Case study

Senior analytical R&D scientist — Tilly Woodland

Tilly studied for a Masters in Chemistry at Loughborough University. She's now a senior analytical research and development scientist team lead at Owlstone Medical Ltd

Why did you decide on a career in chemistry?

Chemistry was my favourite A-level, it allowed me to begin to understand the world around me right down at the level of matter. I enjoyed that it was interdisciplinary and that it connected themes throughout the other sciences. I enjoyed the experimentation and the problem-solving aspects but most of all I loved the real-world applications of chemistry, being vast as they are.

How did you get your job?

I found my job through the university work I was doing during my Masters. The team I worked with used some of my current company's medical devices for their studies. My Masters project aligned really nicely with what Owlstone was doing so I was keen to apply.

What's a typical working day like?

For me, a typical day is making sure that my team are delivering the required outputs for the project and that we are meeting deadlines. A lot of what I do is problem-solving, assessing risk and unblocking issues. Along with line management and some technical input here and there.

How relevant is your degree to your job?   

My degree is completely relevant to my field, as I move away from technical work and towards line management/team enablement it remains important to retain the background knowledge to be able to lead my team, but I use it directly in my work less and less.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I love how fast paced it is. I love problem-solving and unblocking issues and unravelling challenges, it can be difficult, but it keeps things interesting and keeps the brain active.

What are the challenges?

Everything in research is a challenge, that's what keeps it interesting. The main challenge for us is the technical barriers. We have to contend with biological and analytical variability in our analyses and pulling one from the other or reducing either is a really hard problem to solve.

What three skills are needed for a career in chemistry?

  • Resilience - in any research environment things can fail or not go to plan. You need to be able to learn from that and move on.
  • Curiosity - wanting to learn and wanting to develop is key when it comes to any career in science.
  • Teamwork - you rarely work alone in a career in chemistry. Being a good team player and learning how to lean on each other is important when it comes to delivering outputs within a company/project.

What are your career ambitions?

I aim to maintain a level of relevant technical knowledge to support my team but to move further into a line management, team enablement, and eventually a senior leadership role. I'd like to do more of what I enjoy most, which is complex problem-solving, strategising, planning and top-level organisation.

Are you a member of a professional body?

Yes, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). There are many reasons to join a professional body, I am mostly interested in:

  • Networking - Building relationships, exchanging ideas, and learning about new developments in the industry.
  • Professional development - Training and development opportunities, seminars, and conferences.
  • Access to resources - Research, publications, and online resources.

Tell us about three issues affecting the sector today.

  • Workforce development - The chemistry sector requires highly skilled workers, and there is a need for education and training programmes to develop the next generation of chemists.
  • Global competition - The chemistry industry is global, so competition is intense. Companies must be able to compete and adapt on a global scale.
  • Intellectual property protection - The development of IP requires significant investment, and companies must be able to protect it. This requires a legal and regulatory framework to ensure that companies can benefit from their innovations.

What advice can you give to other aspiring chemists?

  • Develop a strong foundation in chemistry - Focus on mastering the fundamental concepts and principles before moving on to more advanced topics.
  • If you haven't already, pursue a relevant degree - Look for programmes that offer hands-on experience and research opportunities.
  • Gain practical experience - Seek out internships or research opportunities to gain practical experience and network in the field.
  • Develop a strong work ethic - Hard work, persistence, and attention to detail.
  • Stay curious - Chemistry is a fascinating subject, and a curious mind is essential for success. Ask questions, read scientific journals, attend conferences and network with other professionals in the industry.

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