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Industrial Placement (Medicinal Chemist)

I am in my fourth year of a five-year Masters degree in Chemistry and Drug Discovery at Strathclyde University. I am 10 months into an industrial placement year in a pharmaceutical company.
James, Industrial Placement Medicinal Chemist
James, Industrial Placement Medicinal Chemist

​What are you doing during your placement?

 
My placement is in medicinal chemistry, investigating possible new treatments for respiratory diseases.
 
We have found a chemical structure that works in tests for the disease, and are making small changes to this structure to identify the most active compounds – this is known as lead optimisation. As each compound is made, it is screened for biological activity in enzyme assays and to test its pharmacokinetic properties. Once we have lead compounds they will go forward for further testing and candidate selection.
 
The project is going well, and next month I will be making one of the compounds on a much larger scale than I usually do – probably about 100g – so that further tests can be carried out on the compound.
 

What does your typical day involve?

 
Most of my time is spent in the lab making chemical compounds, trying to improve the reactions and purifying the compounds I have made. Mostly these are made on quite a small scale – from a couple of mg to 25 – 30g.
 
I am mainly learning synthetic chemistry skills but I also have the chance to go to seminars and external lectures. I particularly like academic problem-solving sessions where we get the chance to try to solve a real problem.
 
I get to go to project meetings to learn about what others are doing on the project and see the bigger picture. I have also learned about other projects going on in the company.
 

Why did you decide to take a placement in the pharmaceutical industry?

 
I had had an opportunity to do a summer placement in this company between my second and third years, which I had really enjoyed and I knew that I was interested in working in synthetic chemistry. The company provides a very good training scheme and doing a placement enables me to get an MSci degree.
Also I get paid quite well – £16,000 over the year – so that helps with my student debt!
 

What opportunities have you had during the placement to find out about working in the pharmaceutical industry?

 
I have learned most about the chemistry area but I have also seen how the different disciplines work together on a project.
 
I have also had the chance to get involved in a graduate recruitment event where I met people from all areas in the company and from different company sites.
 

What qualifications and experience do you have?

 
As well as my previous two-month placement in industry, I had an academic Nuffield scholarship to work at Strathclyde last summer.
 
At Strathclyde it is very competitive to get on the MSci – you have to get over 60% in your exams and so be on course for a 2.1 or a 1st class degree and you also have to do an industrial placement. Some people who have high marks in their exams still didn’t get accepted for any of the placements they applied for.
 

What do you think you will do when you complete your degree?

 
I plan to do a PhD in organic chemistry. My experience in this placement will put me in a good position for this as I have had to do a lot of independent thinking here and my organic chemistry skills are much stronger that they would have been if I had not done a placement.
 

Has the placement influenced your thoughts on your future career?

 
I have learned a lot about organic chemistry and the drug discovery process. I think a PhD is necessary for job progression in chemistry in some companies, as well as in academia. I also love chemistry and want the challenge of doing a PhD.
 
After my PhD I will decide what I want to do next, I think I would like an academic career, but I will look at my options when I get to that stage.
 

What has the year been like socially?

 
It is a very social place to work, 2,500 people work on this site, there is an on-site gym and sports facilities with fitness classes and several sports teams.
We sometimes go out for a pub lunch, or, in the evening the department organises a meal out. There are also teambuilding events and community volunteering days.
 

Any issues with taking a placement?

 
Placements are very competitive to get on to, and are hard work – it is a full-time professional job. But I have had a great year and have learned so much, it is a great way to get an insight into industry. I think my placement will get my CV top the top of the pile when I am applying for jobs in the future.
 

What message do you have for others considering taking a placement?

 
If I was a first year chemistry student I would say work hard right from the start to get good grades, go for a placement in an area of chemistry you really enjoy – and get the best placement you can, one that provides good training. If you are serious about getting a job at the end of your degree and want to do well, you should definitely do a placement.

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