But his journey as a chemist began long before he joined the RSC - it was during his childhood that his love for the subject was born.
With his sights set on studying chemistry, Thomas applied and was accepted on to a course at Glasgow University, where he had his first taste of the worlds of research and industry, and his first contact with the RSC.
“I joined the RSC during my first year of university because of the travel grants mainly! If you wanted to travel down south for a conference, you could apply to the RSC for money towards the cost of the train. For some research groups these grants were make or break as to whether they could go or not. I applied for a few small grants and was lucky enough to get them, which was great!
At that time I also attended local RSC mixer events and seminars, with the principal aim of meeting like-minded chemists and building a bigger network. For me, this is the biggest benefit of being a member. At RSC events everyone is very friendly. You can turn up there without knowing a single person and all of a sudden it’s like you’ve known the people there for ages! The RSC is about being part of the community. It’s different from other organisations, it’s almost like a family.
During his degree, Thomas completed an industrial placement at a company in nearby Grangemouth. It was his first experience of larger scale laboratories doing applied science rather than straight research, which sparked his interest.
Let’s advance chemistry, together. Reach your full potential with RSC membership.
“I then stayed on at Glasgow to do my PhD, but the research was quite abstract and it was difficult to see where it would apply, which didn’t appeal. When I moved on to the University of Strathclyde to do postdoctoral work, I started to realise that maybe research wasn’t really for me.
“The organisation I was working for at Strathclyde was an international hub for manufacturing research and training called CMAC, which had only recently been set up. Its aim was (and still is!) to improve the way that pharmaceuticals are manufactured – the real world benefits are obvious, which motivated me.
“I think being there from the start, I was naturally drawn into the operations side of things. It was a great opportunity for me, as I was looking to do something different. Now my main job is to keep the eight research labs running smoothly, with high standards of health and safety.”
It was when Thomas moved to the University of Strathclyde that he became even more involved in RSC activities, allowing him to further develop his career skills and increase his professional network.
I got involved in the Early Career Network and was elected to the position of early career representative. In this role the RSC sent me to loads of places — America, Romania, Portugal etc. All of a sudden, I was meeting chemists from all over the world. It was fantastic!
“We ended up organising our own Early Career Network meeting back at Strathclyde, using the community that we had built up through the network. The event was attended by a broad range of people from all over the UK and beyond, from research and industry. It’s so valuable to have a forum to talk to these folk and find out how they have overcome challenges around research and funding. By speaking to new people you gain different perspectives and insights.
"I learned so much from the experience of organising the event - it was great to put in my CV and use it as evidence for appraisals. That really helped me to progress career-wise, as it became quite a big event and we had high-profile speakers. We were actually recognised at the RSC’s Inspirational Member and Committee Awards and got to go to the ceremony in Belfast, which was a great experience.”
Most recently, Thomas has been granted the RSC Technical Skills Development Grant Award, which was launched to support technicians working in all sectors to undertake short visits to organisations overseas or within their current country of residence, with the aim of developing skills to support their career progression.
The RSC does so much, when you look at it — publishing, funding, events - it’s so broad, there’s always something to get involved with. I’ve become a bit of an advocate for the RSC, making our PhD students join if they haven't already – I’ve completed a lot of references so far!
"I’m so pleased I got the grant, it was such a surprise! I found out about the scheme at the perfect time as I was in the process of looking for larger organisations, in the US particularly, to learn about their laboratory and plant/manufacturing procedures — especially handling hazardous materials and higher quantities of materials. I’m really interested in digital strategies too. The aim is to bring back ideas in order to constantly improve the culture of safety and advanced manufacturing approaches here at the university labs.”
As well as looking to others for inspiration in his field, Thomas is keen to share his knowledge too. In his spare time he enjoys writing articles for Chemistry World and RSC News on subjects such as lab digitalisation.
“I recommend it because I’ve been able to use my membership to genuine positive effect throughout my career. Making contacts and getting involved at events has been critical to achieving my current position. From help with soft skills to professional networking and broadening your horizons, the RSC is there to support you.”