Friday, 16 November 2018

Case Study - starting a PhD AFTER working in industry

Name: Jamie Harrower
Degree: Master Chemistry with Year In Industry (MChem)
Graduated: 2014 from The University of Edinburgh

Jamie was keen to enter industry straight after his degree, but had always harboured the notion that he would do a PhD at some point. Here is his story.......

First Graduate Job: Process Chemist

After graduating from The University of Edinburgh, having completed a Master’s degree in chemistry with a year in industry (a development chemist with Syngenta), my first graduate job was as a process chemist for INEOS Olefins and Polymers Europe, based at Grangemouth. This involved analysing a wide variety of petroleum products (including diesel, petrol, Aviation Turbo Kerosene and fuel oil) in their state of the art laboratory. I frequently used High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Gas Chromatography (GC), UV Spectroscopy and Inductively Coupled Plasma Emission Spectroscopy.
My role involved carrying out routine analysis on petroleum products, ensuring that I was adhering to strict laboratory quality standards, including ISO accredited testing.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at INEOS, and had the opportunity to improve on my analytical chemistry skills as well as experiencing how a large international company operates on a daily basis. I worked on a shift pattern, which meant that I had to do nightshifts, but it also meant I had a lot of time off. The starting salary was excellent for a student graduating, and there were a lot of opportunities to progress and diversify within the laboratory and also into completely different roles, such as working on the chemical plants, engineering and HR roles. The training that INOES provided was excellent and you were able to learn from experts within their field who had a wealth of knowledge and experience.

During my time working at INEOS I was eligible to register as a Registered Scientist (RSci) at the Royal Society of Chemistry. This was really useful as it also gave the opportunity to work towards my RSC chartership qualification. 

After working at INEOS for 3.5 years, I decided to leave because I was determined to pursue a PhD. I had always wanted to undertake a PhD, however, I also thought that gaining industrial experience was very important for my career development. The skills I have learnt within industry have been vital for securing my PhD position and also helping me progress quickly within my role.

My main interests have always been in analytical chemistry, and both my job role at INEOS and my 12 month internship at Syngenta were very analytically based. During my PhD, I will be investigating the occurrence of antibiotics within the environment. Over the last decade, antibiotic resistance has become a global concern, especially within the environment. One factor that is believed to be heavily contributing to antibiotic resistance is the release of antibiotics into the environment, primarily through treated waste water. A large fraction of antibiotics consumed by humans are excreted and diverted to the water treatment plant unchanged and aren’t completely removed, and therefore discharged back into the environment. Determining the chemical fate of antibiotics is the main aim of my PhD, which will be achieved by measuring the concentrations of antibiotics in river water, and river sediment and also conducting mathematical fugacity modelling. The analysis will be conducted using Liquid Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry, which was something that I was really interested in during my undergraduate degree.

There are some very clear advantages of working in industry and then going back to do a PhD. I found that I had developed key skills within the industry such as; time management, learning to work within a team and being involved in projects/ meetings, presenting project work and solving ‘real’ life problems. Industry is also very fast paced, and sometimes involves working under a lot of pressure to meet targets and industry standards. You are also required to learn very quickly and take in a large amount of information on a daily basis to ensure that you are fulfilling your job role. All of these points were extremely advantageous for returning to do a PhD.

One of the main disadvantages of returning to do a PhD is it can be difficult financially. Working in industry gives you a very stable income and takes away the stress of worrying about money. During my time in the chemical industry I was able to put a deposit down on my own house! Although my PhD is fully funded I am still not nearly paid as much as I was in industry, however, this is the sacrifice you make to do research in an area you are passionate about. I also feel that another disadvantage of returning to do a PhD is that you have to be extremely patient and plan your work meticulously. A lot of the time things don’t go to plan, and it can take time to solve the problem you are working on. The main thing is to keep focused and not become too disheartened.

I am now 1 year into my PhD and things are going really well. I am at the stage of planning my field work so things are becoming particularly busy. I also have a 2-year-old son, who I love spending time with! I think that some people are put off by doing a PhD when they have a family and believe that it isn’t possible because they would find it financially too difficult and also too time consuming. But I have found that the two are not mutually exclusive. The first requirement is being organised -you must plan your days really well to ensure they are productive. Secondly, take up any opportunities of teaching/demonstrating to earn a little extra cash to help pay the bills etc. Thirdly, my supervisors are really understanding and give me quite a bit of flexibility on my working hours, which helps me plan projects a lot easier.  Most importantly, only undertake a PhD in an area you are truly passionate about, or it could be a very long 3-4 years.

