Aidan Johnson

Aiden spent 3 months at Domainex, a contract research company in the Cambridge area. This is a growing company of around 100 people across both chemistry and biology sites, largely conducting early-stage drug discovery for their clients. 

What did you do?

I was involved in an internal research project, rather than a client funded project. This is something the company has limited resources to do usually, with income largely coming from client projects. As the primary day-to-day synthetic chemist on the project, I synthesised >20 molecules for the library the company was building. This involved synthesis, purification, and characterisation of these products, as well as reporting results, issues, and resolutions to the team fortnightly. 

In addition to this, I both saw and was involved in procedures I had not experienced before, such as direct-to-biology assays and physicochemical assays. These were interesting both to broaden my horizons and see the work (other than just synthesis) that goes into a medicinal chemistry project.

I also made use of industry-standard computational software for property prediction and compared this to experimental data I generated myself.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I am a chemist at heart, and knowing I wanted to stay in science, I thought it would be valuable experience to spend some time in industry – previously I had only worked in academic labs. I also wanted to see the more applied side of the sometimes quite basic research I am involved in.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I sent out a lot of cold emails to both contract research and small pharma companies, the vast majority of which were ignored. At a conference I approached Phillip, who was manning the Domainex stand, and asked if they they had previously taken a PIPS student, or would be willing to. Although they hadn’t had a PIPS student specifically before, they do regularly host students e.g. undergraduate industrial placement students.

It was then fairly straightforward to arrange a timing that suited us both and for me to find accommodation in Cambridge.

Aidan with the football team he joined in Cambridge.
Aidan with the football team he joined in Cambridge.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have gained insight into how (a part) of the chemistry industry operates – both the similarities and differences to academia. This has helped me focus ideas about my own career path, as well as contextualising my PhD work.

I have made friends, both within and outside of work, started playing football, and expanded my network of contacts.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

An enjoyable 3-month change of scene from the PhD.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

People running stalls at conferences are usually very happy to talk to someone!

If you are considering working in industry, a PIPS is a good way to test the waters and get your foot in the door.

Don’t be afraid to ask about money, as awkward as it feels.