Chem Coach Carnival: My turn

The call was made for a post and I did heed it. Missed putting it on Mole Day, but what’s an order of magnitude between friends?

Your current job.

I work at RTI International, a non-profit research institute in the RTP area of North Carolina.

What you do in a standard “work day.”

It starts with a cup of tea (I’m a stereotypical Brit in that regard), but encompasses reading, writing and lab work. I am more in the lab than my supervisor, but he expects a certain amount of work on papers or grant proposals from me as well. My primary responsibility is keeping the project moving forward in terms of compound supply, so getting new data or scale-up so we have material for the next phase of the project. I’ll add we are more a basic research group than a drug discovery group, so tool compounds that pharmacologists can use to study receptors with is more our game than making a highly bioavailable drug. But many of the same skills apply – it needs to be soluble, for example.

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

I have a PhD from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I post doc’d in the US at Georgia Tech. My original plan was to go back to the U.K. after that but jobs were scarce at the time and lining up one trans-Atlantically proved difficult. So I ended up staying. Got a job at a non-profit, then at a small contract research company here in RTP. As much as my qualifications, knowing people and being bold with contacting people got me here – I got an interview at my last job because they had hired a process chemist I knew, then I made a good contact with the recruiter who was hiring for this position, plus a number of former co-workers had post doc’d at RTI.

How does chemistry inform your work?

I work in the lab doing synthesis most of the time so it is pretty central to my job and that is how I like it.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career

I could note how my PhD was book-ended by building evacuations due to ammonia release from the lab next door. But that isn’t really about me.

When in school, we were working on making a Grignard reagent. I forget the details, but it was magnesium turnings, a bromide of some sort, maybe some iodine to activate things. We were heating it. The guy behind me (doing the same thing) suddenly cried out and I turned around at saw his reaction spouting out of the top of his condenser. I chuckled turned around and mine did the same thing, shooting out of the top with enough force to mark the ceiling with a nice brown spot.

If I were just coming into the field, would I learn something useful from your story?

I hope so. The lesson I take from my own journey is that it is rarely as smooth as you imagine, you have to adapt and be flexible, be ready to take on things that you did not expect. But also it is possible to make your career into something you enjoy and want to do long term.