Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Michael Clegg, reports from California

19 September 2019

19 Sep 2019

Michael Clegg was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 258th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, California. Here he tells us how the talks have helped him develop his knowledge and provided inspiration for future research, about the useful career advice he received and the opportunity to network with a wide variety of scientists.

‘Thanks to the support of the SCI and the Messel Travel Bursary, I was able to attend the ACS Fall 2019 conference in San Diego. As one would expect from the biggest chemistry conference in the world, the quality of research and talks being presented at the ACS was of the highest quality and presented the ideal place for me to expand my knowledge of chemistry and explore the various career paths open to me.

‘As medicinal chemists it is vital we stay up to date with the latest in synthetic methodology/techniques to ensure we disconnect our target molecules in the most efficient and effective way possible. A variety of new methodology was disclosed at the conference, and advances in current work discussed. More specifically, it was great to hear about the recent advances in photoredox and C-H activation chemistry from Professor Phil Baran and Professor John Hartwig respectively. I am now more eager than ever to apply this chemistry to my work and other medicinal chemistry projects when possible. Other highlights included the brilliant talks from Professor Sarah Reisman and Professor Varinder Aggarwal, work I have followed closely for some time now. Additionally, it was a privilege learning about directed evolution from recent Nobel prize winner Professor Frances Arnold, a truly inspirational talk.

‘Similarly, the quality of medicinal chemistry talks on offer was exceptional and provided the perfect environment to expand my knowledge of the area. Whilst it was great hearing from world leaders from the same field of research as my own (epigenetics) it was exciting to hear other medicinal chemistry talks and the stories that unfolded from each project. I particularly enjoyed the session on “Non-PROTAC Degraders” and Dr Jamie Scott’s talk in this session. Another highlight was Dr John Macor’s talk reflecting back on his career as a medicinal chemist and “molecules that broke his heart”. As someone who is passionate about drug discovery it was very inspirational to hear about all the great work a chemist can do in their career and the difficulties we can expect to face. Additionally, I was eager to develop my understanding of PK/PD and was able to seek out talks discussing the complex problems that can arrive within this topic across multiple disease areas.

‘Finally, although these were my main interests, and the topics I actively sought out the most, it was refreshing to expose myself to other disciplines of chemistry and expand my learning. These included chemical biology, catalysis and materials chemistry.

‘One of my favourite aspects of the ACS conference, and a feature which was particularly valuable to me, were the multiple poster sessions. The poster sessions provided the perfect atmosphere to discuss science with other passionate chemists from industry/academia and provided me with wonderful suggestions to advance my research and feedback on what could be improved. Similarly, these sessions allowed me to form invaluable relationships with representatives from academia/industry and gave me a real insight into the options available to me. It was comforting to hear from chemists who have been in a similar position and how their career’s took shape.

‘This meeting allowed me to network with a wide variety of scientists from multiple disciplines, providing me with a greater understanding of the many different roles available to me as I embark on the next step of my career. I particularly enjoyed discussions with representatives from the pharmaceutical industry who would share information on their successful careers and provide advice for new scientists entering the field. Moreover, seeing talks from industry and academia alongside one another at the conference also helped me compare the two similar yet different career paths. Finally, the extensive selection of workshops available at the ACS were invaluable in preparing me for job applications and interviews.

‘In summary, the ACS Fall 2019 conference was a wonderful and enriching experience that I would encourage every aspiring chemist to experience. I return from this conference with a breadth of new chemistry at my disposal, an improved knowledge of medicinal chemistry, an expanded scientific network, and a clearer understanding of my future plans. Attending this conference, and all the wonderful benefits I received from being present, would not have been possible without the financial support of the SCI. Thank you to the SCI for awarding me a Messel Travel Bursary to facilitate my trip to this wonderful city and attendance at such a fantastic conference.’

Michael Clegg
PhD student
University of Strathclyde

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