With a background in industry, Craig is now doing a PhD at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Barcelona.
Growing up in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Craig always enjoyed the satisfaction of understanding challenging concepts. With enthusiastic science teachers and encouraging parents - even if their interest was put-on at times – Craig highlights the importance of science public engagement in his life.
“The ‘Horrible Science’ books by Nick Arnold as well as anything narrated by David Attenborough were favourites of mine as a child.”
Craig studied chemistry at the University of Glasgow with a year industrial placement at GlaxoSmithKline. During his first two years, he studied chemistry alongside both biology and physics and only specialised in his third year.
“This is a great aspect, especially from my experience, of a Scottish university. As you go deeper into your subject, your preferences and natural abilities may seem suited to another area of science and it is possible to change without falling back a year.”
Improving people’s situations
Craig has recently started a medicinal chemistry PhD with Professor Antoni Riera at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) Barcelona after receiving a ‘La Caixa Fellowship’. The aim of his project explores the immediate cellular environment surrounding cancer cells in their early development. Craig enjoys the dynamic nature of the project and the variety of reactions that keep his work exciting.
“A career in chemistry can be extremely rewarding, as in many areas, your work can directly help or improve people’s situations.”
"The people I have worked with are very interesting and the field of science generally attracts people with very unique ways of thinking.”
As a member of the Officers Training Corps and various bands and musical groups during university, Craig kept his interests outside of chemistry. Even now, Craig is still involved with music and sport to help detach himself from his work.
“It’s very important to have a fresh mind in research, in order not to miss anything and to stay focussed. The football league here at IRB is also trying to dispel the myth that scientists are all uncoordinated and unfit!”
With his fellowship offering positions for many international students, Craig works with people from over 30 countries that help him experience different ways of working and thinking. “I feel that doing a PhD here can offer exposure to the business side of research, or even just borrowing a chemical from another lab can save time!”
Before Craig embarked on his PhD in Barcelona, he had industrial experience behind him. Working at GlaxoSmithKline in Stevenage for his industrial placement during university, and RedX Oncology in Liverpool after he graduated, gave him the chance to practice and implement the things he learnt.
“It gave me a bit of thinking time to decide where I wanted to go and focus my efforts on finding the right institute and group to join. Whereas industry will widen your networks, has larger team dynamics and teaches you to provide rapid solutions to problems, academia usually encourages a more in-depth analysis of the science, with an aim to publish information rather than to sell a product.”
Craig feels he has a good mix of both doing a PhD at the institution rather than at a university. With it becoming increasingly common to carry out a PhD within a public institution or a private company, students can enjoy a unique and specialised style of research.
“I would recommend contacting and reading about many different groups to find one that best fits your style of working. Make sure you really like the group and the group leader! You are about to commit to four years of ups and downs with this team so it is important that you find out as much about the group as you can.”
Building links and networks between universities, companies and institutes are important and Craig believes that research should be shared. In the future as he progresses, Craig hopes to have more control over his research in either an academic group or within a company.
“My main advice is to network and listen to as many different types of people when it comes to science. The community is surprisingly small at times and social networks such as ‘LinkedIn’ can help in the future, in many matters other than just job seeking.”
Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Craig Donoghue
Published February 2015