Ever wondered what it would be like to work at the cutting edge of science? Interested in going into industry when you graduate?
Chemistry graduate Kyshiea George tells us about her job with Ingenza Ltd., at the Roslin Biocentre, Edinburgh. The company specialises in the manufacture of industrial products using synthetic biology. It has a broad customer base within the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, feed and fuel industries.
What’s your job title and what’s it like working at Ingenza?
I’m a Chemistry Assistant, working in Process Development which is one of 3 departments at Ingenza. I’ve been here for 9 months, and really enjoy the work. Working at Ingenza is really varied, and there’s a lot of opportunity to gain experience in the biosciences. There are over 30 scientists here, with about half the team working in molecular biology. The rest are split between fermentation and process development. I started off as a paid work experience trainee, but quickly moved on to a temporary contract. As I continue to gain experience, I’m hoping to be made a permanent employee soon.
What are the best bits about your job?
Currently I’m working on my own project. I love that I’m able to work quite independently and explore my own ideas. I’m involved in planning and carrying out my own research, which covers the initial research on the subject through to COSHH forms, risk assessments and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). On a weekly basis I have update meetings with my supervisors to plan what should be done in the coming week. I use these meetings to take advice on techniques and how to deal with possible problems. Having this regular contact and supervision provides me with a solid knowledge base for the future.
The company is relatively small so my time is split between experiment-based lab work and a lab management role. The experience I’m gaining from the management side is fantastic as it gives me an understanding of the business side of a biotechnology company. It’s great to learn about balancing research and development with cost and time. That’s one of the advantages of working for a small company – you get to do lots of different things. It’s not only great for your CV, but can also lead you into career choices you might not have considered before. So far, I’ve also been involved in updating chemical inventories and developing a task list for general lab maintenance.
In the short time I’ve worked at Ingenza, the first thing I very quickly realised was the importance of well-written and up-to-date lab books and reports. It’s vitally important that my lab book is well documented as it needs to be understood by someone else if I’m not here. It could also be required as a record of work for legal purposes in patent applications.
How did you get this job – where was it advertised?
Studying at Edinburgh meant I was already aware of Ingenza. I’d heard of the company through a lecturer and some of my friends already worked there. When I started applying for jobs after graduating, my applications to various companies were unsuccessful. The reason was always the same – lack of experience in the lab! I quickly realised that to give myself the best chance of finding employment I had to rethink how I was looking for work. So, instead of waiting for a job to be advertised, I contacted Ingenza directly to ask about possibilities for work experience. I was lucky, and the company gave me this opportunity. It’s really not enough just to have your degree. There are hundreds of graduates all looking to get the same job. Sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands and just start knocking on doors. Show initiative as well as what you have on paper.
What’s a typical entry level salary?
As a Chemistry Assistant, I would say that the entry level salary at Ingenza is likely to be competitive for any new graduate post, but it’s difficult to put an actual figure on it as starting position jobs within the company can vary.
What opportunities are there for graduate careers in the future?
As a chemist I’ve been involved in some biochemical-based experiments such as enzymatic biotransformations. I think it would be possible for me to transfer to another department if that’s the road I decide to go down. Due to the size of the company and the fact they like to employ recent graduates, there’s a lot of opportunity for personal development. A move toward a scientist role in the future, or even senior scientist is definitely possible.
What degree classification do you need for this job?
I would say aim for a First Class Honours Degree if you can. I mean, why go to university and spend all that time and effort to achieve anything less? Saying that, I did get a 2:2, so it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t seem to succeed in exams. Having studied biology and chemical pharmacology service courses I find it easier to understand what’s going on in other departments. My chemistry background means that I’m able to contribute more if any problems arise in those areas. As the chemistry-biology interface is at the cutting-edge of bioscience research, having biology in your chemistry degree puts you in a very good position.
What’s one piece of advice you can give a chemistry undergraduate looking to work in this industry?
You should try to get a summer placement or a year in industry as part of your degree programme. It’s the only way to see if you truly want to work in industry. The degree programme taught at Edinburgh University will cover all the groundwork, but just be aware that you’ll go into your first week on the job feeling like you know nothing. Give it time.
Which skills did you learn as an undergraduate that you find useful in this job?
Practical skills are key. I would say take everything you can from the labs; being successful in a job like this depends on your ability to learn and perform well in the lab. The research skills you learn during your Honours year project are important and can be transferred directly to a real job. How you interact with your peers is something that employers will also want to know. Presentation skills are necessary in the sense that you need to learn how to talk ‘chemistry’. In everyday life, discuss what you’ve done in the lab with your friends, use chemical names in conversation, and if something hasn’t gone quite as planned think about the techniques you used. Could you have done something differently? Think scientifically and question everything, even outside the lab. If you read something in the newspaper that’s based on science, do your own research. Has it been reported properly? Form your own conclusions.
Lab reports (specifically 3rd year physical labs) are the bane of every chemistry student’s existence, but in industry they are one of the main key ways for you to communicate with your supervisors, and ultimately clients. They may not be quite as demanding about your grammar though, so don’t sweat too much!
Is there anything you wish you’d had more experience of?
Group tutorials and group work is really important as it teaches you how to communicate with your peers and get your point across. As an undergraduate you should make the most of these opportunities when they present themselves. Communication is key to being successful in any job and learning the art of scientific communication is a skill that develops over time. Writing for KirsopLabs is a great idea!
Of all the science degrees (I know vets and biologists), I think chemistry gives you the most rounded and useful degree for industry. It teaches you invaluable practical skills in the lab and you get experience of all the different areas of chemistry. I liked biophysical and inorganic chemistry best, and I’ve ended up in an organic synthesis lab. This is only possible because of the varied and in-depth teaching provided at Edinburgh University.
Writing up lab books, compiling reports and presenting your work professionally are important skills to master. These are transferable to ANY job, not just industry. That could be admin, teaching, or any job requiring an organized and hard-working mind, which I’d say all chemists have.