Chemistry Extended Degree BSc (now Chemistry (including foundation year) BSc) graduate from Italy Norman Guzzardi, who gained first-class honours in 2018, explains what he loved about London Met and talks about his decision to go on to King’s College to study for a PhD in imaging science.
Can you explain a little about your background?
I took my A levels in Italy, specialising in chemistry. After that, I had a break from studying for a few years – I was in London gaining some work experience in coffee shops and that kind of thing. I then decided to carry on my study of chemistry.
What made you choose London Met in particular?
There weren’t many institutes in London offering pure chemistry – and most of them were very demanding in terms of entry requirements – I didn’t have the highest grades in my A levels so I thought I would have to retake them, but then I found London Met, who offered a foundation course, so that was the main reason. It turned out to be a great decision for me – I’ve just graduated with a first.
The foundation year was really important for me – it helped me to reconnect with topics I’d forgotten after four years, and it helped me to fix the gaps in my knowledge and rediscover the delights of life as a student. I’m very happy now!
How did you find the facilities at London Met?
They were great – though confusing at the beginning! There were amazing facilities in the lab but obviously being a chemistry graduate I’d prefer even more chemistry equipment...! Seriously though, I can’t complain as it allowed me to do all my studies and research.
What was your favourite piece of equipment in the lab?
My favourite piece of equipment was the rotovaper [ed. that’s a rotary evaporator to the uninitiated] – it’s something that allows you to evaporate solvents from your reaction flasks, creating a vacuum and basically saving you a lot of time.
Did you gain any work experience while at London Met?
The first placement I did was outside the University was the summer of my foundation year (2014–15), where I managed to find myself a temporary job in a laboratory at Tata Global Beverages (a tea company) in Greenford, in new product development. At the end of the placement they offered me a full-time position but I decided to finish my studies.
A year after that, I ended up joining London Met’s Superlab through their internship programme, which gave me more knowledge of our own facilities, and helped me get to know the technicians better, respect their jobs and make their lives easier.
Finally, the most important placement I’ve had in my career so far was my research experience with Dr Patel at London Met over three summers. We also managed to publish an article, which gave me the opportunity to participate in the BCUR (the British Conference of Undergraduate Research), where last year we presented at Posters in Parliament, where you are chosen to present research to politicians in Westminster. Being at the event represented an amazing achievement for my undergraduate research career and I was very pleased to represent the University’s chemistry department and to further enhance the valuable contribution our supervisors made toward our education.
Was there anything you found surprising about the University?
From what I hear from ex-schoolmates and colleagues back in Italy, the possibilities here and the support, starting from the foundation year onwards were impressive. For example, there were many workshops available in the library daily and weekly such as chemistry drop-ins and writing clinics, especially initially.
Generally speaking it wasn’t specific things which surprised me – it was the overall sense of helping students to succeed. Even during lectures, where weblearn is used so that everything is online in case you missed a lecture. Our lecturers would add all the material you’d need to pass the tests but they’d also add extras to help you – such as reading material and YouTube videos. All the extra possibilities open to you were great – like my summers of research with Dr Patel – just amazing. In Italy, you would never be trusted as a student to do this kind of research or be given so many opportunities.
Can you tell us what your next step is?
I’m going on to do a PhD in imaging science at Kings College, which is associated with so many hospitals like Great Ormond Street, Guys Hospital and Kings Hospital. Their main focus is developed technology in the biomedical field to help people and patients. Obviously I’m coming in with a chemistry background and I’d like to continue with my research in this area, ideally to address healthcare issues. I’m quite interested in how healthcare in developed countries differs in non-developed countries, and I’m also looking at CT scanning technology and how I can help cancer patients.
Did you do any part-time work to support your studies?
I was working as a barista at Costa Coffee – it was quite tough at times to fit it all in. Slowly I dropped shifts and ended up just working weekends though it was difficult when I wasn’t seeing my partner enough. In one way it was nice though, because I was exercising my brain at Uni and getting the physical exercise at Costa, but it was tiring!
I also worked as a success coach at London Met – where the main focus is on being a mentor rather than a tutor. So you’re involved in not just the academic parts, but the approach students have to studying – all sorts of things. Of course, you help them with chemistry problems and tutorials, but in my experience though, the hardest part was when students weren’t motivated, or doing a course which clearly wasn’t the right subject for them.
Do you have a favourite place in London?
I love central London but probably my favourite spot is where the Royal Societies are near Piccadilly – I really like Burlington House. I love vintage, and especially Victorian style. It gives you a sense of London’s place in the world, both culturally and economically. Just thinking about it makes me happy – particularly on a nice, sunny day.
Any tips for new students?
Coming from Italy, education in the UK is expensive – so make sure you’re really doing something that you want to do – motivation is so key. Find that motivation and focus on your target – London Met has all the facilities and the possibilities ready for you to succeed. At the end of the day, you need to be active at uni – go out and ask if you don’t understand; if you want to do something extra, go and do it.
Enjoy your time here too – it’s important that you take your studies seriously but it will probably be the best years of your life! If you have an idea for a career and you’re trying to get there, and you’re sharing that with your classmates and your lecturers, it’s just the best.