Messel Travel Bursary Recipient, William Brittain, Reports from Boston

5 Oct 2015

In 2015, William Brittain was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and Exposition, which was held between 16 - 21 August 2015 in Boston. Below he tells us how his attendance at the meeting gave him the invaluable chance to present his work on an international level, and gained many new contacts for the future.

‘The ACS national meeting is one of the largest chemistry conferences in the world with a chance to see world-leading chemists in all areas and with many large chemistry suppliers in attendance, a good place to see innovative chemistry products. The size of the ACS meeting is mind-blowing with multiple venues and upwards of 100 conference rooms being used simultaneously; being able to efficiently use your time is a necessity as the options available to you are so numerous. Upon arrival you are given what looks like a phone directory - however this is the programme - and at that point you realise just how large this meeting is. Flicking through, every page appears to be studded with chemistry superstars and now it’s just a question of whether it’s possible to see them all within the time.

‘During the four days spent at the conference I was fortunate enough to attend talks from the likes of Prof George Whitesides, Prof Barry Trost and Prof David Macmillan to name but three of a myriad of internationally renowned chemists. Seeing some of the ground-breaking work being carried out in laboratories all across the world was fascinating, and on top of this, the real world applications of this work showed the process of going from laboratory to commercialisation. On the second day of the conference I was able to present my own work at the same meeting as these world-leading figures. An audience of around 50 people attended my talk on the kinetic resolution of terminal alkynes. I then fielded questions on the topic leading to much discussion and personally meeting others from around the world who are also interested in my area. The chance to present my own work at such a meeting was a great experience and really gave exposure to the work I have been carrying out during the course of my PhD. I hope that someone may have been sitting in the audience who may have got an idea from my work, or maybe apply my methodology to their systems.

‘Later on the same day I presented a poster in the CATL division in a Boston hotel room. I had many interesting and thought-provoking questions and suggestions from the people who came to see my poster. I was able to meet people not only from an academic background but also an industrial one, they were able to make me think of my research in an industry focused way. I always find that in poster sessions questions are presented that you have often never even thought of before, which means you are able to get input from multiple points of view. This is something which is only really possible in a poster session and is a really beneficial thing to do in general. After the poster session I was able to meet up with some of my colleagues from the University of Birmingham and University of Texas at the RSC reception where we discussed the world class chemistry we had seen during the day while networking with members of the RSC.

‘The ACS had set up a variety of networking and careers events during the week and I tried to attend as many as possible. A sit-down workshop on acing the interview gave me an insight into the workings of the interview process for both industrial and academic jobs. The workshop used small group activities to think introspectively about what you personally could lend to an employer. Leading on from this I attended a resume workshop where my own resume was scrutinised by an ex-industrial HR member. The feedback that I was given was invaluable to me and I shall be taking it on board for the next iteration of my resume. Getting insight from a person with such experience really opened my eyes to what is important to someone assessing you for a job and it was completely different to what I had initially thought. I was also able to attend the ACS’ networking events; the Europe and Middle East mixer was a good place to chat and meet people in a less formal setting than in the conference talks.

‘The exposition, which is in action for the first three days of the conference, is a showcase of over 100 chemistry exhibitors from glassware manufacturers to publishers and fine chemical suppliers. Their latest innovations were on show and I was able to talk to lab suppliers first hand to discuss what they could supply us. It was interesting to chat with companies about their latest products and in the case of the publishers, two new journals were officially launched at the event.

‘Overall the four days spent at the conference really did offer a wide variety of things to do and people to talk with. The ability to present my work on an international level and the exposure this leads to my research is invaluable, along with the personal and professional advice received. New contacts were made and these could lead to exciting things in the future. I would like to thank SCI for the Messel travel bursary, which allowed me to attend this conference. Without SCI’s help I would not have been able to experience the best chemistry conference I have ever attended. I am looking forward to hopefully visiting another ACS meeting in the future and I would recommend anyone to attend one just for the shear brevity of activities and talks available’

William Brittain
PhD student, University of Birmingham

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