During my time at university I wished that I had taken part more in sports clubs/ societies, and in general socialised more. During the later years of your degree, it can become very demanding which is why it becomes difficult to take part in such activities. I would also take advantage more of the Careers Service which the university offers, especially the guidance they can give you on writing CV’s, interview preparation etc. These skills are very useful when entering the real world of employment.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Chemists and Engineers wanted for International Law

Have you ever thought about a career as a lawyer, but dismissed it as "something engineers and scientists don't really do"? Well, international (3000 lawyers, 150 countries, 70 languages) law firm Freshfields has other ideas...................

Graduate chemists needed at AstraZeneca

AZ are recruiting a chemistry graduate/postgraduate to work within the analytical skill area as part of our teams in Macclesfield.  The successful applicant will be an enthusiastic, motivated and highly capable individual.  You will be responsible for delivering the analytical understanding to progress the development of active pharmaceutical ingredients and formulations, working closely in a team environment with chemical, formulation, biopharmaceutics and solid-state scientists. As part of this you will utilise cutting edge analytical techniques such as chromatography, NMR, mass spectrometry, ICP and IR.

Main Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Development of robust analytical methodologies supporting project progression during the early development phase.
  • Interpreting analytical data and drawing reliable conclusions and recommendations to influence future work.
  • Identifying and solving potential analytical project issues.
  • Application of technical knowledge to improvement projects and the evaluation of new technology/processes.
  • Plan and conduct lab-based experimental work in accordance with project timelines.
  • Working as a member of cross-functional teams, representing own department or area of expertise.
  • Ensuring that work is performed in accordance with appropriate Safety, Health & Environment (SHE), quality and compliance standards, e.g. Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), Good Laboratory Practice (GLP).
  • First class or upper 2nd class honours degree, MSc, MChem or equivalent in a Chemistry based degree.
Apply here 14 December 2018 closing date

Thursday, 1 November 2018

First years - can't get an internship?

Chemistry and engineering graduates get fed up seeing internships "for penultimate year" students advertised everywhere. It CAN be hard to find companies who will employ you after your first year at university. However, have a look now on MyCareerHub, because Randox Laboratories in Northern Ireland have just put up an advert offering 1st year summer internships.

Not only that, they then are offering a 12 month industrial placement AND a graduate job if you get a 2.1! It's called the APEX programme and is advertised on the Randox website. However, our contact in the company says the website details are in the process of being updated (Hashtags don't include U of Edinburgh). Engineering is listed as a discipline they are looking for, so you could apply for the summer work, then if successful, haggle for a 6 month placement rather then the 12 months they are offering?  It LOOKS like Chemistry is not listed on their website. However they do very much want chemists to apply and they have certainly listed Chemistry on MyCareerHub, so just an oversight.

In addition, GSK Revealed will run an "Insight Day" on 16th April 2019 (for STEM, also one on 4th April 2019 for Business). This is specifically for 1st and 2nd years to gain more information about the company and get tips on applying successfully to them. It is not advertised YET but will definitely run, confirmed by GSK staff at the Engineering Fair yesterday. I know many of you will want to apply to GSK or similar for industrial placements later on, so this experience may well help you in your applications. It has a very short window, as it will open in December, and close in January, so put it in your diary and keep an eye on their website, as this will be VERY popular!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Clinical Scientist in the NHS - Chemists

My colleague Carol McDonald, went to an information day last week to discover how life and chemical scientists are employed in NHS LOTHIAN. There WAS a lot of information but below I have highlighted in blue anything that might relate to chemists:

NHS Lothian recruit & train across above areas at different levels, including:

·         Clinical Scientists – Trainee Clinical Scientist roles
·         Biomedical Scientists - Trainee Biomedical Scientist roles (require IBMS accredited degree)
·         Assistant / Associate Practitioners (Band 4) – possible entry route for graduates
·         Apprentices (Band 2) – graduates would not be considered for these roles which involves completion of HND while training via Fife College – mapped to IBMS accreditation.  This is seen as school leaver entry route.

