The RSC celebrates RSSL's trainee scientists - National Apprenticeship Week

To mark National Apprenticeship Week, the Royal Society of Chemistry speak to some to RSSL's trainee scientists past and present.


19-year-old Josie Giacomelli achieved A-levels in biology, maths and geography before starting the RSSL apprenticeship scheme in September 2019.

Giacomelli has found RSSL’s pharmaceutical chemistry lab a ‘busy but very exciting’ working environment.

RSSL’s pharmaceutical chemistry lab performs a wide range of wet chemistry techniques including titration; solubility and purity testing as well as identification tests like FTIR and thin-layer chromatography on the raw materials used to manufacture pharma products.

"It is so great to be able to work on such a vast array of materials using a large variety of methods and techniques,’ says Giacomelli.

"Nine months prior to joining RSSL, I was applying for university placements but unsure whether I wanted to go. I didn’t consider apprenticeships until I already had an interview lined up for a forensic biology course. I left it very late to consider an apprenticeship so I would tell myself to 'explore apprenticeships beforehand,'" she says.

19-year-old Joe Lycett studied A-level biology, chemistry and maths before joining RSSL in October 2018. The fact that so many of RSSL’s senior scientists are happy to set aside time and explain things to him has helped him settle in.

"They are understanding that you haven’t gained their level of experience and that there are things that you might be curious about. Some colleagues in the physical sciences lab helped me understand Karl Fischer titration for an essay I wrote which got positive feedback," says Lycett.

"A year ago I was still learning the ropes but I would have told myself, 'Just throw yourself into it,'" adds Lycett.

23-year-old Bethan Hopley – who studied A-level biology, chemistry and maths – started in 2015 and completed the apprenticeship before being offered a full-time technician role at RSSL. Hopley cites her school science teachers as inspiration for her choice of career: "I did science A-levels but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I finished. I enjoy the practical and hands-on elements and always knew in school that I didn’t want an office job.

"I had a really supportive science department at school who said I could come and work in the prep room for a year while I worked things out – that’s where I found out about RSSL. I owe those teachers my science career."

That experience has taught her to explore her options and find the best fit. "A year ago I was changing roles. I was still permanent and just changing department. There are a wide range of different labs at RSSL so I would tell myself to wait a little longer before making the decision about which lab to go into. I would say “Slow down and think about it a bit more.” I applied for university as a backup and was offered this role too. By taking this apprenticeship I got the best of both worlds. I will be qualified but I won’t have to pay the university fees to get there and I am getting the experience too."

24-year-old Will Jones studied A-level chemistry, biology and psychology before starting his apprenticeship with RSSL in 2013.

Family connections and a positive work experience encouraged him to persue a scientific path: "I chose a career in science after I had my work experience in a very small, two-person analytical laboratory," Jones explained. "My mentor had an infectious passion for science which has stuck with me. My Mum had also worked in a laboratory studying genetics for the majority of her career, which I had always had an interest in."

Having completed the programme, Jones has progressed to the role of RSSL scientist I and now works in the pharmaceutical development lab.

"The lab performs routine analysis on finished pharma products, which helps ensure their safety before market release," he says. "The lab also performs larger validation projects, including method development using mostly high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and dissolution. It includes a stability team with responsibility for the maintenance of stability cabinets which facilitate accelerated storage and help determine pharma product shelf life.

"I enjoy working within pharma development because I get to use a broad range of instrumentation and techniques such as HPLC, dissolution, FTIR, ultraviolet and Karl Fischer, which means I get a good balance of benchtop work, using instrumentation and data analysis. In this role, you’re also critical to the development and distribution of pharmaceuticals ranging from simple over-the-counter medication to cancer drugs. Ultimately, the role ensures patient safety, which gives the day-to-day work meaning and purpose, as well as keeping it varied."

Originally published by Chemistry World. Click here to read the full article.

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