25 Apr 2017
SCI’s Day of Science and Careers Scotland was held on 5 April 2017 at the University of Edinburgh, organised by SCI’s Scotland Group. It was well attended by more than 80 students and early career delegates from several universities and institutes across Scotland.
The event began at 9am with registration, tea and networking. The programme was divided into four themed sessions with different speakers. Speakers related their academic background, professional experiences, career path, organisational roles, and the requirements for getting into similar careers, with questions at the end of each session. Susan Bird from the University of Edinburgh Careers service encouraged delegates to build a network map, which was to be submitted to the Scotland Group’s Twitter handle, @sci_scotland. Delegates were given blank network maps and printed business cards to facilitate interactions.
The event was formally opened by Dr Tiffany Wood, Chair of the SCI Scotland Group. Sharon Todd, SCI’s Executive Director, then gave the welcome address and a detailed background of SCI. She emphasised that SCI was not a chemical organisation but a unique, international, multi-science organisation based around chemistry. Sharon discussed SCI’s roles in translation of knowledge, policy and strategy, outreach, and career advancement. She also highlighted several business opportunities available to science graduates using her personal experience. With a degree in Chemistry from the University of Southampton and an avid interest in business, she has worked in several commercial roles within the chemical industry. Her enthusiasm for business was fanned at an event she attended at SCI’s headquarters in London where, interestingly, she met her future employer.
During the talk, Sharon also announced the SCI National competition – ‘What’s your bright SCIdea?’ Participants were challenged to develop their scientific idea into a business opportunity. SCI will provide training on business plans and how to pitch ideas and the winning team will receive £1,000.
The opening session‘Science Based Roles’ was chaired by Jan Ramakers, a consultant and member of SCI Scotland Group Committee. Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne told her genius story of innovation in turning challenges to opportunities. She had read Physiology at UCL with the intention to pursue a medical degree. This was however, overtaken by her passion for cooking, so she enrolled in a catering company and trained as a chef. This background prepared her to face the challenge of making healthy and safe meals for her two children with dairy and gluten allergies. Her knowledge of the science of cooking, persistence in trying different ingredients and recipes helped her to make delicious gluten-free bread. Lucinda’s products are marketed across the UK, Europe and America through her company Genius, set up in 2009. She advised delegates to pursue their ideas without hesitation, welcome opportunity, remain agile, flexible and open-minded.
Dr James O’Neill spoke on ‘Life as an analytical scientist in a contract research organisation (CRO) environment’. He works at Charles River-laboratories, a top ranking CRO providing research services to several pharmaceuticals, biomedical and agrochemical industries. James discussed the pros (job security, bespoke training programmes, involvement in product development) and the cons (pressures from regulatory deadlines, few or no publications) of working in a CRO. Entry positions are usually laboratory based but one could rise to management positions. A key message was ‘Be a scientist first, then become a specialist.’
‘Life in wee pharma’ was delivered by Dr Lyndsey Howard, a biomedical scientist at Lamellar Biomedical. Her work requires problem solving, project planning, critical appraisal of scientific literature, scientific writing, time management, interpersonal and communication skills. Although working in a small pharmaceutical company is risky, it is a permanent contract with huge focus on innovations and getting treatments to real patients. To work in small pharma, one must have an open mind to new things, a collaborative attitude and be willing to step out of one’s comfort zone.
Dr Nichole Bell, NERC Research fellow at the University of Edinburgh described her path to a career in academia in her topic ‘Soils and suitcases.’ During her PhD, she coordinated the Spectroscopy in a suitcase Royal Society of Chemistry scheme. Following her PhD, she shot straight past the postdoctoral route to become a research fellow. Her advice for those interested in an academic career is aim high, build a portfolio of skills, publish papers, present at conferences, and communicate your science. A key message was network, network, network!