Clinical Scientists
There are 2 entry routes in Scotland. Scotland runs its own pathways but these are aligned with England.  

                STP  - advertised from January each year.
o   Minimum entry 2.1 degree - but in reality 1st class hons required and most successful applicants will have an MSc or PhD
o   3 Year Programme – Year 1 complete 4 rotations, Year 2 consolidate knowledge, Year 3 focus on speciality eg cardiac physiology  
o   Incorporates Masters degree which varies depending on stream followed.
o   Contract is for training period. No guarantee of a related post at the end. Approx. 70% offered a role on completion of training.

Route 2 - Masters route
o   Training offered to those with a related Masters degrees
o   Masters must be in the specific area to be followed (eg a cell sciences related degree for microbiology) 
o   Work on portfolios based around required competences throughout training period (do not undertake Masters degree)
o   Develop clinical experience in specialist area (eg Molecular Pathology) throughout training period. 

Disciplines sought for the two routes above: 
Genetics (demand changes year on year) 
BioInformatics (demand just coming through)
Decontamination Services
Virology, Microbiology, Chemistry (training roles occur regularly)
Haematology & Transfusion  (less common but do occur)  

Advanced Training
o   FRC path – offers a route for Clinical Scientists in Scotland to progress to Consultant posts. This is offered on a limited basis only.  
o   Higher Specialist Training is a new route for clinical scientists in England but is not funded in Scotland at present

Trainee Clinical Scientist Vacancies in Scotland for 2019
·         Numbers - a total of 10 places will be offered in 2019.
·         STP – only offering training in Clinical Biochemistry for 2019 – 3 places expected 
o   Advertised on the NES website in January/ February
·         Masters route – 7 places expected
o   Life Science roles will be advertised on NES website – as these are offered by training consortiums
o   Other roles eg Clinical Profusion  will be advertised on the NHS Scotland vacancy site as training is not via consortiums
o   All posts will be headed as -  Trainee Clinical Scientist – some accept applications from Band 5 Biomedical Scientists. 

Friday, 12 October 2018

How to Network

The Chemical Engineering Society organised a great session from Catherine Bowie of Communicate on Networking:

Before the Event:
Check out attendee list of employers attending beforehand – look at websites/brand values of the company and, if possible the Linkedin profiles of specific people attending.  You gain confidence from being prepared.
Check out the layout. Make sure you don’t miss someone on your list – some may be tucked away in corners. If a dinner - is there a seating plan – who are you next to?
Dress for the job that you want – a pride in appearance = pride in your work in employers’ eyes. If you have a badge, put it on your lapel, on the left.
Social Media: Make sure your own Linkedin profile/Facebook/Twitter reflects the image you want to portray. Phones on silent.
Get there early: If an event runs 10am-12noon, there are very few people there 9.55-10.10am. Easier to work your magic when it is quiet.

