20 June 2017
Dr David Witty is one of three recipients of this year’s Distinguished Service Awards (DSA). The DSAs are presented to members of the Society who have contributed significant and sustained service to at least one element (normally a Group) in the SCI structure for ten years or more.
Here, Dr Witty talks about his involvement with SCI. He has been a highly valued member of the Fine Chemicals Group (FCG) since 1999 and has served on its committee since 2003. Furthermore, he has recently he has been appointed chair of the newly formed Membership Committee.
When and why did you become a member of SCI?
I first joined SCI during the 1990s after I had come back to the UK from a post-doc in the US. At that stage I was an employee of SmithKline Beecham, (later GSK), and was encouraged to take advantage of the reduced rate for members to attend one day meetings.
Why did you decide to get involved in committee work?
Two separate events influenced my interest in becoming involved in the Fine Chemicals Group. I had attended a one day FCG meeting on carbohydrate chemistry at Belgrave Square and was at the post-meeting wine mixer, in discussion with a speaker, when I heard the organiser - Chris Hill, then at Roche - asking people to gather for dinner. I hadn’t realised this was for the speakers only so I impertinently asked whether this was something I could attend! Remarkably Chris (later to become FCG chair) invited me along and spent the evening telling me about how, if I joined the team, I could help create future meetings. At the same time my work in GSK had hit a bit of a dead end and I felt I was having little influence within the department, so joining the FCG seemed like a way in which I could have a useful impact professionally.
What has driven your continued involvement with SCI?
The first event I organised as meeting chair was on electronic notebooks. This was a resounding success and I was encouraged to look at different areas of science affecting chemists - the ‘What a chemist needs to know about...’ series of meetings was born. After that I guess I just got the bug. I wouldn’t have stayed with the FCG though had the team not been such an interesting and brilliant group of people to work with.
How has being involved in SCI activities had an impact on your professional career?
So many ways really - knowing the movers and shakers in the business has helped with my other professional interest as a journal editor but I particularly valued membership when I launched a new company and needed to make contact with potential business partners - I already had a link with almost every relevant science organisation.
How do your SCI activities reflect your personal/professional interests?
For as long as I can remember I have been focused on improving the practise of medicinal chemistry - leaning new techniques, understanding factors to consider in compound design, keeping up with the literature or undertaking specific training courses. I have been able to pursue this goal of continuous professional development for myself and others through the activities of the FCG.
What motivates you to participate in SCI activities?
These days I’m a member of the Board of Trustees and I want to help influence how SCI can change to be more relevant to current and potential future members. From my experience of the FCG I truly believe that a well run committee can be successful, interesting and fun - I want these qualities to permeate all the different groups that make up this amazing organisation.
How do you think that your contribution has helped shape SCI?
The make up of the fine chemicals sector has changed enormously over the last 20 years - we are no longer dominated by multinational pharmaceutical companies but rather most chemists and affiliated scientists are employed in contract services. I used my time as an officer of the FCG to build the group to more closely resembled the sector it represents.
What are your thoughts about receiving the Distinguished Service Award?
It is a real honour to receive this award having been nominated by my peers on the FCG. Nothing I have achieved for SCI could have happened without the dedicated support of that group which today remains as strong, innovative and influential as it has been through all the time I’ve known it. Long may that continue!