Rahul Chacko – Cohort 1 – September 2014
SOFI CDT provided me with a number of key advantages that helped me in my ambitions of a career in soft matter physics. A key example of this is in the way a PhD through SOFI immerses you in the UK soft matter community. Durham, Leeds and Edinburgh are significant hubs of UK soft matter research, and the SOFI PhD programme was designed in such a way as to give us (students in the programme) exposure to a broad array of research, and researchers, within multiple departments at those Universities. Network effects meant it was then easier for me to make more contacts, specific to my research interests, even beyond SOFI. The history of soft matter physics is intimately connected with industry, which has provided interesting problems, funding and leading scientists, going back to the earliest days of the field. A major part of the SOFI training programme involved case studies, led by SOFI industrial partners, which taught me a lot about the kind of problems that are of interest to industry, and, more broadly, key areas of soft matter research that can help society (e.g. reducing emissions by reducing biofouling on ships). I was able to ask the industrial research scientists about their careers, which helped me decide on the path I would follow. The case studies also provided me with the freedom to explore things beyond my undergraduate background. I threw myself into experiments, with which I had almost no experience through my maths and physics undergraduate degree, and which I knew I wouldn’t be doing much of in my specific PhD project. I know that for some others in SOFI, this freedom to explore actually led them to changing disciplines (e.g. from chemistry to physics). The studentship comes with a generous travel grant, which I took full advantage of. I was able to attend some of the key conferences on dense suspension rheology, even when they took place in the US, allowing me to meet with many of the others in the field (which was not, at that time, as large as it is today), from all over the world.