- Course: Medicinal Chemistry with a Year in Industry MChem
- Year of graduation: 2021
- Job title: Synthetic Organic Chemist
- Company: GSK
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stewartholloway/
Stewart graduated from the University of Leeds in 2021 with a MChem, BSc degree in Medicinal Chemistry with a Year in Industry. He worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as a Synthetic Organic Chemistry during his placement year. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Salters’ Award and the 2021 Beaumont Awards.
Undergraduate life at Leeds
“Growing up, I often watched A&E programmes where doctors were able to help patients get back their normal health and happiness. Oftentimes, they used medicinal drugs to do such a thing. This made me question how I was able to use my scientific knowledge in a way that would help people that needed it the most. This is where my passion for chemistry and medicine collided, pulling me down the Medicinal Chemistry route at the University of Leeds.
At first I was drawn to the way in which Leeds structured their Medicinal Chemistry course and that it was integrated. I would initially learn about the primary synthetic procedures and industrial development of bioactive molecules, building my practical understanding within the fantastic teaching lab environment.
Medicinal Chemistry offered many opportunities to explore my scientific curiosity, from implementing my theory in teaching labs, to insightful and engaging group tutorials, where I felt I could build true bonds with my peers. My favourite aspect of the course would have to be a combination of my final year research project as well as my industrial placement year. The University of Leeds gave me the opportunity to apply all of my theoretical knowledge in the research environment.”
I was drawn to the way in which Leeds structured their Medicinal Chemistry course and that it was integrated. I would initially learn about the primary synthetic procedures and industrial development of bioactive molecules, building my practical understanding within the fantastic teaching lab environment.
“I have been incredibly privileged at Leeds to take part in the multitude of experiences and opportunities presented to me. First of all, I was given the chance to engage in a summer research project during the summer for my first year at University, something which I didn’t even think was be possible at such an early stage of University. This opened my eyes to the field of research and made me aware that I can use my knowledge to help design life-changing chemicals. Ultimately enabling me to direct my sights onto GSK for my Industrial placement.
I was also able to take a leading role in the TEDx committee at the University, being the Organiser for the 2018/19 events. For me, this unlocked what it means to be a successful leader – listening! After this experience, I was able to take part in an exchange programme through a scholarship to study at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Asia. This was a wonderful opportunity to travel internationally and intertwine myself within another culture. I made many life-long friends and learnt great things about the community in Hong Kong.
I have been incredibly privileged at Leeds to take part in the multitude of experiences and opportunities presented to me.
The experience I had in Hong Kong further inspired me to take part in the ‘Leeds to South Korea Leadership Programme’; which involved developing ideas that could tackle the UN’s sustainable development goal 11: making cities and settlements more inclusive, resilient, safe and sustainable. Working with a multicultural team of students from both University of Leeds and KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) was a fantastic way to test and enhance my interpersonal skills when working in a team, bouncing ideas towards a shared goal.
Then I was able to implement all the theory I had stacked up during my industrial placement year at GSK. This was when I could actually play a part in the development of the medicines I would see helping people all those years ago on TV and in hospitals. Being an integrated course, I was also able to work in the Foster research group and develop a SARS-CoV-2 antiviral as part of my independent research project in my master’s year. Building towards the efforts of conquering COVID-19.”
Placement year at GlaxoSmithKline
Stewart worked as an Organic Synthetic Chemist at GSK during his year in industry. He would plan and synthesise medicinal drugs within both the H2L (Hit to Lead) and LO (Lead Optimisation) process for treating a range of morbidities.
“My year at GSK was an incredibly interesting one. The first half of the year I was trained to become a fully independent lab researcher within the Epigenetics department at the Stevenage site. Meeting all of the other placement students throughout induction week made me feel welcomed and integrated within the large scientific community. I had weekly meetings with both the team and my supervisor in which we could explore different synthetic ideas, bouncing off of one-another in collaboration.
A typical day would involved me venturing through sunny Stevenage’s remarkably long Gunnels Wood Road, where I would start my work day at the GSK industrial site. Initially, I would ensure I am taking the correct safety measure when entering the labs (which would remain consistent throughout my day), tending to any reactions that I may have left proceeding overnight. Once these have been evaluated, I would plan for the next reactions or my presentations for the group/ supervisor meetings that I may have that day/ week.
Having the opportunity to do a placement year has made me made me appreciate how the functional collaboration of a team can lead to much better progress than simply tackling objectives solely on my own.
There would rarely be a time in which my fumehood wasn’t active with the mixing of different chemicals to make my desired compounds. I would frequent the LC-MS (Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) system to measure the progress of my reactions, column chromatography and MDAP (Mass Directed Auto Purification) system. I would also commonly use the rotary evaporator, freeze drier and NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) machines when obtaining my compounds and confirming their chemical structure on an atomic scale. Lunchtime would involve going to the canteen to feast with my friends, whether over a homemade sandwich or any of the delights that the GSK catering staff had cooked up that day. After lunch, I would explore any lectures that may be available both on site and virtually, followed by the wrapping up of my day by ensuring my fumehood and bay is safe to leave overnight.
The second half of the year was an eventful one, as it involved a shift in protocol due to the impact of COVID-19. I had to work from home. It wouldn’t have been so easy completing all my experiments in a kitchen… This was challenging initially, but through consistent contact with my team and frequent presentations, I was able to maintain my working relationships as well as focus on the digital work in which I was pursuing at home. This year has taught me great amounts in both personal and professional development.
Having the opportunity to do a placement year has made me appreciate how the functional collaboration of a team can lead to much better progress than simply tackling objectives exclusively on my own. It grew my appreciation for Chemistry and for the scientific rigor involved in research and development that ultimately leads to people living better lives, or at least ameliorating their current situation. I have recognised and confirmed that my passions lie with using my interpersonal skills in combination with my scientific knowledge to interact with patients on a more personal level through pursuing medicine.”
Life after Leeds
My previous endeavours (primarily during my time at the University of Leeds) have provided me with the confidence to tackle my future ambitions. Originally, I was set to pursue a fantastic biotherapeutics PhD at the University of Cambridge. However, after incessant reflection during my undergraduate degree, and the conscious realisation of my desire to be at the frontline of the healthcare industry, I have decided to pursue a medicine degree. As I am now undertaking a medical career, my efforts have been set in suitably readying myself. Through shadowing various doctors, gaining jobs in the healthcare sector as a carer and healthcare assistant, as well as helping students at my local school as a tutor, I believe I am optimising my time appropriately. I find myself implementing many of the techniques I refined during my Medicinal Chemistry MChem degree and would like to thank the School of Chemistry and University of Leeds for helping me mature during my young adult years.
Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Leeds is a path that enables you to develop into a fantastic contributor in society. Whether this be through continuing down the academic or industrial scientific research pathway, or pursuing an alternative career, you will be prepared for any occasion
“Choosing a university to study at is by no means an easy endeavour. Retrospectively, I’m incredibly proud to be a graduate from the University of Leeds. Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Leeds is a path that enables you to develop into a fantastic contributor in society. Whether this be through continuing down the academic or industrial scientific research pathway, or pursuing an alternative career, you will be prepared for any occasion.”
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