Andrew McKinley

Just got to the end of my unanswered questions list! Phew!

Favourite Thing: Colour is absolutely fantastic – anything which involves colour is awesome! Indicators, prisms, organic polymers, quantum dots… So many ways of giving something colour! I guess that’s why I’m interested in light and optical spectroscopy…



Imperial college, 2000-2003


BSc, MSc, PhD

Work History:

University of St Andrews, Imperial College

Current Job:

I am the Senior Tutor in the Department of Chemistry


Imperial College London

Me and my work

I am a teaching fellow in a university, with a specialism in optical spectroscopy.

As a senior teaching fellow, my primary responsibility is in delivering high quality teaching to our undergraduate students through lectures, lab classes and tutorials.  I am a chemist, and my interest in chemistry involves so-called “electronic” spectroscopy. This is spectroscopy concerned with movement of electrons, and is measured by a “UV/Vis” spectrometer – which measures light in the ultraviolet and visible regions. This means that whatever I am looking at is – you guessed it – coloured! This technique is often known as ‘colourimetry’, but there is so much more you can do beyond simply determining concentrations of solutions.  I also use fluorescence spectroscopy – where “UV/Vis” is when light is absorbed by a molecule, fluorescence is the opposite – when light is ‘shone out’ by a molecule.

My teaching activities center around spectroscopy as it is a vital technique for analytical work, and I am keen to help our students realise what is behind the ‘black box’ of the spectrometer.

My Typical Day

Arrive at work, teach my students, demonstrate experiments, go home!

When I get in, typically I have around 10-15 emails to deal with which have arrived overnight – both from colleagues and from my students.  Once they’re done, I then do a couple of tutorials to my first and second year students (in Physical Chemistry – the branch concerned with studying properties of molecules).  It’s then back to my desk to process any email that arrived in the morning.

I am the Senior Tutor in our department, which means that I am responsible for student welfare and ensuring our students have the support they need in order to be successful in their studies – this means I have to talk to a lot of people to help students find the support they may need.

Lunchtime! Typically held over a meeting, whether faculty, research or a teaching meeting. If I don’t have a meeting, I’ll eat in the common room, typically alongside – and among – our students.

Teaching labs in the afternoon – I love teaching labs – it is practical chemistry, stuff happening, proper problem based learning and students really getting their teeth into the activities we worked so hard to develop. This is when we really see our hard work pay off!

Finally, back to the office around 5pm for a well deserved cup of tea.  And – you guessed it, more emails!

What I'd do with the money

I would use it to benefit our student guides to take schools around our department

Our student guides are a vital part of supporting school visits to help schools understand more about the university process. They are all volunteers, however with additional funds we could arrange for them to go on training courses to better prepare them to give excellent tours.

We have one policy with our student guides: absolute and complete honesty! We do not want our student guides to present an idealised ‘rose tinted’ view of what it is like to study with us – we want them to tell our guests about the whole experience!

Coming to university is one of the most important decisions faced by young people today, and it is a very difficult decision to make. The more information we are able to give to our guests to make that process easier, the better, and if our student guides receive the appropriate training then they will be better able to communicate this to the schools that visit.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Tall; Inquisitive; Chatty

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I don’t really have a “favourite”…there’s a great deal I listen to. After a long day though, a bit of AC/DC does the trick!

What's your favourite food?

I really like a lamb dhansak with a garlic naan bread

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Probably the most fun I’ve had was touring pubs of Scotland with the band I played in. We weren’t a fantastic band, but we had a *lot* of fun!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be a Ghostbuster when I was 5 years old, so I guess ‘Scientist’ was pretty close! Honestly though? As a teenager I really didn’t have a clue, so I did what I enjoyed doing – Chemistry!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

In primary school I was always in trouble – but find me someone who wasn’t! I was busted for exploding a reflux condenser in high school, and – depending on how loosely you define “school” – my PhD supervisor wasn’t impressed when I broke a spectrometer…

What was your favourite subject at school?

Chemistry, obviously! I really enjoyed my Music classes as well though, they had a really fun atmosphere

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I am still proud of my PhD research; nothing equals that excitement of making a discovery that is uniquely yours

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My Chemistry teacher probably inspired me to be a chemist, but it never really occurred to me *not* to be a scientist – I’m just that type of person.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A touring musician. I couldn’t handle being a rock star, but certainly the ‘expert musician’ supporting the rock star, I could do that :-) Except for the whole “having to be able to play to a reasonable degree of competence” thing…

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I’d love to have more time; I’d wish for a comfortable home; and probably that I could spend more hours working with our students instead of meetings and emails!

Tell us a joke.

Say in a pirate voice: “And what be a pirate’s faaavourite physical constant? 8.314 J K-1 mol-1” (search the number on the web…)

Other stuff

Work photos: