Jonathan Moseley: career in science was thanks to Thunderbirds

14 Mar 2013

Dr Jonathan Moseley, research director at CatScI, tells us what got him interested in science, and how he values his SCI membership.

What does your current job involve?
I am the research director at CatScI, a spin-out company started in 2011 by a group of ex-AstraZeneca colleagues from its process development site in Bristol. We all invested some of our redundancy money in the business, which specialises in catalysis services, and struck out on our own. I was initially able to conduct in-house research, which was published in 2012.

As the commercial client base has increased I now spend more time writing proposals, managing and delivering projects. I still write CatScI's publications, and attend and speak at scientific conferences. I also act as the health and safety officer, a role my children are embarrassed to acknowledge, order the stationery and empty the bins - there is no room for a big ego in a small company.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
Yes, although rather non-specifically combined with technology and engineering; I think Thunderbirds had too much influence on me! I thought then that science and technology could solve mankind's problems, whereas now I recognise that it's more than just the scientific challenges that need solving if we are going to save the planet.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
Although I was also interested in English, history and Latin at school, I decided that chemistry had more intrinsic value, so I continued that into the sixth form and onto university. I also enjoyed the practical aspects of organic chemistry in particular, and the possibility to make and discover new chemicals and processes. Finding that there were actual laboratory careers requiring just this role was ideal for me, and justified the sacrifice of further study of maths and physics to support the chemistry.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
Firstly, proof of a process or technology in the laboratory isn't the same as getting it running on the plant, there's a lot more work between the two. Secondly, always question the dogma on a process when you take it over. This is not to criticise earlier development, because things do change.

Mythology tends to build up around a process as it is scaled up, which may have been true at some point. Often you have more information and analytical data later in a project, so it is worth reviewing earlier decisions. But you should also run the process several times first to get a good feel for it; if you start making changes before that, you may add to the mythology yourself.

What have been the significant milestones in your career?
It has been more a gradual progression of sensible steps, but two things stand out. Deciding not to do a PhD immediately, but rather get an industrial job first was sensible in retrospect, and confirmed my interest in research. Encouraged by colleagues at Merck, I was then able to apply for a personal PhD grant, which got me into Cambridge, probably better motivated and prepared than other students. After another spell of medicinal chemistry at Merck, the other significant milestone was moving into process development at Zeneca, which worked out perfectly.

Aside from a decent list of publications, I am most proud of the many young chemists I have supervised over the years, a number of whom chose to study for PhDs after their time with me, so I obviously didn't put them off. Mostly, I have simply been blessed with good advice, fortunate choices and excellent co-workers.

Would you have done anything differently?

How did you first become involved with SCI and what has that involvement meant for you?
SCI has always organised excellent and relevant one-day conferences, so I joined as a PhD student to reduce attendance costs. I found C&I readable and newsworthy and have kept up my membership ever since. I don't do much more than attend the one-day meetings and the December Process Development Symposium, but I do recommend SCI membership to anyone who will listen.

If you hadn't pursued a career in science, what would you be doing now?
No idea. I am really a frustrated writer, which is probably why I have tried to publish much of my work. I still hope to write about the decline of the British aircraft industry one day, and maybe there will be another similar story to tell about the pharmaceutical industry...

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