Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Jack Washington, reports from California

18 December 2019

18 Dec 2019

Jack Washington was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 258th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, California. Here he tells us how he presented both his research projects and how he gained an insight into the way successful chemists tackle the big questions.

‘Owing to the generous SCI Messel Travel bursary, I was fortunate enough to attend the 258th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego. At the meeting I presented a poster and gave an oral presentation. The opportunity to present my science at an internationally renowned conference has been invaluable to my PhD and also to my future career prospects.

‘I am currently in the final year of my PhD on the University of Strathclyde-GlaxoSmithKline collaborative PhD programme. Due to the nature of my PhD programme, I have been lucky enough to work on two distinct research projects throughout my PhD. I have carried out work at GSK Irvine, relating to the industrial manufacture of the important β-lactamase inhibitor, Clavulanic acid. At the University of Strathclyde, I have been able to carry out a synthetic methodology and mechanistic study using N,N,N-trimethylanilinium salts as methylating reagents.  Due to the varied scientific interests covered at the ACS meeting, this was the ideal conference for me to present both of my research topics. At the meeting I presented a poster on the clavulanic acid project, and gave a talk on the anilinium project.

‘Presenting both projects has been incredibly useful for my PhD already. The ACS meeting is one of the World’s largest chemistry conferences, so the chance to speak at such a high calibre event has been the perfect opportunity to develop my presentation and communication skills. Furthermore, the interactions with audience members through Q and A sessions, or more informal conversations, have been particularly useful. Speaking to scientists from a range of backgrounds about my projects has provided a fresh perspective on certain areas of my research. This has helped me to identify areas that I can explore further during the remainder of my PhD. As part of my work is mechanistically focussed, the meeting was a great opportunity to speak to synthetic chemists who will ultimately be the end users of my chemistries so that I could better understand how my work can facilitate their needs.

‘Aside from presenting my own work, the meeting was an excellent way for me to gain an insight into the new and exciting research that is being carried out in the chemical community. The size and reputation of the ACS meeting ensures that it attracts some of the World’s leading academic and industrial chemists. As such, I had the chance to attend numerous talks that were of interest to me. These talks represent covered a wide range of topics that were as inspiring as they were interesting. Some of the highlights for me included Richard Sarpong, Sarah Reisman, and Jin-Quan Yu. Not only did I learn a great deal of chemistry from each talk, but I also gained an insight into the way in which each of these hugely successful chemists tackle the big questions. This aspect of learning is something that is hard to pick up through reading publications, so attending the talks in person has been extremely useful to me in that respect. On top of the talks I attended from my chemistry heroes, I also had the chance to attend lots of presentations and posters from fellow postgraduate students. These were equally valuable as I was able to keep up to date with advancements in my own research areas, and to make friends with young chemists from a diverse range of backgrounds.

‘The final aspect of the ACS meeting that I would like to touch upon is the opportunities it presented to develop my future career prospects. Having such a high concentration of outstanding chemists in one location made it the perfect place to network with the scientific community. I had the chance to speak to chemists from both industry and academia at different stages in their careers. This allowed me to expand my professional network and to gain advice or ideas about certain careers I could pursue. The exposition at the conference also allowed me to speak face to face with potential future employers and gave me an insight into possible career paths that I may not have considered otherwise.

‘To summarise, the ACS national meeting in San Diego was an amazing experience and a huge milestone in my PhD. Through presenting my own exciting research, learning about cutting-edge work being carried out in the chemistry world, and interacting with chemists from across the globe, I have received huge benefits that will help my PhD and also stick with me long into my career. Without funding from the SCI, it wouldn’t have been possible to attend the conference and gain these invaluable benefits so I am truly grateful for the financial support that was received. If any PhD chemists were considering attending this conference in the future, I would highly recommend it. Finally, I would also like to give thanks to my industrial and academic supervisors, Dr Sharon Baillie and Dr Marc Reid, for their encouragement and support in attending this conference. ‘

Jack Washington
PhD student
University of Strathclyde

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