Ask the Graduate: Chemistry PhD student

RO Central Team - Friday, December 20, 2019
Posted 1 month ago


About me: Hi everyone, my name is Toni and I studied an integrated masters in Medicinal Chemistry at Newcastle University from 2015-2019. I completed the Realising Opportunities scheme during my A-Level studies which lowered my entry requirements and gave me skills that allowed me onto the course I studied.

Current job: I am currently completing a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Medicinal Chemistry which is also at Newcastle University. A PhD is a type of post-graduate research lasting 4 years, but once complete I will be Dr. Toni!

My role: A PhD in Chemistry is all about research! The aim of my PhD is to investigate around a specific research title, which for me orientates around altering antibodies and attaching radioactive elements to be used in the imaging of cancer (ie PET scans).

A typical day: My typical day starts at 8.30 am in the university’s chemistry building where both my office and the research laboratories are located. Although my position as a Chemistry PhD student has a formal start and end time (9am- 5pm Monday to Friday), deadlines and overrunning experiments mean I can be in the labs from as early as 8am to as late as 7pm including weekends. PhD students organise their own time and plan their experiments according to their schedule which is great if you have a doctor appointment you can’t avoid!

The typical activities I participate in vary greatly depending on the development through the project and success of previous experiments. The project requires me to synthesise (join/combine) different antibody-peptide conjugates, test their activity in human cancer cells, attach the radioactive element Zirconium-89 to the conjugates and test the final compounds in mice. Each step of the way requires the analysis of results and further optimisation in order to develop the most effective cancer imaging agent.

Each day, I also have to check on my growing cancer cells. Once a week, I split the cells to allow them to continue to grow for my experiments. I have attached a picture of my fibrosarcoma cells viewed with a microscope! In-between experiments, I spend my time writing up my results and researching my projects further so I become an expert in my field.

My research has been funded by the University for 4 years which pays for my tuition fees and also gives me a maintenance grant. As part of the requirements for this funding, I became a teaching assistant within the School of Chemistry, the roles of which include:

  • Running tutorials for stage 1 undergraduate students
  • Demonstrating during the undergraduate and masters laboratory practicals
  • Invigilate during exams


The best bits: Throughout my time as a PhD student, I will be attending and presenting at various national and international conferences to present my research findings to world experts. It is also really rewarding knowing I am working on something that will someday make a difference to people’s lives!

Being a PhD student is all about becoming the best possible researcher. To enable this, the university runs numerous training opportunities that you can complete to gain knowledge in anything you are interested in or need assistance with. There are workshops covering a range of different topics including ‘how to sleep’, computer programming training and presentation skills development.

Lunch: I would typically eat my lunch in my office with a journal article open and a cup of tea in hand.

After work: After work I enjoy going to the gym and reading books. It is important to keep a work-life balance and so at weekends and during holidays I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors. I love hiking in the Lake District, sailing, snowboarding and paragliding!


Ask any questions you have for me below!


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