Liam Byrne studied a PhD in Organic Synthesis at the University of Leeds

Liam Byrne

Why were you interested in your particular area of research?

I did my undergraduate course in medicinal chemistry here and so I was mainly interested in working for Professor Steve Marsden really.

When I was here as an undergraduate we built up a bit of a rapport because he was my personal tutor and an organic tutor for three of the four years and so I was really interested in working for him.

I’ve always wanted to go into pharmaceutical chemistry which is more the organic side and so that was a route into that really.

Why did you decide to do a PhD rather than going straight into employment?

It’s funny you should ask that as I was actually offered a job at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) when I finished my first degree and it really was a 50:50 choice.

But it was the whole idea of staying in Leeds which appealed. Taking the job at GSK would have meant re-locating down south and at the time the job market was unpredictable and so I wasn’t really sure whether it would be a long-term position, With the PhD option I knew the place and the people and that it would be at least four years.

Would you say you are passionate about the subject?

Definitely. The way which I got into this was a bit round about. I originally wanted to do medicine - that was my ultimate goal and funnily enough I looked at the Leeds prospectus and right under the ‘medicine’ category was ‘medicinal chemistry’. So, I just went in for that and fell in love with it over the years really. It was purely by accident but I really found my calling.

What would you say were the highlights over the years?

Well, it’s a really nice department and I had a really enjoyable experience.

The fact that I got to travel was definitely a highlight. The bursary system at Leeds means that you get to go international conferences and so that was a particular highlight as I managed to go to San Francisco and through another scheme I managed to go to India to present my work as well. That was excellent.

What were the hardest parts of doing a PhD?

Well, it’s hard work. Anyone who asks me whether I would recommend doing a PhD, I do tell them that it’s a massive amount of work and massive amount of commitment to sign up to three years extra studying but it’s worth it in the end, definitely.

I remember a year after I had turned down the job at GSK, a lot of the people who had taken those jobs were being made redundant. So, yes I am pleased to have stayed in academia and got that secure footing which you get from a PhD.

What are you doing now?

I am now a post-doc at the University of Manchester, so I am still continuing research and also experiencing the managerial side which goes with running a lab.

I don’t really see myself staying in academia though, as ultimately I would like to get a job in the pharmaceutical industry but the job market is a bit volatile at the moment and so I am waiting for the right time to go into that.