Part of Women in STEM
Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your job?
Hi, my name is Amy and I’m a medicinal chemist working at the University of Dundee. A chemist is someone who mixes chemicals to make new things and a medicinal chemist is doing the same, but we want the new things to become medicines! My job is to be in a lab using different types of tiny building blocks called atoms which are joined together to make bigger things called molecules. For example, a carbon atom and two oxygen atoms joined together makes carbon dioxide, CO2, which is a gas which makes fizzy drinks fizzy! Medicines are just big molecules with lots of different atoms.
What do you research, why and how does this help people?
I am currently working on a project looking to make a medicine for Alzheimer’s disease. This is a progressive brain disorder (it affects the brain and gets worse with time) that destroys memory and thinking skills where eventually you are unable to do simple things such as get dressed in the morning. It is the 6th leading causes death in the US. Over 5 million people have Alzheimer’s in the US and 850,000 in the UK. This is a serious disease and we hope to find a medicine which can cure it and save lives!
Tell us about your career journey so far
My career journey so far hasn’t been very long as I’ve only just started out! At school, science was always my favourite subject and I went onto university to study a Chemistry degree. I then did a one-year master’s degree in research and loved being in the lab researching so I wanted a future career working in a lab. At this point I had the choice to either go and do another 3 years studying a PhD to become a Doctor of Chemistry or to go and work in industry, getting a job in a company making medicines. I decided to go and work in industry straight away to see if I liked it with the potential to go back and do a PhD rather than do a PhD to work in industry and decided I hated it! As it turns out, I don’t need a PhD for my chosen career, but lots of people have them so there are lots of options to get into it. I have now worked in my job for 1.5 years and I really enjoy what I do.
What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?
I grew up in England so my qualifications will be slightly different from the Scottish ones, but you will need to choose science subjects (Maths, Chemistry, Biology or Physics) for Highers and Advanced Highers (in England these are called A levels!) to then do a degree in Chemistry or a chemistry related degree such as biochemistry or drug discovery degree. It’s not essential to have a masters but can be helpful having a year’s research experience before starting the job. Likewise, having a PhD isn’t essential but those extra years of research experience will help you start higher up the career ladder.
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