18 June 2012
What does your current job involve?
I've been a Science and Technology Fellow within the Formulation Technology Group of Syngenta for six years. My role is to drive the science around formulation effects on the bioavailability of crop protection compounds. Some of this is around adjuvant technology but essentially it can include any aspect of active ingredient (AI) delivery, in order to get the right amount to the right place, at the right time, whilst minimising off-target loss.
Did you have an interest in science
I was always fascinated by the natural world as a young boy. My primary school teacher said he could envisage me running a biochemistry lab when I was older. He wasn't far wrong. Whilst I'm in a chemistry environment, it is with a biological emphasis.
How did you decide that you wanted a
career in science?
I always knew I wanted to work in an area which involves investigation and answering questions, preferably in the life sciences. I didn't pursue any career options when preparing for finals at Oxford as I was too busy studying. In the end my college tutor passed on a PhD advertisement from Shell for a project at Long Ashton Research Station on surfactant effects on plant uptake, which I applied for and was successful. It wasn't really planned!
What are the most important things
you've learned in your career so far?
Always expect change, and try not to resent it. I have been through several company mergers in short succession and have seen the impact it can have on people. However, when the dust settles, nobody has died, and most people take up new opportunities, which they are happy with. Continual change is a feature of modern life, so you have to be prepared to re-invent yourself and adapt.
Would you have done anything
Doing things differently implies regrets, and life is too short to brood over what might have happened. Obviously, I sometimes think about what would have happened if I went down different paths. For example, I turned down a job in Berlin when I worked for Schering. My life may have turned out very differently, but not necessarily more rewarding.
What have been the significant
milestones in your career?
Being offered a position at Schering Agrochemicals after my PhD. The job wasn't advertised, and I never expected to see something that fitted with my PhD. I wrote a speculative letter to Schering after meeting a formulation scientist during a conference as a student. In the end, I was offered a job as a biologist in a formulation department to help them work out why well-formulated AIs did not often work well biologically.
Identifying new adjuvant technology in this role and patenting new chemistry was a breakthrough, in particular around the fungicide field, as adjuvant chemistry was wrongly considered a herbicide-driven field of interest. Any crop protection compound can respond to adjuvant technology.
What key things would a young person
need to do to get to your
It is a good idea to study for a PhD as it will be your only opportunity to devote 3-4 solid years to scientific investigation without the distractions of employment. However, once entering the real world of employment you should keep challenging ideas and practices. I have often found that conventional wisdom is unsubstantiated assumption from so far back in time that nobody can remember its origins! Also, make an effort to work across traditional boundaries. It was helpful for me to be a biologist in a chemistry world, as I could have a different view of problems, and this gave me some of my best research ideas.
How did you first become involved with
SCI and what has that involvement
meant for you?
I joined SCI as a graduate member during the early stages of my PhD. I found it invaluable as it gave me an opportunity to make many important industrial contacts early on in my career. This has been useful over the years in terms of networking opportunities and introductions to new research opportunities and collaborations.
What have you enjoyed most about
Technical Interest Group?
It has been a great opportunity to meet a diverse range of people who have similar and overlapping interests, usually working towards similar end goals/effects but for completely different commercial reasons. Broad interactions across disciplines are a very appealing aspect of this technical group and the events organised.
How do you achieve a work/life
Earlier in my career I was probably too workoriented. However, as my grandmother used to say 'You are a long time dead!', and having two young children makes you stand back and think about what you want to be remembered for. The responsibilities of being a parent mean that you manage your time far more effectively. In fact once you have children, you are amazed at how much time you must have wasted through being disorganised in the past!