Redundancy proved to be a real help

12 Dec 2011

Dr James Nairne has been an SCI member for almost 20 years. He has been an active member of the Fine Chemicals Group Committee and also contributes his time to the Publications Advisory Committee.

He has a broad knowledge of synthetic and applied chemistry techniques, leading to more than 25 patents in a variety of diagnostic imaging and radiochemistry applications. He is Head of Medicinal and Radiochemistry at GE Healthcare in the UK.

What does your current job involve?
I am responsible for the discovery medicinal chemistry and radiochemistry teams within the medical diagnostics business of GE Healthcare. Our goal is to develop radiopharmaceuticals for the early diagnosis of disease, as well as monitoring the effectiveness of therapy and predicting patient response to particular therapies.

The medicinal chemistry team is responsible for tailoring compounds for binding to disease biomarkers through binding affinity, pharmacokinetic profiles and radioisotope introduction; the radiochemistry team is responsible for the development of radiosyntheses of the radiopharmaceuticals using fluorine-18, iodine-123 or technetium- 99m.

I've managed the medicinal chemistry team for nine years and took on the management of the radiochemistry team in August 2011.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
I became interested in science at secondary school - earlier parts of my childhood were dominated by my interest in sport.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
I'd always wanted to continue education as long as I could and once I started studying chemistry at university, I realised that I could continue learning in a career in applied science, so I decided that I'd try to pursue a career in scientific research.

What motivated you to pursue postgraduate studies?
I wanted to deepen my understanding of how to do research and I enjoyed the intellectual challenge.

What has your experience ascending the career ladder been like?
I've never mapped out a career path, but I have taken opportunities as they have become available to me. Each step has provided a challenge that has kept my work interesting and has allowed me to develop both professionally and personally.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
Apply the same critical thinking to your own work as you do to that of others. Understand how to influence different people so that you present your arguments in the most compelling way possible. Deliver on your promises and be ambitious in your targets

What would you have done differently?
I wish that I'd understood better the importance of soft skills in a scientific environment earlier in my career.

How have you set goals for yourself and managed to achieve them?
I don't really set myself career goals, beyond doing my current job as well as I can and to improve continually my performance.

What would you say have been the key milestones in your career?
The major milestone in my career was being made redundant. It forced me to move from a comfortable job, where I would have always felt junior into a more senior position in a new role, where I could apply my learnings on my behaviours without the baggage I'd accumulated - a clean slate.

What key things would a young person need to do if they wanted to get to the position you've achieved thus far?
Make sure that you spend enough time understanding the scientific or technical aspects of the business you are in to give yourself a track record of achievement. This is the foundation of a career in scientific management. Talk to your colleagues, especially those who are in adjacent disciplines - understand their challenges and world view.

How do you achieve work/life balance?
I tend to work long hours on site, but when I'm at home my family takes priority - the work phone is off and I try to avoid working at home if I can.

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