Photo:

Katherine Jones

Favourite Thing: What I love most about being a scientist is working in the lab! I like that I can have an idea about what I want to find out, and then go and do the experiment myself to get the answer, especially when it is something new that I can’t look up in a book.

My CV

School:

Willen Combined School (1988-1992), Aylesbury High School (1992-1998).

University:

University of Cambridge – Studied Natural Sciences, specialised in Chemistry.

Work History:

I have worked at GlaxoSmithKline since I graduated. When I was a student, I worked in a factory and also at a call centre.

Employer:

GlaxoSmithKline

Current Job:

Medicinal chemist

Me and my work

I work as a medicinal chemist. This means I design compounds that could be new medicines, then I make them in the laboratory so that we can see if they work.

I work on a project looking at new medicines that could be used to treat certain types of cancer. We have an enzyme that we want to inhibit. X-ray crystal structures of our compounds give us pictures of the enzyme. These let us design changes to the chemical structure that will make a better shaped structure to inhibit that enzyme. This is like designing a better shaped key to try to unlock a door! Once we draw on paper the chemical structure we want to make, then we have to work out how to make it. This can be the most difficult part! Sometimes it can take many reactions, and many weeks, before we are successful. When we finally make the compound, it is a really good feeling, especially if it took a long time!

We give the compound to biologists, who tell us if it is a good inhibitor of the enzyme – a good shaped key to unlock the door! This is a test in a small tube, with cells, or blood from people who donate it in our blood donation unit. Eventually, and after many attempts to get the compound correct, we might test it in an animal. We have very strict rules about when we can do this, and the types of experiments we can do. It is also very expensive, so we have to make sure we have the best possible compound. Eventually – if the project is successful – we hope to get a license that allows us to start clinical trials and see if our medicine works in patients. That really would be great!

My Typical Day

Doing chemical reactions in the lab, and working on my computer to write up my experiments. Also talking to biologists to see how well the compounds we have made are working.

In the morning, I get in and check my email. Usually, I have had a chemical reaction going overnight, so I look to see if it has worked. If it has worked, that is a good start to the morning! I spend some time in the lab – I have to purify my reaction next. This means getting rid of all the things in the mixture that I don’t want, so that in the end what I have is very pure and clean. I supervise an industrial placement student – he is spending one year of his degree working with us in our lab. I talk to him about any problems he has with his own chemistry, and we work out how he might be able to solve them.

After lunch, I look at any results that our biologists have from their experiments on the compounds we made. Then I think about what new compounds I could make, and what chemical reactions I need to do to make them. Sometimes we go to lectures about chemistry, where we learn new things that are going on in universities or other companies.

What I'd do with the money

I want to encourage as many people as possible to experience working in a laboratory.

I help on lots of schemes that give school pupils a chance to try working in the lab. Examples of these are work experience placements in our company and Salters’ chemistry camps at universities. I want to be able to tell as many people as possible about these, so that everyone who wants to try out working in a lab gets a chance to. Perhaps a good way to do this would be to start a website with all of these in one place, or to design and send out leaflets to schools so that they can give them to students? If any of you have ideas about how you think I could help you find out about these things, I would love to hear them!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Chatterbox, stubborn, geeky!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Blur – yes, I am that old!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Canyoning

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Be happy, discover a new medicine, watch England win the Ashes live in Australia!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t really know… I just liked chemistry so I decided to study that at university and see what happened.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Sometimes… usually for talking too much in lessons!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Not sure… I enjoy all of it!

Tell us a joke.

Two atoms were walking across a road when one said, “I think I lost an electron!” “Really!” the other replied, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m positive!”