try to get involved in something beyond the teaching timetable. The best thing would be if you could spend some time here over the summer on a short placement. This way you can find something that really interests you sooner rather than later, and it also looks really good for your CV.

What is your next step?

After graduation, I will be starting a PhD in the group of Dr David Bhella at the University of Glasgow's world-leading Centre for Virus Research. I am excited to get started, using cryo-electron microscopy to study the structure of herpes viruses. I am lucky to have been chosen for this highly competitive project, and it has only been made possible through all of the practical experience that I have gained during my time at St Andrews.

Evelyn Sutiono - Cell Biology BSc

Why did you decide to study at St Andrews?

It was a coincidence – my mom convinced me to apply to St Andrews, and her reasoning was that if Prince William went to St Andrews, then it must be a good university. My American teachers also had good things to say about it. St Andrews has a rolling admissions system for international students, so I received my unconditional offer in December after applying in October. After that, in a weird twist of fate, all of the universities I applied to accepted me conditionally – and, in one case, even lost my application until I called them. It might have been because I had American qualifications, something the others may not be as familiar to as St Andrews is. My final grades didn't qualify for my first choice, but at least I tried, so I shrugged off the brief feeling of disappointment and packed for St. Andrews.

The first time I arrived in Edinburgh for my first year was the first time I ever stepped foot in Europe. I never looked back since.

What is one of your degree highlights?

Egg lab in first year. In first year I didn't really read ahead (I learnt that habit by second year) so I walked in for a surprise: we had to crack open an egg that was fertilized 3-4 days previously. The nervous system had not developed yet, so theoretically it would not feel any pain. I usually take turns with my lab partner, i.e. she'll do what I don't want to do and vice versa. She was terrified but curious, and I was significantly more curious than terrified, so I cracked the egg open while she watched. We got to see its heart beating and its vertebrae. It just hit me that I have one of those in me (not exactly the same one, but still) – and I was just so awed by it.

What advice would you give anyone considering a Biology-related degree at St Andrews?

Learning about everything there is to do in Biology is overwhelming. Some will go in knowing they're not interested in one thing or another. Some will go in and find out there's a research area they never knew about before. The School of Biology in St Andrews have not only created a curriculum that will show you the breadth of what Biology covers, but it also consists of supportive, patient staff members who will push you to do your best – better than you thought you could ever do.

Rab Kassie-Sheeran - Biology BSc

How did you decide to study at St Andrews?

I didn't originally intend to study at St Andrews, but my secondary school in sixth form brought us to a University Fayre for attracting prospective students. I came across the St Andrews stand and spoke to a few of the students representing the University there. They really showed their passion and fervour for this place, and from that moment on I knew I would definitely apply here. Fortunately, I was offered a place here and excitedly arrived here that September.

What is one of your degree highlights?

I think my biggest highlight as a biologist in St Andrews, was figuring out what I want to do in later life – biology teaching. I took the 'Communication and Teaching in Science' module, where I visited a secondary school over one semester. During that time I was given responsibilities in the classroom, helping out and answering questions, which eventually culminated in me getting the opportunity to lead the class for a lesson of my own.

What advice would you give anyone considering a Biology-related degree at St Andrews?

Definitely get up to speed with statistics computer programmes, particularly 'R'. This will help you enormously in completing assignments and lab reports successfully. Also, if you have any doubts, do speak to current students or members of staff – they should be to answer your questions.

Student Rab Kassie-Sheeran sitting on the grass next to St Andrews Cathedral

Tania Hancock - MBiochem alumni

What is your current position?

Marketing Manager at Absolute Antibody Ltd - a small biotechnology company specialising in antibody sequencing, engineering, and recombinant manufacture.

What do you do in your current position?

As a marketer in a small firm, my job is highly varied. It involves sponsoring and attending conferences worldwide, writing marketing materials for different audiences, managing our digital marketing strategy and web content, helping to handle our public relations and advertising, and staying active on our social media platforms. There are always miscellaneous jobs that come up too - like designing the new business cards or choosing the company freebies!

What career path have you taken to reach your current position?

I did a research internship at Absolute Antibody's manufacturing laboratory as part of the St Andrews Masters in Biochemistry (MBioChem), and re-joined the company on the business side of things after graduating in 2016.

Laura Carter-Davies - Behavioural and Environmental Biology BSc alumni

What is your current position?

Managing Director at Echoes Ecology Ltd.

What do you do in your current position?

I run an ecological consultancy and we carry out protected species surveys to assess the impact of proposed developments on habitats and species. We survey all over Scotland and for a variety of species such as bats, birds, otter, badger, reptiles and amphibians. My role is to manage the team of ecologists, run the business including the financial aspects, manage large and complex projects and undertake business development activities to facilitate exiting client relationships and bring in new business. I still get out into the field but not as much as in the earlier stages of my career.

What career path have you taken to reach your current position?

I studied BSc (Hons) Behavioural and Environmental Biology at St Andrews from 1999 to 2003. After graduating I worked as a zookeeper at Chester Zoo for a year, then moved into retail management. I returned to university to complete a MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at Napier University in Edinburgh between 2005-2006. In 2007 I started working at Echoes. The company had only formed in 2006 so I helped shape and grow the business as well as my own ecological career. In 2017 I bought into Echoes and am now majority shareholder and Managing Director.

Pierre-Louis Joffrin - Biochemistry BSc alumni

What is your current position?

Corporate Development Associate at Cell Mogrify Ltd.

What do you do in your current position?

Cell Mogrify is an early stage Biotech company spun out from Prof. Julian Gough's laboratory at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. My role consists of a combination of Operational management (corporate), business development (commercial) and fund raising. The operational management aspect is made up of lots of admin work as well as accountancy, HR, IT etc. The business development facet relates to connecting to potential research partners to develop our therapies. The fundraising aspect consists of seeking investment from venture capital funds to keep obtain capital and keep developing our therapeutic assets.

What advice would you give to students thinking about their future career?

  • Do a postgraduate degree (minimum Masters), but;
  • Don't do a PhD for the sake of getting the title.
  • Consider Laboratory Assistant positions to boost
  • your CV and broaden your horizons
  • Take your time – you're in no rush!
  • Get out there and try something.

Sophie Goggins - Zoology BSc alumni

What is your current position?

Curator of Biomedical Science at National Museums Scotland

What do you do in your current position?

I'm responsible for the medical and veterinary collections here at National Museums Scotland. My job involves research, public engagement and collections management.

What career path have you taken to reach your current position?

I studied Zoology at St Andrews and then joined the Wellcome Trust Graduate Scheme. After 18 months, I began a fixed-term Assistant Curator of Biomedicine role at National Museums Scotland working on the new galleries. My role was extended and I then applied for the curatorial role I now hold.