UCL Department of Chemical Engineering


Fabian Byléhn

Fabian Byléhn

What course did you study at UCL?
Meng Chemical Engineering

What year did you graduate?

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey?
I am from Linköping, Sweden, where I grew up in a very non-academic family who were all runners. For a long time, it was also my goal to walk in my family’s footsteps and become a professional runner, but an injury put a stop to that, and I decided to pursue my interests in science and engineering. I attended the International Baccalaureate programme in my city, after which I applied for different engineering disciplines in both the UK and Sweden. After much deliberation, I decided to take up my offer at UCL thanks to its reputation and sizable international student body, even though it was a big step for me to move abroad. While at UCL, I was captured by the research of the Chemical Engineering faculty and took as many research opportunities as I could, which put me in a good position to continue to pursue my PhD after graduating. 

Can you tell us about your degree and time at university?
I did the 4-year MEng programme in Chemical Engineering

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed the Scenario projects that we had. It felt great to do something more hands-on and work on projects, where we could use the course materials and apply them to situations that are more like real-life projects you would work on as an engineering graduate. It was also a nice break from sitting in lectures to work collaboratively on these projects. Another aspect of the course that I liked was the fact that we could choose minors to explore other areas of engineering than chemical. I chose biomechanical engineering which allowed me to deepen my knowledge in fluid transport to biofluid mechanics and applying engineering concepts to new situations.
What were the most interesting things you did, saw or got involved with while at UCL?
The most interesting aspects of my time from UCL is definitely the people. I made some wonderful friends from all over the world and learned about so many different cultures and ate great food. I also got involved in some of the many societies that UCL has to offer, which is a great way to meet people from outside your degree, as well as helping you get some leadership experience if you run for positions. I was a part of the UCL Nordic Society for a few years, which was a great way to connect with people from my home country and meeting people interested in the Nordic culture. I was also involved a lot in the UCL Running, Athletics, and Cross-country Club (RAX), where I could find people to run with and who share my interests. In short, with over 200 societies at UCL, there is at least one for whatever you are interested in to find like-minded people!

What is your current job title/company?
PhD Candidate at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago.

How did you arrive at your current job and what do you do?
I applied to PhD programmes in my last year of the MEng at UCL and received offers from both the UK and the US. I decided to accept an offer from the University of Chicago, and am now in my fourth-year of my PhD researching how to design better drugs that targets key proteins in diseases, such as COVID-19. 

Which parts of your UCL experience were the best preparation for your job?  
Since I am currently doing a PhD, the research internships that I did gave me a good sense of what is required for doing research at this level. From the course itself, working on the many Scenario projects gave me many skills that are helpful for completing my PhD projects, such as communication and teamwork. These skills are important in my research as I am constantly working with other lab members and collaborating with lab groups at other universities, and you are rarely working alone on anything. In addition, being able to communicate your science to different audiences is hugely important to convey your work both to expert audiences and the general public. Moreover, the Scenario projects taught me time management and project planning, which I have been able to transfer to my own research projects, as I have to constantly decide what experiments to plan next and when to finish the project.

Is there anything that you did at UCL that you think helped you succeed in finding a job/starting work?
Since I was interested in pursuing a PhD after graduating from UCL, I tried to take as many research opportunities as I could. One summer after my second year I did the UCL Engineering Summer Studentship, where I did three months of paid research with a Chemical Engineering faculty. This was a great experience to get a taste of research and see if I like it, which I definitely did, and if you are interested in pursuing research it is very important to have some research experience before you apply. In the summer after my third year, I did another research internship at Uppsala University In my home country of Sweden, and to get this internship I simply emailed professors asking if I could do an internship with them, it can be that easy! 

What advice would you give to current/prospective students?
My first advice is to do extracurricular activities, which has many benefits. It will help you enjoy your time at UCL more as you do things you are interested in together with like-minded people, and make a lot of new friends and connections. In addition, it will help you stand out when you do apply for jobs after graduating. In an increasingly competitive job market, you and everyone in your cohort are qualified for most jobs in your field as you successfully completed a Chemical Engineering degree at UCL, but what can make you stand out from the rest is what you were engaged in outside of your studies. My second advice is to not be afraid to ask questions, that is why you are a student! Ask as many questions to your lecturers as you want, and try learning for learning’s sake, and not just for the exams. Lastly, my third advice is to apply for internships (and use UCL Careers Service when applying, I found them super helpful!), as it can help you land a job after graduation, and you will get a feeling of if this is what you want to do after graduating. 

How did being at UCL change you and the way you think about yourself?
By being at UCL, I learned that I am capable of more than I thought. I have always struggled with low self-esteem, but I proved to myself that I could take the big step to move away from my home country and succeed in a foreign country. It helped me to feel confident enough to take the leap to move to the US after I graduated to start my PhD, as I now knew that I can overcome difficult challenges. In addition, by being in such a global and diverse city as London, I realised how small the world really is and feel more well-informed about the struggles that exist in other parts of the world, which helped me understand where I fit in and what my core values are.