Below you will find a number of alumni profiles, written by former students describing their experiences studying with us and how it has helped shape their careers. A great many students have passed through our doors over the past 100 years, some of these are names you may recognise. Former members of the Department are invited to join the Imperial College Alumni community.

 

Chemistry Alumni Profiles

Dr Jasprit Chahal

What have you done since leaving Imperial?

Dr Jasprit Chahal I graduated from Imperial College London the first time with an MSci in Chemistry with Fine Chemicals Processing in 2007. During my undergraduate degree I did a year in industry placement at AstraZeneca working as a process/development manufacture chemist. After graduating, I stayed on at Imperial for another 4 years and obtained a PhD. in the area of synthetic organic chemistry working for Professor Donald Craig, which was sponsored by the EPSRC and GlaxoSmithKline. I had a gap year travelling and working for LOCOG during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, before joining Shell in December 2012 as a Fuels Scientist.

What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on and why?

I have been involved in many exciting projects at Shell, but one highlight has been a project where I worked with supply and distribution to investigate the feasibility of optimising one of the technical parameters we develop fuel additive packages to with additive companies. The output of this project has led to changes to the technical specification for future product development and in turn significant cost savings.

How has your degree helped?

During my undergraduate degree at Imperial I did an interdisciplinary degree in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, which gave me an awareness to consider the socio-economic aspects of technical solutions. From my postgraduate research degree I gained the ability to think outside the box to solve problems and the resilience to overcome challenges that would inevitably arise. As well as all the knowledge and experiences gained during my studies at Imperial, I was a member of a couple of club and societies that were great opportunities to manage, organise and deliver social events and conferences. Many of the invaluable skills I obtained during my time at Imperial have definitely prepared me for my career in Shell.

What is your most abiding memory of being at Imperial?

My most memorable time at Imperial was the time spent in the lab during my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Whether it was purifying ferrocene by sublimation or running a TLC to see if a reaction had gone to completion, there are so many memories associated with the Briscoe, Perkin, Julia and Thorpe laboratories.

What would be your advice to a student starting out in Chemistry at Imperial College?

Your academic studies at Imperial will give you a high standard of technical knowledge and the ability to think analytically to solve complex problems. However, look for opportunities to develop leadership, team working and communication skills outside your academic degree environment by becoming involved in clubs and societies at Imperial or doing voluntary work for charities. Also, I would recommend doing internships or research projects during summers to find out about how the chemistry knowledge you learn during degree is applied in industry and/or academia. Lastly, have fun and enjoy your time at Imperial and in London, 3 to 4 years seems like it is a long time but it does rush by.

Dr Annette Doherty

What have you done since leaving Imperial?

Dr Annette Doherty I graduated with my PhD in Organic Chemistry from Imperial in 1985. After 2 years of postdoctoral research at Ohio State University in the USA working for Professor Leo Paquette, I joined the pharmaceutical industry in 1987 where I have been working for over 27 years now! My first job was as a chemist in the Medicinal Chemistry department at a company called Warner-Lambert, Parke Davis in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.  I decided, at the time, to stay in the US for a few years, thinking that I would return home to the UK after maybe 2-3 years. However life is never predictable and I ended up spending 10 years in a variety of different jobs in Parke Davis. I worked in many different projects and therapeutic areas- it was an incredibly exciting time scientifically in my career. I was then asked to go for a temporary 2 year assignment to Paris, France to run a small Discovery Research Unit in a family owned French company, ‘L’Institut de Recherche Jouveinal’ that we were acquiring.  Again I could not predict how long I would actually stay!!....... I ended up spending 6 years living and working in Paris- it was a very rewarding time both professionally and personally.  Everyone spoke French in the work place and I needed, as their leader to be able to become fluent in French! O’Level French only gets you so far with actually speaking French, so I took language lessons and studied once again!  In 2000, another pharmaceutical company Pfizer acquired the company I was working for, and I became the Site Head of the French Research and Development site.  There we worked on discovering new treatments for respiratory diseases, diseases of the GI tract and Pain. Three years later I returned home to the UK to take up a fantastic job as Site Research Head for the Pfizer Sandwich R and D Laboratories in East Kent.  I spent almost six years in that job and then I was offered a global position as Head of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Connecticut, USA. Another move and now back to the USA again! After two years, my family and I decided to move back to the UK and I have been working for GlaxoSmithKline as their Head of Product Development since 2012.  It is fascinating to take the molecules that have been discovered against biological targets to treat disease and then turn them into medicines!

