Alisdair Page

Industrial Chemistry with a Year in Industry 2003

Your Time at the University

The University of Edinburgh was always my first and only choice when deciding which university to attend. Despite having grown up in Dumfries, Edinburgh had always felt like a second home thanks to a large extended family in Edinburgh and East Lothian. So I was well aware what a great city it was and was keen to spend more time there.

On the other hand, chemistry was never my first choice to study at university. In first year, I was initially studying Computer Science with chemistry as my second subject. However, it did not take long for me to realise that I was getting far more fulfilment from my time spent in the chemistry labs than I was when sitting in front of a monitor and writing code. So, I made the decision to switch full time to a chemistry degree. A decision I have never regretted.

Alasdair Page

As part of my 5-year degree I had the opportunity to spend a year working in the industry at GSK’s manufacturing plant in Irvine. This was great opportunity and one that has very much shaped my life going forward. Not only did it help cement the feeling that a career in process chemistry was the right path for me, it also happened to be where I met my future wife and mother of my children. I think anyone who is considering a career in pharmaceutical industry should seriously consider a year in industry if the opportunity should arise.

One of the fondest memories I have from my final year was the comedy lecture the final year students gave to the rest of the faculty. 5th year was hard, you don’t get chemistry degree with-out putting in some hard work, so being given the chance at the end of the year to release some of the tension was great. Not to mention the fact that we got to poke fun at some of the lecturers that had been making our lives tough for the previous 5 years.       

Your Experiences Since Leaving the University

My year in industry had very much given me a taste for having a wage at the end of each month and as a result it was always my intention to seek employment at the end of my 5-year degree rather than continue in academia.

It was a happy coincidence that an opportunity presented itself to not only start my career in industry, but which allowed me to continue to live in the city I loved. I graduated at McEwan hall in early July 2003 and six days later I started work as a Process Chemist at Macfarlan Smith, now JM Edinburgh, in Gorgie.

Although I’ve spent 17 years in the same role, my career has been far from repetitive. I have been involved developing manufacturing processes for new drugs, improving the processes for established drugs, transferring processes between facilities, working closely with engineers, analysts, process operators, to name but a few aspects of my career so far. If you had told me when I left University that with-in a few years I would be stood in a field in Portugal in 40˚C heat, examining the growth of Poppy flowers, I would not have believed you. But in my role as the lead chemist in the extraction of opiates from Poppy Straw, an understanding of the agricultural side to chemistry became important.

In the years that have followed I have moved from thinking about farming to assessing the control we have over the particle size of our products using statistical analysis. The way process chemistry is approached, and the techniques used are constantly changing. There is always a new technique to master or a new challenge to face. So, while I left university 17 years ago, I have never been short of opportunities to expand my learning.

Alumni Wisdom

Make the most of your time at university, make new friends, broaden your horizons and above all have fun. But never forget that you’re there to get a degree, and degrees in subjects like chemistry must be earned, so don’t forget to study hard too.

Finally, if you get the chance to do a year in industry, take it, it’s worth it.