Jeremy Parker on why he chose chemistry over engineering

9 Oct 2013

What does your current job involve?
I'm a team manager in Medicines Evaluation Chemistry, which is a section within Pharmaceutical Development at AstraZeneca. Our team consists of process chemists and analysts tasked with the delivery of supplies of drug substance, which is used in early toxicology studies and Phase 1 clinical trials. I've been in the role for three years, having previously held positions in process chemistry, analytical chemistry and drug substance sourcing.

A key part of my job is to focus the world-class expertise that we have in-house in Medicines Evaluation Chemistry on the most important and challenging scientific activities, for example, the identification of new routes to drug molecules or the introduction of asymmetric synthesis.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
I come from a scientific family, and have always found the investigation of the world around us to be fascinating. I became particularly interested in organic chemistry while at school; control of the construction and manipulation of molecules is an amazing capability that humans have developed.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
After school, I had considered a career in engineering, but a gap year placement in process chemistry at BP Fine Chemicals at Carshalton in south London reaffirmed my interest in chemistry and set the direction of my university studies and career.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
If you are interested in having a job in a scientific company, then having a passion for science is key. Scientific companies are successful due to the quality of the scientific work that they deliver, and having an interest in and passion for delivering high-quality science will put you at the centre of the most important work and provide a job that is interesting and rewarding.

Would you have done anything differently?
I don't think so. I've enjoyed working across fine chemicals, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, and all these areas have been interesting in different ways. I'm still involved in practical science, which I enjoy (on a good week I spend 50% of my time in the lab), and have the opportunity to help scientists in the section deliver drug projects.

What would you say have been the significant milestones in your career?
A big change for me was my move from fine chemicals to pharmaceuticals when I joined Zeneca in 1999. Both areas involve chemistry but there are broader challenges in pharmaceuticals in terms of the regulatory environment. Since joining Zeneca I've been fortunate to work in a number of different areas, which has allowed my career to develop in a steady fashion.

What key things would a young person need to do if they wanted to get to the position you've achieved thus far?
As noted before, a passion for chemistry is key, and applying that passion to deliver high quality scientific results would be an important starting point.

Being able to prioritise is also important, as there is always more work to do than time available. Focusing on the most important and challenging tasks will make the biggest impact.

Finally, look for a job that you enjoy. A career is something that lasts a long time, and having a job that you enjoy is a great place from which to develop and progress.

How did you first become involved with SCI and what has that involvement meant for you?
I've been a member of SCI since my early days working in chemistry; it's great to have an organisation that provides a focus for this key industrial area in the UK. I've attended many excellent SCI conferences over the years, which are an ideal place to catch up with friends and colleagues as well as making new connections.

If you hadn't pursued a career in science, what would you be doing now?
I've very much enjoyed my career in science and can't really imagine doing anything else. I was heavily involved in organising entertainment events while at university, including a couple of college balls, so if things had worked out differently I could have ended up as an entertainments promoter!

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