 What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on and why?

When I  was working in Michigan, I worked on a project to discover new treatments for various cardiovascular diseases. An endogenous vasoconstrictor known as endothelin had been discovered and we began to search for antagonists to the endothelin receptors.  We also explored a variety of disease areas where these antagonists might have clinical use. Ultimately endothelin antagonists have found efficacy in pulmonary hypertension. It was rewarding because I learned so much, the science was exciting, we had some great academic collaborations and we were at the forefront of this area of research.  We were able to uncover the likely clinical uses of endothelin antagonists and I also lead the program to test our molecules in the clinic.  I worked with a fantastic team of researchers and I will always remember those days.

How has your degree helped?

My chemistry degree has been the fundamental rock on which I built and learned everything else. Obviously the chemistry knowledge has been critical in my career, but its more than that. The degree and PhD helped me to be an independent researcher, to value how science progresses, to be curious about new treatments for diseases and to develop a love of working on new problems.

What is your most abiding memory of being at Imperial College?

Probably my PhD time in the old Whiffin Lab working in Steve Ley’s group.... I just loved working in the lab and to be honest spent every moment I could there!  I remember the days when my experiments worked the most..... because it was such an exhilarating feeling to walk down Exhibition Road leaving the lab to go home and be excited that something had worked and I was now onto the next piece of research to do.  I remember the times I spent with Steve and the group and my growing up during that time too!!

What would be your advice to a student starting out in Chemistry at Imperial College?

Work hard and make the most of every experience offered to you!

Amanda Halford

What have you done since leaving Imperial?

Amanda Halford In crafting my answer to this question, I began to realize just how much I have accomplished since graduating from Imperial in 1990 and what a great journey it has been so far. To be honest, I am not entirely sure where to begin.  One thing is for certain, I have been privileged to blend my passion for travel and learning with career and family.  I have lived in Germany, France and the U.S., where I currently reside with my husband and two children.  I have travelled extensively across six continents and about 60 countries for both business and pleasure spending two years living in the Asia Pacific region. I earned my MBA and have participated in several executive leadership programs.  All of this led me to my current position as Vice President, Academic Research, for Sigma Aldrich. In this global role, I am responsible for our portfolio of products and services serving scientists across all disciplines in universities, government research institutes and hospitals.

Prior to this position, I held many diverse roles in business functions within science based companies, getting my start in marketing with ICI. However, the last 15 years have been with Sigma-Aldrich where I have developed a global brand for the fine chemical business; led our eBusiness group in developing eCommerce and digital marketing solutions for scientists; and leading the Aldrich chemistry business – a real accomplishment for a chemist!

What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on and why?

The most rewarding aspect of my work is having the opportunity to start with an idea, formulate the plan, execute on it and then watch the results grow over time. Developing, launching and managing the SAFC brand for the Sigma-Aldrich life science business was extremely rewarding. The brand is now 10 years old, is a leading brand in the sector and the business has grown significantly.  SAFC now provides solutions to pharmaceutical customers as part of their drug development process, while creating jobs for other talented scientists in the process. I love the fact that my work has contributed to something as positive as improving human health.

How has your degree helped?

Having a solid science foundation has been a cornerstone of my career. All of my roles have been with science companies, initially chemistry and now more so in the life sciences, in fields such as genetic engineering and cell biology. My Chemistry degree from Imperial commends immense respect within the scientific community and has served me well. 

Having the intellectual curiosity and discipline to learn has enabled me to use my chemistry degree as a spring board to other fields, while staying relevant from a scientific perspective.

What is your most abiding memory of being at Imperial College?

My most abiding memory is what has endured across the years – the lifelong friendships I made. The Chemistry Society was extremely active and I remember the lectures and social activities with a smile. However, a few things truly stand out:

  1. My first attempt at organic synthesis in the lab where most of my product ended up down my lab coat and my lab supervisor (was that Professor Armstrong?) wondered about my skill; to my internship at ICI in my final year where I successfully synthesized a complex organic molecule that was pure enough to be used in an agricultural field trial.
  2. Professor Aubrey (of the theatrical family name) demonstrating the theory of electron movement from the ground state to the excited state by climbing from chairs to the lecture bench and down again as he described the process. He captivated us into embracing the Schrodinger equation and I still remember his lecture to this day.

What would be your advice to a student starting out in Chemistry at Imperial College?

