A bar of chocolate, a bag of crisps, painkillers, an inhaler. We take these and so many other everyday items for granted and yet the chemistry that goes into producing them is nothing short of astonishing.
“The research behind these products, and the people who conduct it, are of utmost importance to Jacinta George, who heads up Reading Scientific Services Limited (RSSL), a world-leading contract research laboratory. Jacinta’s team supports over 3,000 clients, including top pharmaceutical and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) businesses, in the creation of new products, as well as enhancing existing ones, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the consumer is paramount.
Both a strategic businesswoman and chemist, Jacinta has been a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry ever since qualifying, and became a Fellow in 2015.
“One of the reasons I’m a member of the RSC is the prestige associated with the organisation,” explains Jacinta. “It’s a brand with heritage and that carries a lot of weight. You will always see RSC membership on the business cards of devoted chemists. It’s an aspiration to move up through the league of membership grades. I see it as a real acknowledgement of career progression, which is why I’m a huge advocate for the RSC."
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Jacinta’s love of chemistry started at school and has developed into a career that has given the chance to work with diverse teams, travel the world and get involved in exciting projects including wellbeing research, focusing on topics such as sugar and salt reduction.
“When I was at school, a time in your life when you are trying to make sense of the world around you, I liked how chemistry very factually explained a lot of things. And I was lucky to have a hugely inspiring chemistry teacher – that helped a lot. Also at that time I had free reign in the chemistry lab. It allowed my curiosity to be unleashed!
“I studied in Ireland and then I finished my qualifications here in England. Doing my chemistry qualification through the RSC allowed me to meet people from an array of different industries and backgrounds. A lot of my colleagues were working in more obvious chemical industries, pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies. I was in the food sector. People assume it’s the sort of thing you do in a kitchen, when in fact we have vast sophisticated systems to help us understand the chemistry of food; the texture, the flavour and interactions at a molecular level.”
“I started out working for Cadbury in the field of flavour chemistry. For a chocoholic I had landed on my feet! Our job was to tease the flavour components apart, predominantly using mass spectronomy techniques. It’s similar to how perfumery and the connoisseurs of fine wines work. It’s really fascinating to discover what makes up a flavour and then figuring out what chemical reaction creates it. We then try to nurture the components that enhance the likeability of that food. And I got to test the prototypes – a tough job but someone has to do it!”
As a part of multinational companies, Jacinta has been lucky to work in various laboratories and with different colleagues all around the world, including a spell in Connecticut and Ireland in the Beverage research bases.
“I realised that I loved the human side of the job and decided to study for an MBA to enable me to combine my two passions, chemistry and people! Understanding what makes people tick, how to help them grow and how to effectively manage a team was fascinating to me.”
The research centre where Jacinta is based transformed into Reading Scientific Services Limited, which has grown into a standalone entity with its own client base, including its parent company, Mondelēz International. Jacinta’s career evolved too from operational roles, to commercial and today as Managing Director in RSSL.
Harnessing her enthusiasm for helping her team reach their potential, Jacinta now uses the RSC’s personal development schemes as a useful external benchmark to aspire to, enhancing the business’ internal training programmes. RSSL sponsors people within the company to achieve their Chartered Chemist (CChem) status, which is awarded to chemists who are currently employed in the chemical sciences and recognises their skills, knowledge and professionalism.
“I remember when I did my CChem, I was at a certain point in my career and it was a great opportunity to take a moment to pause and think about how I was doing. It makes you ask, ‘What does a chemist at this level look like?’
“From a business perspective, the framework gives us the chance to sit down with the individual and create a development plan, with involvement from their manager and sometimes another sponsor within the company, which can be measured. It has helped us endorse the capability of the chemist in question and has become a great milestone.
“In our monthly business review we always make sure to highlight any staff celebrations. It’s great to announce that a person has accomplished their CChem. I absolutely leverage the RSC brand within the company to acknowledge a strong chemist and I will continue to do that. The RSC is the go-to place for endorsement as a chemist.”
As president of the RSC Industry and Technology Division Committee, Jacinta is working with other accomplished chemists and businesspeople across various industries to share knowledge and encourage positive change.
“We all want chemistry to have more of an impact on the world at large today and to tackle industry issues, global issues actually – the big agenda items like sustainability and skills development. And it’s so important to engage and inspire the next generation, that’s really important to me. Through the division I had the privilege of talking to a group of chemistry professors to feedback the experience of our senior scientists and where there are gaps in training when it comes to practical skills and safety. I see the RSC as one way of bridging that vital gap.”