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!