  • Learn as much as you can. Be curious, ask questions, never stop learning.
  • Get involved - don’t be a bystander. Embrace all of the opportunities Imperial has to offer. Academic results are essential, but it is equally important to actively participate in life outside of the classorm including the clubs and societies that are on offer. Develop a strong network, make lifelong friends, and focus on building your teamwork and leadership skills.
  • Enjoy yourself. I know I did.

Dr Peter Machin FRSC FMedSci

Early Years

Dr Peter Machin I was born in Manchester within a mile of ICI’s Dyestuffs Division Research Laboratories. I always wanted to be a chemist so I looked at Chemistry Departments with excellent reputations.  Imperial College London was very high on the list and after the interview I really wanted to live in London so Imperial became my top choice.  I came to London in the Sixties and started my degree in chemistry at Imperial. I shared a house with 4 other chemists and we had a great time. Worked hard and played hard!

I specialised in organic chemistry in my third year. This year was largely practical work in the lab which I really enjoyed and reflected the ethos at Imperial which is about not only learning chemistry but practising it. I got a 1st Class Honours degree and decided to stay on at Imperial to do a PhD. I really wanted to make molecules with some useful properties so I selected a topic in natural product/heterocyclic chemistry which was a collaboration with Eli Lilly, the US Pharmaceutical Company. I spent 3 months in their labs in Surrey and first experienced the “buzz” you get when the novel compound you have just made shows some biological activity.  I did some interesting chemistry which generated a few publications.

Big Pharma

The economic times were tough in the 1970’s so I decided not to do a postdoc but look for a job in Pharma straight after my PhD.  Despite the economic climate, having a PhD from Imperial secured me several interviews and I ended up with two job offers. I chose a position at the Roche Research Centre in Welwyn Garden City as a Medicinal Chemist working in the lab on drug discovery projects designing and synthesising new compounds. I spent 20 years there and worked my way up to eventually manage all of the Chemistry group at the Centre. It was a great part of my career,  learning on the job how to design compounds with desirable biological properties and then using everything I had learned at Imperial to actually synthesise those compounds.

The highlight of those years was our project on HIV Protease Inhibitors. We designed a series of compounds with a novel warhead and one of them, Saquinavir, became the first HIV Protease Inhibitor to reach the market! It is really satisfying to think of all the lives that have been saved by the use of this drug.

After 20 years I moved to SmithKline Beecham (SB) to run all of their Discovery Chemistry in Europe (UK, France, Italy). We put over 30 new compounds into clinical development and one of them, an antibacterial called Retapamulin, reached the market in 2007.  In 2001 SB merged with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline. I became the Global Senior Vice President for Chemistry & Screening Sciences managing 700 scientists in the UK, Europe, USA and Japan who were responsible for generating the chemical leads for most of GSK’s new biological targets.

Consultancy

In 2007 I retired from big Pharma and became a self-employed Independent Consultant in drug discovery giving advice to Investors, small Companies and Academic groups. These last few years have been tremendously satisfying as I returned to focus on the science without distraction by managerial responsibilities! I also became a Trustee at the Royal Society of Chemistry and spent four years as the RSC’s Honorary Treasurer.

In Summary

My six years at Imperial  gave me a deep understanding of organic chemistry and how to synthesise molecules and also provided me with a deep appreciation of the crucial role that chemistry plays in everyday life, from medicine and biology through to materials, electronics and energy provision. It also gave me an abiding network of colleagues that have proved invaluable professionally, in recruitment activities and academic collaborations, and personally in creating lasting friendships.

My advice to you? Work hard and play hard. Chemistry underpins most activities in life and your time at Imperial will give you an exciting, unique insight into the many faces of our science. But a University is more than just a seat of learning. It provides an opportunity not only to stimulate and expand your intellectual and creative powers but also to build relationships and mature into a well -rounded,    well -educated member of society.

Trevor Phillips

What have you done since leaving Imperial?

Trevor Phillips I spent several enjoyable years in student politics, including two as President of the NUS. Having then been turned down by every reputable company for a graduate job, I will always be grateful to the man at GEC Marconi who told me, in effect : " Get real. Radical leftie. Black. And let's be honest, not really much of a chemist.  We can see trouble coming, and you've got it written all over you. Try something else". He was right, and though I think that without my grounding in science I wouldn't have been able to do half the things I've done, he made me open my eyes to other possibilities. I've since spent 35 years successively in journalism, politics and charitable enterprises. I now run a small data analytics business; own an independent TV production company; and I advise companies on how to recruit and get the most from a diverse workforce. I hope that I have fulfilled and continue the GEC man's prediction by doing what scientists do best - disrupting everything we think we know in pursuit of some new way of improving people's lives.

