With an innate interest in chemistry that only grew throughout her school years, Nessa Carson joined the Royal Society of Chemistry very early on in her life.
“I joined the RSC in my last year of high school, and to be honest, and I think that’s what set me on the path to doing a chemistry degree,” says Nessa. “Membership was very cheap, and it included not only materials designed for high school students, but also Chemistry World magazine. While it was a very intense read for a school-aged pupil, I read every issue from cover to cover to get familiar with the language and figure out what everything was.”
With her RSC membership helping her to choose the right degree to do at university, Nessa chose to study chemistry at the University of Oxford, before progressing on to do a Master’s degree in organic chemistry at the University of Illinois, USA.
While her background is in synthetic chemistry, Nessa now works in high throughput chemistry at Syngenta – a discipline she credits to the advice from one of her mentors at a previous company.
“High throughput is very niche, so I was extremely lucky to get a job in it. An opportunity presented itself and I would never have gone for it if one of my mentors didn’t advise me to do it. I started at Syngenta in May 2020, and my job is essentially to make reactions better by using automation and robotics.”
Nessa has found a real fondness for working in industry but didn’t initially want to go into it following advice from academics.
When you’re in academia, you get a lot of academics who think that working in industry is a poor choice – which I definitely heard a lot of when I was a student. You’d hear people say that you get told what to work on and have no freedom with what you do. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I’ve had so much more freedom working in industry, and that’s why I want to voice that and tell others through my articles in Chemistry World. I want them to see what industry work is really like, and it’s absolutely amazing to be here.”
Nessa is a regular contributor to the Organic Matter column in Chemistry World, which she was first invited to contribute to in 2017.
“I absolutely love Chemistry World, and it has been one of my favourite magazines since I started receiving it in my last year of school, so it’s amazing to be a contributor!
“I first started writing for it when I had finished my second Master’s degree and was finding I had quite a bit of spare time. I started to think about doing some freelance writing, which was when someone at Chemistry World approached me to ask if I would like to submit an article for a new column. It was an incredible opportunity, and I never thought they would ask me to come back and write more!"
Let’s advance chemistry, together. Reach your full potential with RSC membership.
Seeking to use her membership as much as possible, Nessa goes to as many conferences as she can, and is also on the Heterocyclic and Synthesis Committee.
“I’ve met so many friends and mentors from RSC meetings. The very first Heterocyclic and Synthesis group meeting I went to resulted in a pub lunch afterwards, which was the first time I met at least two of the people that I now call friends. I also met a man that I now consider a good mentor at the very same meeting – it’s these magical things that come from attending, and that was even before I was on the committee!”
As a scientific editor for Synthetic Reaction Updates, Nessa selects the most useful papers from the month’s journals, improving her scientific knowledge and enabling her to read journals and papers she may have not seen otherwise.
“I’ve been a scientific editor since May 2020, and I think it’s a really valuable service. Synthetic Reaction Updates basically takes literature and gives you a digestible summary of what’s happened in synthetic transformations over the month. Putting it online also makes it searchable so people can look for very particular and usually quite niche transformations over however many years it has been running. It’s very useful for anyone who is performing organic chemistry, whether in industry or medicinal chemistry, or those making more specialist materials science applications.”
Being an early career chemical scientist, Nessa thinks the most valuable part of her membership is the careers support.
I have spoken to just about everyone in the Careers and Professional Development team and they really know what they’re talking about. Whenever I’m thinking about making a career decision, they are one of the first groups I turn to for advice and support.
“I’ve had a few careers consultations and submitted my CV to the Careers team to have a look at, which has been really valuable. But sometimes I’ll just call them and have a chat to sound things out. I think a lot of people forget that careers support is part of your membership, but it totally is and you can talk to the team at any time you like. When people ask me why they should join the RSC, I always tell them about the amazing career advice.”