Messel Bursary recipient Jonathan Macdonald: attending the ACS National Meeting

9 Jan 2015

Jonathan Macdonald was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary in 2014. This enabled him to present a talk at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco. Here Jonathan shares his experience of the meeting.

I am a final year PhD student at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, studying how substitution patterns on heterocyclic scaffolds affect the activity of compounds activity against protein kinases, which are one of the most highly studied drug targets in oncology research. My work aims to develop novel starting points for drug discovery efforts against multiple kinase targets, with a pre-understanding of the selectivity profile of these compounds

With thanks to the SCI Messel Travel Bursary, I was able to present work undertaken during my PhD at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco. This is one of the largest annual gatherings of chemists in the world, which made attempting to juggle a timetable of talks with many high quality speakers in the numerous rooms and floors of the Moscone Centre both exciting and a little daunting. Several debates were had regarding a collective noun for chemists!

My presentation entitled 'Synthesis and kinome selectivity patterns of imidazo[4,5-b]pyridine-derived fragment libraries' was well received, with a good audience in the room despite the early timeslot, and I was engaged in discussion with scientists from a mixture of academia and industry who were interested in my work afterwards. The fact that it was early on the second of four days allowed me to relax and take in the science being presented, as well as aiding networking with people who may have seen my talk. In terms of both room and audience size, this was the biggest talk that I have had the opportunity to present to during my PhD and was a valuable experience. A few computational gremlins did not affect my presentation and helped me build confidence in my ability to present to an international audience.

There were poster sessions taking place most evenings which provided a relatively informal atmosphere for discussion with other students and academics, this generally lead to a continuation of the discussion over a drink or two somewhere close by.

During the conference my attention was largely focused on the medicinal chemistry programme, which had talks relevant to my PhD and my interests, but I also attended talks based in organic and computational chemistry. There were several presentations outlining case studies of successful drug discovery efforts, and also more general talks outlining new approaches and technologies that are able to assist us in the development of new therapeutics. This conference was also the first time that I have had the opportunity to see a presentation given by a Nobel Laureate. Prof Robert Grubbs gave a lecture on the history and progress of work in his group, and I was surprised that his lecture was hidden away in the computational chemistry program! The highlight of the conference for me was an excellent presentation by Prof Stuart Schreiber, whose work I have followed with interest since my Masters degree. It was inspiring to see the presentation firstly on the organic chemistry developed within his group and how this is now providing novel routes for the development of antimalarial therapies.

The city of San Francisco was hosting the conference, and we were able to take time to explore different areas of the city, sampling some excellent food and drink along the way, and I come home with finely honed shuffleboard skills. The opportunity to travel through the beautiful state of California was not missed, and I was fortunate to be able to have a week to take in the sights of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Sequoia national parks and then the classic tourist trail up Route 1 back to San Francisco.

Attendance at the ACS conference allowed both the opportunity to present my work to an international audience and to network with many scientists from a range of backgrounds. I believe that this has helped to raise my confidence and my career prospects for the future. I am due to move to Nashville in the New Year to begin postdoctoral studies at Vanderbilt University, and I hope that this conference is a stepping stone to a career in research.

I am very grateful to the generous SCI Messel Travel Bursary and to the ICR for providing me with travel funding, and also to my supervisor Prof Julian Blagg for his support of my attendance. I would certainly recommend attendance at an international conference for any postgraduate student that has the opportunity.

Jonathan Macdonald
The Institute of Cancer Research, London

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