My journey into Life Sciences

*Save the date, 30th January 2020, Careers in Life Sciences Mini Fair *

So… with this event in mind, we’re delighted to share some fantastic insights from University of Edinburgh alumnus, Andy Critchley, Plant Manager, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, on how he progressed from university to a fulfilling career in life sciences.

Like many others at the stage of choosing which qualifications and career to pursue, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted and what was actually out there in the first place! I had always enjoyed scientific subjects at school so chose to study Biological Sciences at Edinburgh University. During the course, I leaned more in favour of the pharmacology type modules so chose this as my Honours course. Plus, this course had a particularly challenging reputation, which I liked.

In my third year, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do after university, mainly because until you actually get out into the workplace there is no way of knowing what it’s like! I asked one of my tutors if they knew of any summer industry placements I could apply for and he put me in touch with a contact at Quotient Clinical. I managed to gain two months invaluable experience at their clinical trials site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Having this workplace experience on my CV was key to getting my first job after graduating although it was ‘only’ a temporary contract as an Over-labelling Operator at a small pharmaceutical company, The Specials Laboratory, in my home county of Northumberland.

This job included working on a line, labelling thousands of medicine boxes with prescription labels. After two months, I successfully applied internally for a permanent position as QA (Quality Assurance) Officer within the company. I continued this role for almost three years, gaining as much broad experience as I could by putting myself forward for various projects and exposure. With this on my CV, I was then able to acquire the role of Production Technologist in the Operations department at FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies – this introduced me to the very different world of biopharmaceutical manufacture.  I knew straight away that this was right up my street and continued with this role for three years, again putting myself forward for various additional responsibilities and projects.

I then moved into the position of Senior Manufacturing Scientist within the Research and Development (R&D) department, which included working in a small team to launch a pilot scale R&D manufacturing plant for early phase biopharmaceuticals. After one year, I was able to apply for my current role within the Operations department as Plant Manager. This includes management of the large-scale commercial bio-manufacturing plant. I have now been in this role for three years. Without my degree, this path would have been made a lot harder, and would probably have taken a lot longer to achieve. I am now performing a challenging and rewarding role which I really enjoy, within a company that is rapidly expanding.

Parting advice…

The combination of academic qualification and work experience, along with a lot of hard work, has been key to obtaining a valuable career in the life sciences industry.

My advice to undergraduates is to gain as much workplace experience as possible. Don’t turn down opportunities even if they are on the bottom rung of the job market. They may open doors to progression and expose you to other avenues of work you may find interesting that you never knew existed! When recruiting new staff, I always look for workplace experience, even if it is working in a pub or in a shop.

Interested in finding out more?

  • Hear from University of Edinburgh Biochemistry graduate, Tim Gilpin, Technical Project Leader at FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, by reading his guest blog post on the Chemical Careers Edinburgh blog. Tim highlights some key differences between big pharma and contract research organisations.

FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechologies are attending our Careers in Life Sciences Mini Fair in Appleton Tower on Thursday 30th January from 6pm.

(Image credit: Andy Critchley)


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