What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on and why?

I've been lucky, in that there are many projects I could name. But personally, I'd have to say that the TV series that I was most associated with - The London Programme - which charted every aspect of the capital's life for over twenty-five years is the professional achievement of which I'm proudest. Today we'd probably be reporting on Imperial's emergence as a global brand, and debating whether it's the right thing for the city. I'm sure the answer is probably yes - but nothing that important should escape scrutiny.

How has your degree helped?

The habits of the scientific process helped to tidy my naturally messy mind. As a journalist, the laboratory discipline of writing as much as you need to, and no more, has always been invaluable. Being around intellectually adventurous characters fuelled my innate curiosity , and gave a me a lifelong aversion to people who reckon they know all the answers - the scientist's raison d'etre is that there must be an even better solution than the one we've got now. Unfortunately for my career in politics, we tend to prize consistency in the face of change (what could also be described as brute ignorance), especially if masked by elegant doublespeak. Chemistry taught me not to be afraid of changing my mind when I learnt something new - and telling everybody why. I think of this as progress; but it's never gone down well with my colleagues.

What is your most abiding memory of being at Imperial?

Making friends who I thought at first, shared nothing of my background, and making the wonderful discovery that below the surface we had many things in common; being mentored by the brilliant and inspirational Rector, Brian Flowers, who remained a friend until he died just recently; and setting fire to the Chemistry lab - and myself.

What would be your advice to a student starting out in Chemistry at Imperial College?

First: try everything that's on offer - social, cultural, political, sporting, intellectual and academic. It'll be exhausting for a while - but you'll discover what really makes you tick - and that's an opportunity you're unlikely to get again.  

Second: never let anyone make you feel that you aren't as smart as the others; they wouldn't have let you in otherwise. And anyway, even at Imperial, there are very few people who actually are as clever as they think they are.

Third: be respectful to the old folk, but apply a heavy dose of scientific scepticism to any advice offered by anyone who left college forty years ago.

Dr Sarah Shepley FRSC

What have you done since leaving Imperial?

Dr Sarah Shepley Quite a lot, but it has been 25  years! I joined ICI – then a huge, profitable and growing company – in 1989, straight after my PhD, and started out in corporate research laboratory,  but I quickly got the bug for production and was lucky enough to get a move to plant technical support, which led to a series of tough, exciting management roles in production, research and development, intellectual property  and technology licensing that gave me the opportunity to work abroad, mainly in Europe, the US, South Africa, Russia and the CIS, and Turkey.  In 2007 I joined the Business Development Team at  Imperial College, and 2 years later I was appointed to be Director of Corporate Partnerships for Imperial, helping forge and support partnerships between the College’s academics and industry partners round the world. In July 2013 I was appointed as Commercial Director of Plaxica, a fast-growing venture-funded Imperial spin-out that has developed process technology for the conversion of non-food sugars into lactic acid (C3H6O3) and other useful bio-sourced chemicals.

What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on and why?

Too tough to pick one so I’ve picked three. My first new product launch in plant technical support –as part of a team taking processes developed in labs and pilot plants up to plant scale at hundreds of tonnes – was very rewarding for lots of reasons; it was high-profile, and it gave our business a much-needed new product, but more fundamentally it involved being part of a very mixed, knowledgeable team of experienced technicians and engineers. My research and development and technology licensing assignments overseas taught me a great deal about getting things changed effectively and sustainably when working with people from different cultural backgrounds. My current role at Plaxica is very satisfying because we’re on a steep growth curve - we have to learn fast, all the time, both technically and commercially.

How has your degree helped?

In many ways, practical chemistry gives you a very robust, rational approach to overcoming obstacles and an appetite for hard work. Understanding the theory and history of chemistry gives you a strong, fast intellect and gives you a great advantage when you’re working with people from other cultures. Discussing Mendeleev over a beer certainly breaks the ice with Russian negotiators!

What is your most abiding memory of being at Imperial College?

