I work as a practical synthetic medicinal chemist in the Discovery Chemistry department.
Day to day I spend a majority of my time in the lab doing hands on practical synthetic chemistry. This is what I particularly enjoy and find it fascinating that a compound I make could eventually become or contribute to a new medicine. However, equally important is the time I spend out of the lab. Each reaction has to be duly recorded and the results analysed.
I also spend some time each week reviewing the literature for new and better methods that I can use for my own work, or put forward for further discussion with my colleagues.
Within the department, we work within teams of 4–7 people of different educational, and experience backgrounds. For example in my team there are 4 of us, 2 hold PhDs, one has worked as a chemist for over 20 years, and then myself as a graduate with over 4 years experience.
My job also requires me to liaise with biologists, analysts and other scientists as I try to solve problems like: “have I made what I expected and, if not, what is it?”
I graduated from Leicester University with a MChem degree in chemistry with a year in industry. During my degree I undertook a year in industry placement at the site where I now work. The practical experience was really helpful when I returned to university, and, luckily I had impressed the company sufficiently for them to offer me a job at the end of my degree!
I have A-levels in chemistry, physics and maths.
It is definitely advantageous to have done an industrial placement, if possible as part of your degree. Not only does it show you exactly what the role is like and whether you would like to pursue it as a career, but also, the potential employer appreciates that you know the job and are therefore committed.
The industry placement really enthused me about the drug discovery process and particularly the variety of chemistry reactions and procedures that this involved. I quickly realised that I wanted to pursue a career in medicinal chemistry, right at the beginning of the drug discovery process.
Since joining the company, I have discovered how important the interaction with my colleagues is for my continued learning. For example, I was initially surprised by the amount of robotics used within medicinal chemistry. However, through guidance from my team members, I have adapted to the technology quickly, and through various courses, ranging from chemistry based seminars to computer training, my overall knowledge has been enhanced. From the experiences and support the company is able to offer me, I feel that my confidence and personal development will continue to grow leading to an enjoyable and fulfilling career.
There is a real mix of ages in our department. As a whole, we have pub quiz nights throughout the year, and an annual summer BBQ. Also, some of us ‘younger’ ones will organise nights out quite frequently with people from other departments. For the more energetic, there are walking and camping outings and a group go climbing most weeks too.
I recently communicated my research as a presentation at a recent national meeting for Young Chemists in Industry, which seemed scary at first, but was very worthwhile.
Working in chemistry is a lot of fun – I love the practical hands-on nature of the job. Equally, I value what I do because it might benefit society as well as being something I enjoy doing. With the opportunities I am getting here I’m looking forward to a fulfilling career as a Discovery Chemist.
You definitely have to enjoy being in the lab doing hands-on practical chemistry. It can get frustrating when a chemical scheme can look great in theory and then, for no apparent reason, does not work in practice, so you also need patience and a real drive to want to make things work.
To just go for it! If you want to be at the forefront of science in an industry with the potential to help millions of people, then a career in the pharmaceutical industry will certainly be fulfilling.
I think, in my company, if someone is keen to learn, and willing to work their way up, it isn’t essential to have experience or higher level qualifications.