A Day in the Life: Research Scientist

A Day in the Life: Research Scientist was originally published on Vault.

Theresa Humphries, 28, is a research scientist in the Medicinal Chemistry department. She spends most of her day mixing and heating chemicals to carry out reactions that form different drugs.

8:30 AM: I normally get into work around half past eight. If I have had a reaction going on overnight, I analyze what has gone on and the progress made. It might have gone to completion or only reached a certain percentage. If the reaction needs longer, I leave it and start work on another reaction.

9:00 AM: The work that I do in the lab involves using various analytical techniques. The main one that is used is Liquid Chromatography and Mass Spectroscopy, which gives me an idea of what is happening in the reaction. This technique gives information such as the mass ion of the product, which is very important to know. Occasionally, the reaction will need to be heated up.

10:00 AM: Once we are happy with a reaction, we stop the reaction. We test to see whether there are any impurities within the finished product. If we are happy that we have got enough product of a sufficient quality, we do something called a “work-up”. This means reporting on the work that has been done and what we have produced.

11:00 AM: It is important that we do any washing up that is required. This involves washing out soluble impurities with water. We then have to remove the water with drying agent. After all of this, we are left with the product, although it’s still not ready to pass on to the other departments. We need to purify the compound and there are various methods for doing this, depending on the amount of product that we have.

12:00 PM: At noon, we head off to the canteen for lunch. This is a chance to get away from the lab and chat amongst ourselves. Any kind of chat involving chemistry is banned! I normally have half an hour for lunch and then it’s back to the lab.

12:30 PM: Some reactions might need longer or more reagents. It can happen that a reaction goes wrong and we get impurities or a bi-product formed. When this happens, we go through a process of analysis, using techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, which gives us an idea of the structure of impurity. Together with this, I use my chemical knowledge to avoid these mistakes in the future.

1:00 PM: Every month, we have a team meeting with our team leader. This gives us a chance to report back on what we have been doing for the past month and we get any feedback. If things haven’t been going well, we have the opportunity to tap into expertise of our team leader and supervisor. Every two months, we have a section meeting. Here, we liaise with biologists and analysts. They report back on the products that they are testing in vitro.

2:00 PM: It is necessary to write up all my experiments, which is done electronically. This is because someone might need to look at my report and they will need to be able to read it. .

3:00 PM: I take a bit of time to look at new literature for new techniques and advancements in pharmacology. We have a computer search program that looks at all the different entries in different journals. I look to see if they are different to what I did or are giving a better yield. .

5:00 PM: At around five, I am generally done for the day. At AstraZeneca, we have Flextime. This means that you need to keep a record of the hours you have worked. If you work more than 37.5 hours, you can take some time off the following day. As long as you are in before 10am and don’t leave before 4pm, the company is fine with however you decide to work.