Reflections on first year

I am coming to the end of my first year at the SDDC and have been thinking a lot about what I’d like to do differently in my second year. I’ve achieved some of the primary aims of my project, but not all of them. This was due to collaborators and things outside my control so I’m not too hung up about that. I made some compounds and some preliminary data showed some of them bind to the protein I want them too and have an inhibitory effect. Win!

Here are 5 things I will do differently next year:

  1. Read more papers. My lit reading is so inconsistent and I’d like to change that. I’ve set up a Feedly account where I receive RS feeds from big papers I read from. I’d also like to attempt the #365papers challenge ad keep track of my reading via twitter.
  2. Make more compounds. My lab skills have accelerated a lot this year and hopefully that means I’ll be able to churn out more compounds.
  3. Be more selective in the seminars I attend. While it’s useful to attend seminars and classes in and outside your field, more often than not I’ve found myself way in over my head in a seminar I perhaps only understand the first 10 minutes of. Perhaps I should just google the speaker, read a bit about their group/institute/work then decide to go.
  4. Attend more conferences. I only attended in-house symposiums in my first year. Illness meant I missed an RSC Chemical Biology conference in June and I was too late to attend a postgrad one next month in Oxford.
  5. Use this blog more. I have been neglecting “the Chemistry of a PhD” and need to recitify that.

Here’s hoping you’ll be hearing from me more often on here.

How did I get here?

How does someone end up designing cancer drugs for their PhD project? Well…

After deciding not to pursue a music career while at high school, I needed to rethink my options. Chemistry had become more interesting once I started studying it as an individual subject. I found breaking the world down into processes and ingredients at a chemical level fascinating. The careers advisor said a science degree would give me plenty options after university. Deciding not to follow my parent’s footsteps into the land of accountancy, and knowing  I had the grades but not the stomach to study medicine, I started looking at chemistry university courses.

While applying to a few of these courses, a family friend gave birth to a son, Oliver, who was sadly born with a rare and aggressive tumour in his arm. Unfortunately he only survived 5 months but since then his parents have been able to raise huge amounts of money for research into childhood cancer, including funding a PhD studentship. When Oliver stopped responding to his treatment, I started to look into how chemistry is used to design new medicines and found myself attracted to chemistry courses with drug discovery streams.

I spent 5 years at University of Strathclyde where I attained a First Class MChem Chemistry with Drug Discovery. This is an integrated masters degree, a year longer than a conventional chemistry degree and includes a year in industry. These types of degree are becoming increasingly common in science subjects. During my placement year I spent time as an R&D intern at Corden Pharma Switzerland. They are a contract manufacturing pharmaceutical firm who make all sorts of different compounds for different customers and I learned a breadth of different types of chemistry while there.

I was um-ing and ah-ing during this placement year over whether to continue my studies, as a PhD was the usual next step in a chemistry career. In the end I realised a PhD would be challenging but would allow me to develop lots of skills and allow me to progress more quickly in a pharmaceutical career, plus there were still many options open to me afterwards.

I decided against a PhD focussing purely on organic chemistry as I was attracted to the idea of making and testing drug compounds I made myself. While this narrowed my choice in PhD options I ended up being offered a project at Sussex Drug Discovery Centre, an interdisciplinary group seeking to discover novel therapeutics for diseases with high unmet medical need.

The title of my project is currently ‘Enabling Drug Discovery in Genome Stability Targets to Target Cancer’. This involves the design and synthesis of novel small molecules which will perhaps in the future allow the design of cancer drugs that stop cancer cells from repairing their own DNA. I spend a lot of my time in a chemistry lab running different reactions to prepare molecules which are then tested by a biologist – but hopefully by me in the future – to see if they stop this process of DNA repair. I also spend time at my desk analysing data, writing up my lab book and various reports, reading journal articles and regularly presenting my findings to my research group.