Chapel High Alumni

Rebecca Wagner

Class of 2013

What did you do when you left school?

I went to Aquinas College and studied A Levels in English Literature (AS), Biology, Chemistry and History. I finished college with A (Chemistry), A (History), C (Biology) and during my last year spent some time looking at possible universities. I was undecided between history and chemistry as these were two subjects that I really enjoyed. I decided to study an integrated Master’s in Chemistry (4 year course) at the University of Leeds and graduated in 2019 with a first class degree.

How did you decide what you wanted to do? Who or what influenced/helped you?

I was definitely influenced by my teachers at Chapel High school when it came to choosing my subjects for A Levels - I really enjoyed history and chemistry due to enthusiastic teaching! I chose a fairly broad range of subjects for my A Levels as I was undecided as to what career I wanted and I felt that these subjects would keep many options open for me.

At college I again had very enthusiastic and encouraging teachers for both chemistry and history and these were the two subjects that I enjoyed the most. I decided to study chemistry at university as I felt like this would give me a broader range of career options after university. During my time at university I carried out a Master’s project in Atmospheric Chemistry as this was an area that I was very passionate about, which then helped me decide which PhD projects to apply for.

Please tell us about your current role:

I am a third year PhD student in Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of York. My PhD involves the study and measurement of air pollutants around the UK, which can cause poor air quality and lead to health and environmental issues.

How did you get into this type of work?

I got into this line of study through my undergraduate degree and choosing a Master’s project that was relevant to my PhD. Also choosing the right A Levels helped - I needed two sciences to be able to study chemistry at university. I did consider going to work in industry, but I felt that I would be able to explore areas in research that I found interesting and that I was passionate about.

What is the best thing about your current role?

The best thing about my current role is feeling like I am making a difference - hopefully my research will increase the knowledge surrounding air pollution and this will help governments and local authorities combat air quality issues. Also, my PhD gives me the opportunity to travel - I recently came back from a trip to study air quality in Milan and I was also due to go to a conference in Hawaii! Most industry jobs wouldn't involve much travelling so that is a benefit of a PhD!

What advice would you give students who are thinking about their next steps after school?

My advice would be to pick subjects that you are passionate about, this always helps to motivate you to work hard and succeed. When picking subjects it's also important to think a little bit about future careers - what jobs certain subjects would be beneficial for. But overall, I think that picking something that you enjoy is the most important!

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