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Professor Sir Graeme Davies FREng is probably unique in having been Vice-Chancellor of three universities - Liverpool, Glasgow and, currently, the University of London.

He is a New Zealander who has made a huge contribution to the development of Universities in the UK. During a distinguished academic career, in addition to leading three universities, he has taught metallurgy at the Universities of Auckland, Cambridge and Sheffield and acted as Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) which provides the funding for all English universities. His many international distinctions include visiting professorships in Brazil, Israel, Argentina and China.

 

What specific degree(s) did you study?

B.Eng in Aeronautical Engineering
Ph.D in Materials Science

What did you study at A level?

In New Zealand we did the equivalent of Scottish Highers and I studied Maths, Additional Maths, Physics, Chemistry and English.

How did you first become interested and why did you choose to study Materials Science?

It was a subject studied in 3 of the 4 B.Eng years and this stimulated me to pursue it at doctoral level.

What did you like about studying Materials Science?

It was a multi-faceted discipline which required skills and understanding in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and new areas such as Crystallography.

What types of general skill did your Materials Science degree help you to develop?

As a subject it taught me to think broadly and to be prepared to bring together knowledge from a range of related disciplines – it built upon the requirement to be able to think synthetically that was at the core of studying engineering – there was a need to be able to absorb multiple inputs and synthesize them into an integrated output.

How has your degree helped you in your employment? What was your first job after graduation?

The breadth of Materials Science ensures that you have a broadly based and open approach to pursuing knowledge. After completing my Ph.D my first post was as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow.

If you were taking your degree again, would you do anything differently?

No.

What advice can you give to new Materials Science students?

Do not specialise too early in your studies.

Would you recommend a degree in Materials Science to students who do not plan to become Scientists and if so why?

Yes – because of the value of breadth in thinking and the ability to synthesise that studying materials science inculcates.

What were you like as a student?

Well organised and committed to succeeding but with a wide range of extra-curricular interests especially sport.

What is your best memory of your time in University?

On the academic front getting a first in finals despite spending almost all my third year (of four) in hospital following a motor cycle accident – on the non-academic front winning a NZ Universities ‘Blue’ for football.

Who and/or what were some of the influences on you when you were at school/ university?

Undoubtedly inspirational teachers from intermediate and secondary school through to University but especially my mentor and Ph.D. supervisor.

What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in Materials Science?

Keep your options open but seek to build your career strategically gaining early experience in the best (and probably the larger) companies or universities but being ready to make moves into positions where you can gain leadership experience.

What answers would you like Science to provide in the next 10 years?

There is no single outcome that comes to mind although continued progress in improving health and environmental matters especially in the third world.

What is your recollection of your first involvement in science?

The satisfaction of successful experiments in chemistry and physics in my early years at secondary school.

What do you consider to be the greatest scientific achievement of the 20th century?

The development of computers at all levels and their ubiquitous role in all professional and research discplines.

Was there anything about studying Materials Science that you did not expect?

The need to develop conceptual frameworks and the value of being mathematically competent.