Case study

Medicinal scientist — Charlotte Payne

Working for a contract research organisation, Charlotte enjoys the collaborative atmosphere and scientific project work involved in the drug discovery process

How did you get your job?

During the final year of my degree, I applied for the graduate programme at Sygnature Discovery. After completing an assessment day, I received an offer to join the graduate scheme upon completing my degree. I was made a permanent employee of the company following a six-month probationary period.

What's a typical working day like?

In general, I spend most of my day working in the laboratory. This involves setting up reactions, analysing their progress and ensuring the quality of the final compounds. It's crucial to accurately document progress in an electronic notebook at all stages of the process.

In addition to lab work I regularly attend client meetings, during which scientists from Sygnature report to our clients regarding progress that has been made. Many project teams also hold internal meetings frequently for the purposes of problem solving and target assignment, as well as updating the project leader on progress.

Occasionally, my day may also include attending on-site external talks from other industry professionals.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working with many scientists who have diverse experiences and extensive knowledge to impart is hugely beneficial to me - I'm able to learn a great deal from them every day. This learning experience is certainly something I appreciate, and the collaborative environment of the company makes it an enjoyable place to work.

What are the challenges?

Chemical reactions do not always work as you might expect, which can be disheartening. Remaining determined through various failed reactions can be difficult at times and requires patience and perseverance.

Is your degree relevant?

Every day I conduct many of the reactions I learnt about during my degree. I have also been able to transfer skills I developed in the laboratory during my undergraduate degree. Additionally, knowledge of NMR spectroscopy and how to analyse NMR spectra is essential to ensuring quality of compounds.

How has your role developed? What are your career ambitions?

After being made a permanent employee of Sygnature, I started work on a client project in a team of other medicinal chemists. This has given me the opportunity to be more involved in the development of synthetic routes of my target compounds and the quality control of compounds required before they can be sent to undergo biological testing.

Within the next year I hope to become further involved in presenting the teams' progress to the client and designing compounds to be synthesised. In terms of my career ambitions, I hope to continue my development as a medicinal chemist, becoming a senior scientist and project leader in the future.

What advice can you give others wanting to get into medicinal chemistry?

  • Get relevant experience where possible, whether this is a year in industry during your degree, a summer placement undertaking research at your university or work experience shadowing medicinal chemists. All these experiences can be useful in developing skills that you'll need for a job in medicinal chemistry, enhancing your knowledge of the industry and confirming medicinal chemistry is what you would like to do in the future.
  • As well as applying for jobs in more well-known companies in the industry, look for companies in research hubs across the country (such as BioCity in Nottingham), which house small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the drug discovery industry.
  • A technical interview often constitutes part of the application process, testing your knowledge of organic chemistry. Therefore, good organic chemistry knowledge and keeping up to date with new developments in synthetic chemistry as described in the literature is essential.