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Interview with Prakash Patel

Caroline inteviews Prakash Patel, 2nd year PhD student

What did you do before you came to MOAC/SB DTC/Complexity?

Before MOAC I did a 4 year Mathematics degree here at the University of Warwick. I’m now in my second year of the MOAC PhD.

Why did you choose MOAC?

I was offered a place at UCL but I chose Warwick. One of the reasons that attracted me was their commitment to inter-disciplinary science. Once I had done my Maths degree there were a number of options. One route was to get a job in a financial institution, be an actuary or an accountant and/or do investment banking; another route was to go into PhD Maths. However I was more attracted to MOAC, because after my 4 years in Mathematics it opened up my options to further areas of study that were of interest to me. I had done A Level Chemistry and Physics, which I had really enjoyed, and MOAC was a great opportunity to rekindle that previous experience, and in combining chemistry, maths and computational physics stuff into a PhD. Biology also interested me, because it is a more applied science than Maths and it therefore adds to that ‘real world’ experience.

So how have you found it coming from one discipline and going on to MOAC?

Well it was slow at first but the way it works in MOAC is different to how it works in the Maths degree. In the Maths degree you don’t have to come in at a certain time, you don’t have to be punctual (which is one of my weaknesses!), and you work on your own a lot as well. Whereas in MOAC you are encouraged to interact with other people and do practical experimentation, and I really enjoy that aspect of the programme.

So you haven’t found it difficult transferring skills from one discipline to a multiple set?

Well one regret is that I haven’t picked up on what I learnt in my Maths degree and transferred it to MOAC, basically because my choice of PhD has gone a different route*. The MSc year of MOAC that I did is more useful to me now than what I completed as an undergraduate. My PhD is a mixture of computational chemistry and workplace Biology. In the future I would want to go into computational chemistry and that’s where a Maths background will be very useful. In order to understand theory of molecules and things like that you need to get into quantum mechanics. Although I hadn’t done much physics whilst I was an undergraduate, the maths background makes understanding it a lot easier.

*It was clarified by Prakash that it was the choice of PhD research that had meant a deviation from Maths, rather than the fact that he had been unable to use Maths on his PhD.

What do you enjoy most about the programme?

The varied disciplines. It is almost a test of character. You get exposed to so much, especially during that initial MSc year. I had an informal introduction into every department.e.g. you do a bit of Biology, and learn how they do things; Alison Rodger (Director of MOAC) is very good at biochemistry so you learn a lot from such experience. You get through a lot of material during those days. The whole point of the PhD is that you will need to use one to three of those areas, and your MSc year has already introduced you to these techniques so you can approach these areas and problems with more confidence. That is the whole point. You are aware of those techniques.

Do you know yet what you are looking to do after your PhD?

At this stage I have no idea. I would like to stay in academia, but that always depends on how well your PhD goes. Most likely I will want to move onto a different problem but take aspects of my research and carry these on further. At the moment I am concentrating on getting results. And with a PhD the amount of results you get depends on how well other people think you have done.

How well do you think MOAC has prepared you for your future, whether it be in academia or in industry, or…?

The ‘problem’ with having 2 or 3 supervisors for a PhD is that you are likely to have a strong preference for one area over another, and because of working over multiple areas, you can feel like you haven’t specialised in any one area – sometimes that’s a problem. However MOAC’s strength lies in that once you go further e.g. post-doctorate researcher, you find yourself in different disciplines anyway, and so you’re just applying what you are used to. At MOAC we get that sort of experience early rather than later in our academic careers, so I think it is good in that respect.

[PHOTO of Prakash Patel]