At the Event:
Who first? Sounds a bit mean, but talk first to an employer that you are NOT particularly interested in. What could you have done or said better? Move on and do it better with someone you ARE interested in.
1st Impression: You have approximately 5 seconds to make your 1st impression. And 1st impressions count. Smile, look comfortable (even if you are not, learn to act), fake it till you make it.  Approach employers alone, or if you really cannot face that, in a pair. Don’t go in threes and fours as you will miss out on making a connection. Mingle, don’t hog one person too long, but make your short interaction meaningful. Single out 5 employers rather than 30 - Quality rather than Quantity.
The Handshake: eye contact important. No bone crushing or tips of fingers. Shoot from the hip. Fit hand snugly into the “V” between thumb and forefinger. Shake 3 times. If doubt about whether they want to shake hands, take the initiative - extend yours first. Makes you look confident.
Elevator pitch. Not so much selling yourself in the first instance, but advertising your passion for them. Eg Hello my name is Cornelia Potter, I am a Chemical Engineering 4th year student here at Edinburgh.  I am really keen to work for Ineos and was wondering if I could ask you about the 20:20 vision programme at Grangemouth and how that relates to your clean fuels policy? Practise this with friends and family, get their feedback.
Standing Out: They may see 100s of students at this event. Try to get them to remember your name, say it back to them with something memorable if you can (eg “Potter as in Harry Potter”). Ask GOOD questions. Have a bank of good questions prepared. Use OPEN questions eg recruiting policies, aspects of projects. Great questions saves everyone time and you will be remembered for that. Share something with them – maybe something about a student society, or a website you find useful for recruitment. This is the “Givers gain” strategy.
Business Cards: get some printed? – see previous blog on university logo use. You could alternatively use a relevant student society logo or no logo at all.  Offer them yours. Ask if you may have their business card and tuck it away in a holder rather than stuffing in pocket. Ask if you may connect to them on Linkedin – do it immediately after speaking to them.  
CVs: You can ask if you can send a CV to them after the event (though they may say to go through the official channels – this is not a fob-off). Some people take CVs along to the event, but it can be awkward to hand them over. Plus, what you hear from them on the day might influence what you put in your CV, so might be better to wait till after.
Feeling left out? If you cannot get into a group, catch the eye of the employer, nod and say you will try to catch them later. Help others – open up the circle to let others in. Bear in mind that good networkers are always looking to help others get into the conversation. If you can be seen to be inviting someone into the group, that reflects very well on you. And you may find that the favour is reciprocated later on by the grateful student.
Body Language: People worry mostly about what they are going to say, but impressions are actually formed more by how you say something (be passionate!) and your body language. Look open (no crossed arms, legs). Stand tall – use Alexander Technique or Pilates to imagine a string pulling your head up and shoulders back. This helps you project your voice and look confident.  There are myriad books on this subject.
Moving Away: This is a skills in itself. How do you get away? You could say “I know there will be others wanting to speak to you, so I better move on”, “I don’t want to hog you to myself”. You could introduce them to someone else before you move off.

After the event: Connect on Linkedin if you haven't already, saying it was good to meet them and discuss XYZ. If you prefer eamil, email them soon after the event (though not the same evening - don't want to be too stalky!). Remember Givers Gain - Signpost them to a useful resource. “Saw this and thought of you” type of thing, appropriate to previous discussion. Re-iterate your interest in any opportunities.

In Summary, remember the 3 E’s.            
·         Show Enthusiasm
·         Display Energy
·         Demonstrate Expertise

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Procter & Gamble - 15th October event.

Are you looking for a way to apply your Science or Engineering skills to challenging technical problems with real world applications?

Do you want the opportunity to develop innovative products that are used by over 4.6 billion people around the world?

..........then a career in Research and Development at
Procter & Gamble could be the place for you!

P&G are offering 6-12-month internships in R&D for 4/5th undergraduate students at our European Innovation Centres in UK, Belgium or Germany.  These give you the opportunity to work on real projects with real responsibility from Day 1 delivering breakthrough products, processes, raw materials and packaging that provide winning experiences to consumers all around the world.

If you are a full time PhD student, P&G also offers you the chance to experience the world of R&D at Procter and Gamble for yourself by taking part in a PhD seminar at one of our European Innovation Centres.  You will experience the innovative world of our R&D organisation and practise the technical skills needed to be successful via a series of exercises and case studies working with other international students and P&G trainers.  You will also get to see our research facilities and meet and talk with P&G scientists and engineers.

If you would like to find out more, we will be hosting a session on:

Monday 15th October in JCMB Lecture Theatre C at 5.30pm

No sign up necessary

We will share a presentation about R&D careers at P&G, what we do, and how to apply, followed by food and drinks and the opportunity to meet and chat with P&G employees.

For more information about careers at P&G, please visit

Thursday, 4 October 2018

GSK - hunting chemists and chemical engineers

GSK have been in touch with the Careers Service this week about their "Future Leader's Programme".Their application process for it has just opened.  This is a 3 year programme aimed at high potential final year students or recent graduates. It comprises three rotations on different sites/roles and at the end people “settle” in their “landing role”.

The link to find more and apply is:
They are looking for people from a variety of disciplines, i.e. chemical, mechanical, electrical, automation, biopharmaceutical engineering, chemistry, analytical chemistry, etc.

It would be great if people interested can apply soon – assessment centres are likely to take place in November.
(Note that GSK will be attending the Denbigh Networking Dinner organised by the Chemical Engineering Society next week).

