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Dr Brenda Parker Talks About Writing a UCAS Personal Statement

21 November 2016

Dr Brenda Parker

We’ve taken a few minutes to meet the Undergraduate Admissions Tutor for The Department of Biochemical Engineering to talk about UCAS, Personal Statements and what you should be looking out for when deciding what course to study.

What are you up to right now?

At the moment we are in the middle of the UCAS cycle, so the Admissions team are handling applications. On a day to day basis we are responding to enquiries from candidates interested in studying Biochemical Engineering or Bioprocessing of New Medicines.

What are people asking you?

Many questions! Often candidates have alternative qualifications, and they want to check their eligibility. Or they may be considering their options between Biochemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology so they want to be clear on the differences between the subjects. Or, they want some advice on how to tailor a personal statement as there are only a few Biochemical Engineering courses in the UK and they are worried if their statement isn’t specialised. As an interdisciplinary degree we accommodate a wide range of interests, so quite often candidates just need to the confidence to know they are on the right track.

What advice do you have for people writing a UCAS personal statement?

We’re looking for enthusiasm and an insight into what the degree is about. A common mistake that many people make is thinking that we require that they must have relevant work experience. We know that isn’t always realistic, and there are many other ways you can show your active interest in the subject. This might be through reading about developments in biotechnology through a journal or scientific publication, we recommend you read or listen to podcasts about new developments in drug discovery, biotechnology and engineering in places like New Scientist, Science , Nature or PNAS. Or take a look at our News page! I’m always excited to hear how a new development had captured somebody’s attention and they have made the effort to read beyond the A-level curriculum. 

We share the same team working, problem-solving and numeracy requirements to Chemical Engineering, so candidates should focus on demonstrating those skills if they have multiple applications. Biochemical engineers are often motivated by altruism or by a desire to make the world a better place, so volunteering shows that candidates are self-motivated and committed. 

In line with UCL policy, we don’t have an interview process so it is good to inject your personality and energy into the personal statement. You may have had a personal experience that has ignited your passion to study this subject, the key thing is that you come across as genuine and authentic.

What kind of careers are people interested in following?

We have a real range, from those interested in Regenerative Medicine and clinical applications of stem cell therapies, through to green chemicals or biopharmaceuticals. An up and coming aspect is synthetic biology, sustainability and industrial biotechnology. Quite often our applicants know they want to be involved with start ups in pharmaceuticals or biofuels, but they aren’t sure in which sense. Some candidates are looking for a way to combine their skills in maths and science – the beauty of this degree is that you learn the fundamentals, so you can still change your mind and getting exposure to industry helps them decide!

How can people help make up their minds about what to study and where?

We host a number of Open days: during the UCL Open Days you can visit the pilot plant and talk to our students and alumni. If you can’t travel easily to London on those dates we have recorded a virtual open day, where we give examples of the kinds of topics we study, and the destinations of graduates. If you are curious about the facilities available, then you can get a 360 degree view of some of our laboratories (this works really well on a smartphone as you move it around!)

Information on the degree structure can be found on the website, and entry requirements are on the prospective student website and the prospectus. We’ve asked some of our students to talk about their experience studying in the department, so you can hear their perspectives.

What are the key factors that students should consider when deciding on a degree, and what should they ask on Open Days?

You should think about the style in which you like to learn. Our intake in Biochemical Engineering is quite small compared to many of the bigger degrees, so although we are a central London university, it feels more like a family. Another important factor is contact time, and hands on learning. In particular, if you think you would like to work in industry or research it is vital to have ample practical courses and opportunities to get exposure to the kinds of equipment or techniques that you would be using. Look for a department that is innovating, and responding to outside challenges. For instance, we listened to our undergraduates and have pioneered a new MEng year in Industry where our students can experience R&D at a company. In this kind of emerging field the integration of research and teaching is vital, so you should be assessing how a department links these two fields. At UCL we’re building this into our culture through the Connected Curriculum.

Another factor to consider is the opportunities to diversify or specialise, and the options available to tailor your degree. For example, the Integrated Engineering Programme enables you to pair Biochemical Engineering with a range of subjects from Programming to Policy.