Graduate perspective: Lessons learned on a path towards a PhD

Guest blog written by Minerva Ledezma Martínez (PhD in Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences, 2019)

Minerva graduated from The University of Manchester in 2019 with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences. She currently holds a Senior Consultant Engineer role in a global technology company which provides software and consulting services for the refining and chemical industries. Find out below her path towards a PhD and how did she overcome life barriers to make her dreams come true.

Since studying my Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, I discovered my passion for Process Design and Simulation, especially about distillation processes. Later on, during my master’s, I learnt about Process Integration and it was the start of a ‘dream’; to be part of the selected and talented group of researchers of the Centre for Process Integration at The University of Manchester. The path was not easy at all, but it taught me some lessons that I would like to share:

Achieving the English language level

To be accepted at the birthplace of Chemical Engineering in the United Kingdom, the first step was to achieve the English Language level required. By that time, I was following a long-term treatment that did not allow me to take formal English classes. Instead of doing nothing, I decided to learn English by myself, listening to music, watching videos, practising a skill (listening, writing, reading and grammar) every day supported by CDs and books. I took the TOEFL test, but I failed twice. One day, one of my teachers at the University of Guanajuato told me about the IELTS English test, he realised that I was ready to pass it so maybe the format of the TOELF test was not the right one for me. One month later, I passed it right away on my first attempt. 

Lesson learned No. 1: do persevere in your goals, even when facing personal issues; grades don’t define you if you work hard and believe in yourself.

PhD project and supervisor

Once I had ready my English test results, the second step was to get a PhD project. Seven years before that moment, when I was still following my medical treatment, I chose who I wanted to work with at the Centre for Process Integration so that I was focused on making it a reality. The admissions team sent me a list of 5 projects, but the list did not state who was the supervisor for each project. None of the projects were of my interest; therefore, I sent an email asking for a project in a specific area and supervised by the researchers I wanted. Five days later, I was given a project I loved and supervised for two world leaders in my field who I chose and admire.

Lesson learned No.2: don’t be afraid to dream big; fight for the goals that allow you to do what you love!

Getting funding

The third step was to secure funding for my PhD studies and to travel to the UK. As an international student, I started looking for funding options more than a year before the PhD course start date. I applied for a scholarship offered by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACyT) in Mexico to cover the University tuition fees. After receiving the unconditional offer from the University, I also sent several applications with the aim of getting funding for my travel expenses. All the efforts made months before paid off, as I got a scholarship to cover the tuition fees and a talent scholarship from the government of my home city.

Lesson learned No. 3: your economic status is not a barrier to make your dreams come true, look for funding options in advance.

Now, two years after graduating, I can say that life barriers prepare you to be perseverant. Don’t be afraid to dream big, enjoy the journey and never give up!

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