News & Events

Alumnae Spotlight: Dr Suze Kundu

Dr Suze Kundu 2001

This week we are delighted to introduce Dr Suze Kundu, a nanochemist, both literally and professionally as she herself always says in reference to her diminutive stature!

From an early age, she tells us she was breaking things apart to find out how they worked – whether that was her Dad’s turntable needle, her Mum’s face creams, or her long-suffering Barbie dolls. Suze decided not to channel her curiosity into a career in medicine, instead choosing to focus on chemistry to try and find the answers to all of her (often quite literally) burning questions.

Suze is fascinated by breaking down the building blocks of life into its fundamental components and building them back up again, better than before. Luckily, science has enabled her to turn this destructive curiosity into a career. She has a BSc in Chemistry, an MSc in Analytical Chemistry, and a PhD in Nanomaterials Chemistry from University College London. A passionate educator, she has also studied for a PGCE in Senior School Science and an MEd in University Learning and Teaching while she was a lecturer at Imperial College London. After six years lecturing in the Department of Materials at Imperial and at the University of Surrey’s Chemical and Process Engineering Department, she became the Head of Public Engagement at the technology company, Digital Science, where she continues to research interesting topics within chemistry and materials science, but also the broader research landscape. At the end of last year, Suze became Director of Researcher and Community Engagement, continuing at Digital Science.

Suze is a cheerleader for greater diversity in science and is also an experienced science communicator, delivering live shows and demo lectures, as a science presenter on the Discovery Channel, Curiosity Stream, National Geographic and more, and as a science writer for Forbes. Suze is also a Trustee for the Royal Institution of Great Britain.  In her spare time, Suze loves attending live gigs, especially of her favourite band, Muse, and enjoys learning different dance styles, having first started ballet classes at the age of three. Suze is a ‘pawrent’ to Faraday and Bellatrix, her two tuxedo kittens.

Suze is no stranger to present-day Croydon High; she has supported us at numerous career events and was a keynote speaker at one of our Prizegiving ceremonies several years ago.

We wrote to Suze and asked about her fondest memory at Croydon High…

“Picking one fondest memory of my time at Croydon High is a tough ask, as there have been so many. I have fond memories that span from Junior School Colours Days, where we would play sports tournaments in our house teams (go yellow! I believe that is now Seacole House?), all the way through to the simplicity of grown-up freedom of the Sixth Form Suite. Many of these memories remind me of how lucky and privileged we were, whether it was the perfection of sitting outside surrounded by greenery on a summer lunch break or the experience of visiting so many places across the world for educational purposes, be they music trips to Barcelona, geology trips to Iceland or snow sports trips to Vermont. I would perhaps say, though, that my fondest memory was meeting Dr Daniela Kirwan at the age of eight in Mrs Holland’s art room. We were making papier mâché puppets for our performance of Peter Pan and got chatting while washing up at the sink. I knew her from ballet classes with Miss Penny, but she was in a different grade to me, so we would only ever wave when she left, and I was arriving for class. Having bonded over our somewhat misshapen head creations, we have remained friends for over three decades. Danni was even a bridesmaid at our wedding, and will always be one of my favourite humans, so I think she takes the top spot of fondest memory for me.”

“When I think about it, I realise that attending Croydon High has played a strong part in allowing me to pursue my chosen career path. I write this on International Women’s Day as a woman in science and research that didn’t realise that certain subjects were as socially gendered as they have been. I perhaps would not have pursued a career in chemistry, physics, engineering, and research if I had been aware of this. Attending Croydon High also instilled in me certain values of community, collaboration and inclusion of everyone, no matter their background or demographic characteristics, which has spoiled me a little in wanting to seek out universities and workplaces whose values align with these. It is, therefore, perhaps no surprise that I went on to UCL and am now enjoying a career at Digital Science. I think that my time at Croydon High also helped expose me to a range of interests and opportunities, supported by my amazing parents and their encouragement to learn as many things as possible to find those interests that spark joy and fulfilment. As a result, my ability to have a conversation with absolutely everyone in a room full of strangers about something or other we have in common, has been remarked upon by my friends and colleagues alike. Never underestimate the power of empathy and interest in networking, as those fascinating people you meet will remember you when an exciting opportunity comes up. That could open doors to a place you never knew you could go.”

We asked Suze what she would say to her 15-year-old self.

“I’d say hang in there because GHDs are on their way! I spent the middle part of my teens battling my hormonal hair. It was so known that it was even commented on in my yearbook. I’d also tell my 15-year-old self that you can make all the plans to study chemistry with management as you like, but you’ll get to university and have your mind blown by the possibilities that lie ahead of you, so don’t sell yourself short with that career in finance you think you’ll end up in. Dream even bigger, be even bolder and take even more chances because you have no idea how much power you possess and how you can choose the kind of career you want to have without compromising on fun or fulfilment. You really can have it all!”

And finally we wanted to know Suze’s aspirations for the future.

“I think that my ultimate goal has never changed. I would like to leave some positive impact through the work I do and the interactions I have with people. If that means continuing to support Digital Science on its mission to ensure that research is the single most powerful transformational force for the long-term improvement of society, I’ll be very happy. If it means continuing to break down stereotypes of who does science through my TV presenting, science writing and shows for public and school audiences, I’d be thrilled, as even changing one person’s perceptions is a successful outcome. I’d also like to work more in building back critical thinking in society, especially when it comes to science and research, and to help build people’s confidence in not just engaging with scientific research but also in playing a more active role in securing and shaping the global science roadmap to best benefit all of society.”

And that is the powerhouse that is Dr Suze Kundu or as her Twitter handle describes her, @FunSizeSuze. We look forward to welcoming Suze back to Croydon High soon, once a Croydon High girl always a Croydon High girl!