Mainly a series of impressions: Humility and some trepidation in the first few weeks when I saw the Schrodinger equation for the first time and realised I was going to have to work hard to catch up, which turned to a growing sense of confidence and relief as I came to understand that I was getting pretty good at chemistry, and that my tutors - and a lot of my fellow students - would help be improve in my weaker areas. My abiding memories of my PhD are of a fantastic three years – a steep learning curve, very hard work (and play!), and my first experience of being part of the global scientific community.

What would be your advice to a student starting out in Chemistry at Imperial College?

  • Take studying seriously - you’ll find the intensity of the Imperial approach is excellent preparation for working life.
  • Help people where they need it. It isn’t just the right thing to do. It also helps your own understanding.
  • Be reflective – take time to think about where you’re making progress and where you need help.
  • Outside of the course, take advantage of everything Imperial and London has to offer!

Keith Wiggins

Keith Wiggins What have you done since leaving Imperial?

Simply, I enjoy a great life! Blessed with family, friends, and good health (knock on wood!) my career continues to be another source of many of my most fun and fulfilling experiences. Since college I have worked in the chemical industry, developing, making and selling functional products that people want to buy.  Most days (if not every day!) I learn something, or meet someone, new and interesting and I still get excited about the infinite opportunity of chemistry and good science.

After a short time in R&D and manufacturing, I came to the early realization that I was not cut out for a life in the lab, being far more enthused by customers and understanding how chemistry is applied, it’s impact and worth. I moved into business roles, first sales and then marketing, and a spell as a financial analyst before moving on to run global businesses with Dow Chemical. We lived for many years in Germany, Switzerland and the US and I enjoyed building businesses around the globe, through a time of immense change and opportunity. The experiences were as diverse as the integration of business in a newly unified Germany, running a joint venture in Malaysia, starting new businesses in India and China, investments into new markets in Brazil, bringing new products to the Olympic games in London to name but a few. My work has led me to be intimate with the workings and dynamic of a wide range of industries and applications of chemistry, understanding what drives value in huge multinationals and small innovators in a range of industries from household and consumer goods, to energy, to agriculture, to pharmaceuticals, to electronics, the list goes on. Every industry presents its own opportunity and specific challenges, and all are pressured with the need to be sustainable, driving the need for continuous innovation and development. The industry never stops moving forward. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with great people to commercialize many new technologies over the years. Today, I am enjoying working with Nanoco, a young dynamic company leading the world in the development and manufacture of heavy metal free quantum dots.

What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on and why?

On returning to the UK, I was struck by the diminished state of manufacturing industry, yet ever stronger leading scientific academic institutions (especially Imperial!). Elected as President of the Chemical Industries Association for the UK in 2011, bringing the industry together we worked with government to develop a growth strategy for the industry in support of revitalizing an advanced manufacturing base. Built on three legs; energy, innovation and supply chains, the work was well received and is being successfully implemented today. I remain hopeful that there is the courage and drive to build on the national innovation base and create new world class industries.   

How has your degree helped?

A degree from Imperial College is recognized and highly regarded around the world. There is no doubt in my mind that it has helped open doors and helped establish early credibility throughout my career. For me personally, my degree was formative in many ways teaching me life lessons in the fundamentals of good use of process and rigorous critical thinking, hard work and tenacity and enough chemistry knowledge to know where to look for more. I learned how to use data and observation to break down problems and develop a methodical approach to finding solutions that continue to serve me to this day. Intense hours in the lab showed me that things aren’t always as they seem and things don’t always turn out as originally planned, developing an instinct for questioning and hard work to develop understanding and get things right. Getting my head around chemistry topics that didn’t always come easily was helped in tutorials giving me a grounding in the subject that I have enjoyed developing in specific areas ever since.

What is your most abiding memory of being at Imperial College?

As a student in London, there was never a dull moment! Living with seven great guys in a shared house in Bramber Road for two years, we had the time of our lives and still share the experiences and memories to this day. I think that my most abiding memory is that we all had an immense pride in being a student at Imperial College and I think that will stay with each of us for ever.

What would be your advice to a student starting out in Chemistry at Imperial College?
  • Live every minute to the full!
  • Enjoy taking the time to meet new and different people. You might make friends for life and you will certainly learn and see perspectives that you never believed possible.
  • Be curious, question, challenge and develop deep understanding. Standing on the shoulders of the giants at Imperial, take every opportunity to grow.
  • Take time to elevate and think big. Don’t get stuck in the weeds’ digging through the details.
  • Connect the parts to see the big picture and greatest opportunity.