Friday, 28 September 2018

Group Interviews

Over the next few months, some of you might be invited to a group interview as part of an Assessment Centre selection day. Here are some tips from Air Products, an Industrial Gases company. They provide atmospheric and process gases and related equipment to manufacturing markets, including refining and petrochemical, metals, electronics, and food and beverage for global customers.

For chemical engineers, they receive 600 applications for every five vacancies. The first step is to screen the CVs and select 60 of the best qualified (so you have a 10% chance). An initial video interview then allows them to select a final 12 applicants (2%), who are invited to a group assessment day involving a:
  • technical interview, 
  • presentation, and 
  • group interview/simulated business exercise.
So you are looking at around 1% of applicants actually receiving a job offer.  You need all the help you can get! Here are Air Products top tips for how to stand out from the crowd, (in the right way).

We’re interviewing for a career, not just a job
A key part of what we do is focussed on working together with our customers to find solutions that address commercial need while supporting greater efficiency and productivity. To do this successfully, you need to have the ability to understand business drivers, and issues such as finance and risk, as well as ultimately get along with people. Developing long-term relationships is key. Group interviews give us an opportunity to assess your potential in these areas and ensure you are a well-rounded individual who expresses self-confidence, one of core our values.

It’s what you say, not how loudly you say it
Many applicants at group interview think they have to say the most, and dominate conversation to stand out. The reality is quite different. While we are looking for leadership skills, we are also looking for the ability to interact and engage with others in a sensitive way. Is there someone not saying anything, that you can encourage to speak up? Do you have the ability to adjust and adapt your approach based on the input and personality style of others? Can you get an idea across in a convincing and appealing way? All of these things matter much more than who talks most, or indeed loudest!

Be yourself
All too often, applicants look at group interviews as a one-way assessment of their skills and abilities. As a result, nerves, or a desire to impress, see them morph into someone entirely different. The best advice we can offer is to be yourself and be natural. A positive and diverse culture is extremely important to us,  and is part of our strategic approach to growing in our industry. Group assessment days are a two-way process and an opportunity for you, and us, to assess whether you are genuinely the right fit for our business. Pretending to be someone you’re not will only cause issues later.

Stay calm and relaxed
Nerves are only natural, and a reasonable amount of adrenalin can help boost performance. But give yourself the chance to shine. Showing that you can be calm and collected under pressure is, in itself, an attribute and something we will be looking for on the day. The diverse nature of our work at Air Products means the ability to multi-task, prioritise and keep a cool head is key.

There are plenty resources to help you with this on the Careers Service/MCH website, including Giving it a Go (ie practice!) and Top Tips.

Adapted from 

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Case Study - summer internship in renewable fuels

Name: George Hardman
Studying: MChem at University of Edinburgh (currently in 4th year, Sept 2018)
Employer: Argent Energy in Motherwell
Position: Summer R&D Lab Intern
Duration: 12 weeks

What did you do last summer?
During this summer just passed I spent twelve weeks working for Argent Energy, a biodiesel company specialising in taking second generation feedstocks such as used cooking oils and animal fats and converting them into a viable renewable fuel. Working as a laboratory intern within their R&D department I was tasked with the analysis of potential feedstocks to check for their use within their biodiesel process.

Did the internship change over time?

Yes, after a week or two of getting to grips with a new lab environment and my first taste of Industrial Chemistry I was allowed more freedom to work and explore routes of improving the by-products of the biodiesel process. This allowed me to develop crucial experience working autonomously, as well as learning a whole host of new techniques and gaining experience with new machinery. The single most important piece of experience I gained however was the invaluable experience of the ‘real-world’ application of my degree, using prior experience and knowledge of chemistry towards economically viable work for the company.

How did you hear about the internship?

I found out about this internship opportunity through an email from the University of Edinburgh Careers Service, which I would strongly recommend subscribing to. After further research about the environmentally conscious work they do, I became deeply interested in the company. I was invited for an interview, which contained a few technical questions, all of which could be answered from their website. 

So was it a good experience?
The experience as a whole was massively positive, all other employees were exceedingly helpful no matter how senior they were within the company and the grounding feeling gained through the applied use of practical knowledge in an industrial setting was unparalleled in value.