The second session
‘Where science meets business’ was the theme of the second session chaired by Dr Marc Reid( University of Strathclyde and Scotland Group Committee member). Rocky Kindt of Scottish Bioenergy at Roslin Biocentre spoke on Academic-industrial partnerships which help Universities secure funding while industries meet their research and development needs. Scottish Bioenergy makes biofuels from algae, which was not profitable at first due to low yields and high cost. In partnership with a University, they sponsored a PhD student whose research helped them to get a five-fold increase in yield using a lighting parameter.
Dr Elizabeth Fairley challenged participants to ‘Be bold, think big.’ With a PhD in Genetics and an accelerated MBA, she moved from a research career to an entrepreneurial position in a digital health company, Talking Medicines. In her words, ‘pursue what interests you, be inspired by others, be open to changing direction, do a work placement, think global, stretch yourself, actively engage, understand what drives you, continue to learn and grow.’ She also encouraged delegates to get entrepreneurial training through programs such as the SALTIRE fellowship and RSE enterprise fellowship.
Dr Andrew Ward of Razorbill Instruments shared his rocky road experience from researcher to entrepreneur. He started the company in 2014 following his PhD in Physics from St Andrews, in partnership with Dr Jack Barraclough. To start your business, you need to consider your motivation, identify the problem you want to solve, how expensive is the problem, how many people have this problem, develop a strategy, seek specialist knowledge, build your team, get seed funding. He mentioned some sources of entrepreneurial training and funding such as the Scottish enterprise, SMART proof of concept and Converge challenge.
The third session‘The Business of Science’ was chaired by Dr Sarah Walker (University of Edinburgh and Scotland Group Committee member) was themed. Dr Kate Adamson related her inventive career path from physicist to trainee patent attorney at Marks & Clerk. A career as a patent attorney requires a strong scientific background (usually a PhD), interest in a wide range of technology, excellent communication, and writing skills. One would need up to 6-7 years of on the job training and legal examinations before becoming a full-fledged patent attorney. Other careers in intellectual property include patent examiners, research and development managers and solicitors.
Dr Marc Reid spoke on ‘How to avoid being your own worst enemy.’ He outlined ways to overcome the imposter syndrome and avoid negativity. ‘Celebrate your failures, give it a go, compare carefully, have fun with what you do’ were his words to participants.
Colin Brown, Director of Research and Quality Development at the Mentholatum company looked at ‘Regulatory affairs – when is a medicine not a medicine?’ An analytical chemist by training, he is involved in product development, ensuring that their products are safe and satisfy regulatory requirements. His team consists of chemists, biochemists, pharmacists and microbiologists. He discussed the classification of medicines, regulatory requirements and the company’s role as joint and muscle care experts. He noted how collaborating with leading research institutions has facilitated his company’s research goals.
‘The Science of Sales and Marketing’ was delivered by Mark Zwinderman of SAS environmental services. His company provides oil waste clean-up, oil recovery and production enhancement services to oil and gas firms. He acknowledged the invaluable support his company has received through the Scottish Enterprise fellowship. Employing the services of a marketing consultant boosted his company’s sales substantially. Marketing strategy should focus on what the customer wants which include education, collaboration, persuasion, listening, understanding, helping, providing solution, explaining the purchase, connection and providing value.
The final session
Dr Tiffany Wood chaired the final session, which was tagged ‘Show you mean business.’ Susan Bird from the University of Edinburgh Careers Office, spoke on the topic CVs: maximising your impact. To make a good first impression, your CV must be relevant to purpose, easy to read and devoid of spelling errors. Daniel Younger (CY Partners – a recruitment company) talked on how to prepare for interviews. Tips included research the company, know your CV, practise in front of a mirror, and look professional. He also encouraged participants to register at no cost, with a recruitment company such as CY Partners, for career advice.
The formal part of the day ended with questions and answers and the presentation for the best networking map. Congratulations to Christiana Nikolova (Heriot Watt University) who won the competition and was awarded with a Waterstones gift voucher. The event closed with a drinks reception with further networking. Overall, the programme was informative, insightful and inspiring and lunch was delicious!
PhD student & SCI Ambassador,
University of Aberdeen