Physical Chemist (discovery)

Every day you have the opportunity to apply your skills to chemical problems that directly contribute to the discovery of potential new drugs.

​So, what do you do?

I work in the early stages of drug discovery, supporting projects to help them optimise the physical properties of their candidate compounds without affecting other characteristics. I also lead a team of Physical Chemists that generate high quality physicochemical property data on discovery compounds.

What does your typical day involve?

My typical day is varied and interesting, involving a mixture of research into new assays, experimental testing of compounds, discussing results, giving expert advice at meetings and providing leadership to my team. It requires me to manage my time effectively, and to meet challenging deadlines. The work is rewarding and valued by project teams.

Do you work mostly on your own or as part of team?

Teamwork is very important, both in my group and in the projects I support, and there is always someone available to provide helpful advice. Sometimes we will work together in small teams to solve a difficult problem or deliver a new practical solution. At other times we will work alone to generate data analysis or new ideas before discussing them in project meetings. Often we will get the help of colleagues who are experts in a particular technique in order to improve the quality of our work.

What qualifications and experience did you have when you entered the industry?

I studied Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry at university and found the topics relevant to the pharmaceutical industry extremely interesting. I was then fortunate to study for a PhD that benefited from a CASE award studentship sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. This meant that as well as having an industrial supervisor’s input to my project and regular visits to the company site, I had extra money during my PhD.

On completing my PhD a postdoctoral research position became available in my industrial supervisor’s team. My PhD covered an area of research that was relevant to the role but most importantly it had provided me with the technical skills, communication skills and problem solving experience I needed to be successful in industry.

Why did you decide on a career in the pharmaceutical industry?

My contact with a pharmaceutical company during my PhD had allowed me to experience at first hand the pursuit of excellent science combined with highly engaging research topics. In addition, the impressive facilities, comfortable working environment and friendly staff motivated my desire to work there.

Every day you have the opportunity to apply your skills to chemical problems that directly contribute to the discovery of potential new drugs. There is an interesting and potentially beneficial context to your work combined with fresh scientific challenges.

How has your career developed since you left university?

After my postdoc I obtained a permanent position as a Senior Physical Chemist at a different site in the same company. Since then I have taken an increased level of responsibility over a period of 5 years. I have supported several drug discovery projects as their physical chemistry expert and am now a Team Leader managing 7 other scientists.

Throughout my time in industry I have been actively encouraged to attend a variety of internal and external training courses and conferences. These have focussed on both my scientific and personal development. Working in the pharmaceutical industry has provided me with a large number of opportunities to grow as a scientist and as a professional. The whole experience is many times better than I expected industry to be!

How long have you been in your current role?

4 months.

What is it like socially where you work?

There is a leisure centre on site with a gym, sports facilities and bar. They also provide various sports clubs and activity weeks for kids in the holidays. There are a variety of social events that occur throughout the year and as a group we regularly celebrate each other’s birthdays as an excuse to go out together.

What are you most proud of in your career?

When I studied for my degree I didn’t really know where I wanted to end up. Since then I have adapted my skills to follow a career path that both interests and challenges me. Being able to find a role that I really enjoy and that I can make a real contribution to, from all the possibilities out there, is very satisfying.

Along the way I have also supervised several students and I now manage a team. I’m proud of the contribution I make to the development of other people, as well as developing my own career. I’m also motivated by the possibility of helping to discover the next breakthrough in treatment for patients.

What possibilities are there for your career in the future?

You don’t always know where the next step will take you and I’ve not been in my current role very long. In the long term there might be opportunities to develop my management skills with a different team or in a section leader role managing a group of teams. Alternatively I might progress in terms of scientific leadership, becoming a principal scientist. The route taken will depend on my interests, performance and how the organisation develops.

What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?

The ability to focus on the most important task at any particular time. There are always several options for you to work on at any given moment, some of which will develop science in the long term, some of which will impact a particular project straight away. You need to get the combination right, delivering where you can have a timely impact and at the same time improving your skills and science with a long-term vision.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry?

Practise your interview skills. Research around the roles you want to apply for and the company you are applying to. Spend some time role-playing in the interview situation to improve your confidence and get advice on technique. The interviews are tough but fair and it’s your only opportunity to sell yourself, your skills and why you want the job.