Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Alice King, reports from Boston, USA

05 March 2019

Alice King was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 256th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Boston, USA. Here she tells us about her research, the presentations she attended and her poster presentation and the excellent networking opportunities the conference provided.

‘My name is Alice King and I am a final-year PhD student in the PET Radiochemistry team at the Institute of Cancer Research (Sutton, Greater London). My research focuses on the design and synthesis of fluorine-18-radiolabelled Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging agents for the visualisation of DNA synthesis processes. In the context of cancer research, such imaging agents can be used to image tumours, to monitor DNA damage repair activities, and to stratify patients into likely responders and non-responders to nucleoside analogue chemotherapy drugs. PET imaging provides a valuable resource for the development of personalised cancer treatment strategies.

‘Owing to the generous financial support I received from SCI through the Messel Travel Bursary, I was able to attend the 256th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition in Boston, MA, USA, from 19–23 August 2018. ACS arranges some of the largest chemistry conferences worldwide, each meeting consisting of hundreds of talks and poster presentations from a wide range of scientific divisions. The conference brings together chemists from a variety of disciplines, locations and career stages, providing a valuable platform for learning and networking. The choice of sessions is so vast that it can be very difficult to decide on your schedule during an ACS meeting!

‘Coming from a multidisciplinary research institute and having worked on a variety of chemistry projects prior to my PhD studies, I was eager to attend presentations from a range of divisions. For information related directly to my PhD, I attended General Radiochemistry sessions organised by the Nuclear Chemistry Division, and I also went to the “Organofluorine Chemistry for Biology and Drug Discovery Applications” session, which was a particular highlight. As I will be working in the pharmaceutical industry once I have completed my PhD, I also attended highly valuable and enjoyable sessions on Medicinal Chemistry for Rare Diseases, First-time Disclosure of Clinical Candidates, and Precision Genome Engineering. The talks were all of an extremely high quality and it was really inspiring to see talks from world-leading chemists and biologists (E. Carreira, R.H. Grubbs and J. Doudna, to name a few!).

‘On the final evening of the conference, I presented a poster on my PhD research as part of the Medicinal Chemistry Division. The poster session had a fantastic turn-out, meaning that I was constantly busy answering the questions of interested scientists. These discussions were highly rewarding, enabling me to engage fellow scientists in my research and educate those who were new to the area of PET Radiochemistry. Often, the wide-ranging expertise of my peers meant that they could suggest solutions to problems that I had encountered, and additional avenues to explore. I learnt a lot from the session and am confident that the questions posed will prepare me well for my PhD viva scheduled for later this year. The poster session was a fun and lively evening, with plenty of snacks, wine and even a live band. Many of us were dancing through to the end!

‘As well as the plentiful learning opportunities gained through oral and poster presentations, ACS holds a great conference exposition where you can talk with exhibitors and representatives from chemical companies. There are also CV clinics which are an invaluable resource for PhD students looking to establish their future career. The conference is an excellent opportunity to network – I now have many new contacts on LinkedIn, and I know that of my several colleagues have been contacted by recruiters following the ACS meeting. Since I accepted a job as a Trainee Medical Writer prior to attending the conference, it was great for me to chat to representatives from pharmaceutical companies about the current hot topics in the industry, and to attend talks revealing the latest clinical candidates.

‘This was my first time in the United States and Boston was a fantastic city to visit. The conference centre is situated in the Seaport District, which has many great restaurants and bars, with great seafood! The day after the conference, I walked the Freedom Trail to see Boston’s many famous landmarks, and had an amazing lunch at Quincy Market. My friends and I also went to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play, which was a really fun experience, despite them losing to Cleveland Indians!

‘I am extremely grateful to SCI for awarding the Messel Travel Bursary to me — I would have missed out on this invaluable learning experience without their financial support. I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr Graham Smith and The Institute of Cancer Research for facilitating and encouraging my attendance at this conference. I would highly recommend the ACS meetings to all PhD chemists, and would encourage those requiring financial support to apply for the SCI Messel Bursary. It has been a great experience! ’

Alice King
PhD Student
Institute of Cancer Research

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