Case study

Chemical engineer — Scott Gourlay

Scott Gourlay graduated from the University of Strathclyde with an MSc in Industrial Biotechnology, and is now a chemical engineer at Oxford Biotrans

How did you get your job?

I would never have got my job at Oxford Biotrans without the work placement that I undertook as part of my MSc through the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC). This placement forced me to identify my weaknesses and work hard to improve them. By the time I graduated, I felt fully prepared for the workplace.

What are your main work activities?

Oxford Biotrans specialises in the biosynthesis of high-value chemicals, utilising specific enzyme technology. I work as a research and development scientist, dealing in areas such as fermentation, biotransformation, enzymology and mutagenesis.

My hours are scheduled to my experiments, so I rarely work 9am to 5pm. It's very hard to describe a typical day as my workload is very dynamic, but activities usually include setting up cell cultures and bioconversion reactions, researching new techniques and analytical methods, and investigating new mutations for the enzymes that we use.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Working for a start-up is fantastic. I've learned techniques and practices that I wouldn't have come close to experiencing at larger businesses.

Even at this early stage, I can see myself developing professionally within Oxford Biotrans. I still have a lot to learn and look forward to growing within and alongside the company.

What are the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of your job?

I enjoy having the freedom to experiment. I'm currently working on Oxford Biotrans' flagship project - the bioconversion of valencene (orange scent) to nootkatone (grapefruit scent). This is an example of the prowess that we hold over specific enzyme reaction.

Another facet of the job that I enjoy is working with members of the company who are trained in different disciplines, as this forces me to work outside of my comfort zone. I've already learned a great deal in my short time at the company.

What advice would you give to those who want to get into this career?

One of the main aims of my Masters degree was to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Undertaking a collaborative Masters degree with an industry placement allowed me to gain invaluable skills and experience, which I feel left me much more prepared for work than my colleagues at Oxford Biotrans.

I can really put the scope and variety of such a course into perspective now that I'm in full-time employment. I'd encourage any scientist looking to work in industry to apply to a course that offers similar experiences.

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