Case study

Analytical chemist — Sam

Sam enjoys the problem-solving aspect of his job with a drug discovery company. Find out what his role involves

How did you get into analytical chemistry?

After graduating I was unsure what direction to take, so I signed up to a range of scientific recruitment companies. This made my CV visible and gave me the best opportunity of finding potential employers.

I was then invited to an interview with Eli Lilly to work in their flash chromatography lab and managed to secure the role. I worked there for eight months. During this time I learned a great deal about chromatography techniques. I also gained experience of running systems used in industry to a greater extent than is often available at university.

When I applied for the role at Sygnature Discovery I had something relevant to talk about at my interview, despite the fact that the role did not explicitly involve flash chromatography.

What's a day as an analytical chemist like?

Usually I run a preparative separation on an LCMS (Liquid Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry) system, separating complex reaction mixtures into clean compounds required by the synthetic chemists. I also conduct a physical chemical assay on a number of compounds, in solubility, Log D or PAMPA and report on the results.

Should any of the analytical or preparative systems fail, I act as a first responder to repair the system, replacing consumable parts and clearing blockages. If this doesn't fix the problem I liaise with manufacturers and engineers to have parts delivered and the necessary work carried out.

I may also be required to train new staff members to use the analytical systems for which I am a super-user.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The most enjoyable part is the problem-solving aspect, which is often also the most challenging.

During system breakdowns you must identify the problem, its source and the best way to repair it. There have been several occasions where I've encountered issues that have previously not been seen and had to devise the best course of action for repairs.

How relevant is your natural sciences degree?

Without having completed a scientific degree I wouldn't have been able to secure this job. However, you don't necessarily need a chemistry degree; several of my colleagues studied forensic science or related-scientific subjects.

How has your role developed?

My job has changed significantly since I started a year ago. I have undertaken more responsibility, optimising systems previously in place and developing new assays for us to perform in the future.

I was also able to bring my knowledge of reverse phase flash chromatography to Sygnature, meaning I am the only super-user on that machine.

What do you want to do next?

Sygnature has invested in a new DMPK (Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics) department, meaning I have now begun to learn some DMPK techniques, which can only help my career prospects.

My career ambitions would be to further my knowledge of analytical and DMPK techniques and hopefully lead a team of analysts or DMPK scientists.

How can others become analytical scientists?

My advice to students and graduates is to develop a working knowledge of chromatography, the differences between normal and reverse phase, and how to apply this to analytical, preparative and flash chromatography systems.

It would also be useful to understand mass spectrometry and how to interpret the data produced by a mass spectrometer.

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