Friday, 26 October 2012

The Chem Coach Carnival

SeeArrOh has been celebrating National Chemistry Week in the US by hosting a carnival at his JustLikeCooking blog. The Chem Coach theme is designed to “help folks interested in chemistry do what you do”. With over 40 entrants already, this one is a bit late to the party; hopefully there’s still some punch left.

Your current job
Process chemist in pharma.

What you do in a standard "work day"
Depending on the stage of a project, this varies throughout the year, but I’m predominantly lab-based. During route-scouting and early development, I’ll be running dozens of reactions in parallel on a small scale (1-2ml) to look for leads. With multiple samples per reaction, this has a significant analytical burden so HPLC development and troubleshooting skills come in handy. I also get to play with some great software to identify trends in data and bring the results to life (no-one wants to see 200 HPLCs in a presentation!) In later development, I’ll be running a couple of reactions at a time in lab reactors, aiming to mimic how the process will work on plant and gaining process understanding (tweaking variables, profiling reactions, understanding impurity formation, etc). After that, it’s tech transfer for scale-up to either pilot plant (to generate the first few kilos), or to commercial manufacture. The later in the process, the more paperwork there is – but it ensures you have everything you need to scale your process safely and robustly.

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?
I loved chemistry at school and wanted to learn much more about the subject, so chose to study for a Masters at uni. I hadn’t given too much thought about how this would translate into a career (although I knew I wanted to pursue science) and careers advice boiled down to “read the Prospects Directory” (a monolithic guide to graduate employers). That’s partly why I created this blog – to highlight the alternative careers available to prospective chemistry students/graduates. After a couple of alternative scientific jobs, I made my way to pharma where I could use my education more directly.

How does chemistry inform your work?
I do chemistry every day, so it has a significant impact – from planning and performing organic synthesis to studying rates and mechanism. A lot of process chemistry comes with experience – understanding the factors that are impacted by scale-up, knowing which reagents are available cheaply and on scale, balancing material costs with process costs, environmental and safety considerations… the list goes on! Chemistry, equipment, legislation, etc, also change over time, so there’s always something new to learn or existing processes to improve.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career
To date, I’ve decontaminated 4 labs – either to allow installation of new facilities, or as a result of lab moves. The most memorable of these had the entire lab team wearing full disposable coveralls and gas masks for a week – it was like being in some bizarre 90’s rave video. Fortunately this was a few years before smartphones and YouTube were on the scene…

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