Ivalina Minova is an SCI Ambassador, 2018 SCI Scholar, and a third-year PhD student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK, where her research involves the development of new techniques to help understand and improve industrially important reactions.
In this article, she discusses four aspects that have helped with her success as an early career scientist and the invaluable support resources she has benefited from.
Her last blog ‘How the SCI Early Careers programme helped me’ can be found here.
Mark your milestones
As a student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Critical Resource Catalysis (CRITICAT), one of the milestones outlined in my four-year PhD training programme is to complete a three-month industrial placement abroad.
Having a clear goal and timeline is critical in early career development. I started thinking about potential placement visit options early and took the initiative in setting up an arrangement with a chemical company, Johnson Matthey (JM).
Find a mentor
Having a mentor in industry can significantly benefit you in the early stages of your career, especially if you are working in academia. I was determined to find influential people who could help me to achieve my goals.
Part of this mission was being awarded an SCI scholarship in July 2018, which will support my three-month research placement visit at JM, a pioneering chemical company in sustainable technologies. I had built links with JM through my MChem studies at Durham University.
These have developed throughout my PhD, as I have initiated several catch-up meetings with research teams and R&D managers to discuss my research. In one of those meetings last year, I asked about the possibility of completing a placement visit at their US site, to which they agreed!
Look for funding opportunities
Once I had identified my desired placement visit abroad, I focused on applying for various funding opportunities to help fund my trip. Although my PhD programme provides financial support towards such placement visits, the costs of going to the US would exceed my budget.
There are a number of mobility grants and scholarship opportunities that I applied for listed below, that have allowed me to secure sufficient funding for this placement:
I was successful in obtaining the last two of those three.
The power of networking
I attended a lot of conferences early on in my studies and was not shy to give oral talks, where my confidence in giving presentations on my research naturally grew.
Some of my personal highlights include presenting at the 6th International Congress in Operando Spectroscopy in Spain and being awarded an SCI Messel Travel Bursary to present my first manuscript on ‘Unravelling the mechanism of direct alkene formation from methoxy groups in H-ZSM-5, as revealed by synchrotron infrared microspectroscopy’ at the ACS Spring 2019 National Meeting and Exposition in Orlando, US, in March 2019.
Overall, I found these four key things beneficial to me in advancing my early career research and I hope that this blog will inspire others to take initiative as they move towards their next career step.
Ivalina Minova with SCI’s Early Careers Committee Chair, Alan Heaton. Image: SCI
As an SCI member, she is actively involved with the Scotland Group and has attended a number of early career events, which have helped with her career development and she has detailed in this blog.
Her last blog, about her experience working at Diamond Light Source, can be found here.
College of Scholars’ Day
SCI award three scholarships a year. Image: SCI
Presenting at SCI’s College of Scholar’s Day on 19 November 2018 was a memorable and enjoyable experience, which introduced me to the larger network of SCI Scholars, both current and past. I was able to gain valuable insights from hearing about the progress and achievements of other Scholars.
Some of my personal highlights from the day included speaking with Dr Alex O’Malley, who has successfully launched his independent career at Cardiff University, Wales, UK, supported by a Ramsey Fellowship, which is given to early career scientists looking to build their own programme of original research.
During the event, I also volunteered to help organise a post-graduate event at the SCI AGM meeting on 3 July 2019 initiated by the SCI Early Careers Committee, which will help students like me.
You can read more about the College of Scholar’s Day here.
This day-long event – held in Glasgow on 30 November 2018 – was aimed at PhD students and post-doctoral early career researchers. There was a diverse programme of invited speakers who gave talks on their current roles. This included an industrial research scientist from Johnson Matthey and a patent attorney.
There was an intriguing talk from a CEO and entrepreneur, Dr Paul Colborn, who founded his own university spin-out company. It was interesting to hear about the risks he took in starting his own business and the successful expansion of Liverpool ChiroChem, a chemistry-based CRO that produces chiral small molecules for biotech/pharmaceutical R&D.
I was also impressed by a talk from a senior manager from Syngenta that described how she had progressed up the career ladder after completing her PhD.
The event closed with a Q&A panel, which allowed us to ask more specific questions, followed by a wine reception and more networking opportunities. During the wine reception I approached one of the speakers from industry and was able to set up a mentoring scheme arrangement within the umbrella of the SCI mentoring scheme, which I’m sure will be a valuable experience.
Bright SCIdea: Business innovation and entrepreneurship training
Team of students with an innovate idea will compete for £5,000 in March. Image: SCI
I joined the Bright SCIdea Challenge 2019 with the motivation to learn more about business and entrepreneurial skills. The training day event on 7 December 2018 at SCI HQ provided the necessary training for writing a business plan and included talks on entrepreneurial skills, IP, finances, marketing and pitching.
I particularly enjoyed a talk on marketing given by David Prest, an experienced scientist from Drochaid Research Services, a recently established service-based company that provides research support to industry.
A catalyst is a substance that reduces the energy input required for a reaction – many industrial processes use a catalyst to make them feasible and economic.
There are many types of catalysts for different applications, and zeolite catalysts are used commercially to reduce the negative effects of exhaust fumes from diesel engines and produce fuels more efficiently. Catalysts can be studied with light, in a process called spectroscopy, to help understand how they work.
My PhD research has greatly benefitted from the use of synchrotron radiation. It helped me to gain detailed mechanistic insight into how the zeolite catalyst works. To date, I have completed four scientific visits at the Diamond Light Source, which is the UK’s national synchrotron facility, located in Oxfordshire.
Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, located in Oxfordshire. It was opened in June 2014 to support industrial and academic research.
What is a synchrotron?
Diamond Light Source. Image credit: Diamond Light Source
A synchrotron generates very bright beams of light by accelerating electrons close to the speed of light and bending them through multiple magnets. The broad spectrum of light produced, ranging from X-rays to infrared (IR) light, is selectively filtered at the experimental laboratories (beamlines), where a specific region of the electromagnetic spectrum is utilised. My work uses the IR part of the electromagnetic spectrum. IR light has the right energy to probe bond stretches and deformations, allowing molecular observations and determination.
A highlight from last year has been attending a joint beamtime session with Prof Russell Howe and Prof Paul Wright at Diamond’s IR beamline (MIRIAM, B22). The MIRIAM beamline is managed by Dr Gianfelice Cinque and Dr Mark Frogley.
The synchrotron enables us to capture the catalyst in action during the methanol to hydrocarbons reaction. The changes in the zeolite hydroxyl stretches we observe correlate with the detection of the first hydrocarbon species downstream.
A cartoon illustration of the evolution of the zeolite hydroxyl stretch band during the methanol to hydrocarbons process. Image credit: Ivalina Minova
What is it like researching at Diamond?
My access to Diamond is typically spread over six-month intervals. To secure beamtime, we have to submit a two-page research proposal. This is assessed by a scientific peer review panel and allocated three or four days to complete the proposed experiments.