Winner: 2022 Chemical Sciences Apprentice of the Year
For outstanding contributions to medicinal chemistry programmes and to inclusion and diversity at GSK.
Celebrate Abby Whitnall
Abby’s role in Medicinal Chemistry at GSK lies within the discovery sector and is focused on the early stages of the drug discovery process. Key aspects of her role include helping to identify small molecules that are active against the disease target and advancing these small molecules by seeking to improve their affinity at the target and optimising their physiochemical properties. The aim is that these small molecules could then be developed into medicines for patients.Read winner biography
Abby joined GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as a medicinal chemistry apprentice in September 2016. She studied part-time as a distance learner at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) between 2016 and 2019 to obtain a distinction in her FdSc degree in chemical science, and completed her Level 5 apprenticeship. Abby continued her education through a Level 6 apprenticeship and, in 2021, she was awarded a 1st class honours degree (90%) in chemical science from MMU. Abby was also awarded the RSC Manchester and District Local Section Prize "For the most outstanding chemical science apprentice graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2021".
Since starting at GSK, Abby has spent a significant part of her career on early stage programmes, working as part of multidisciplinary teams enabling progression of the Lead Discovery portfolio. Abby also contributed to the development of a new technology platform and undertook a secondment into a Lead Optimisation team to develop her late stage drug discovery knowledge.
Outside of her scientific contributions, Abby has been a key member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) team within the Medicinal Chemistry department. She has driven STEM outreach initiatives and is passionate about improving social mobility within the chemical sector. Abby is a trained Inclusion Dialogue Facilitator and has used this skill to facilitate workshops and provide mentorship for senior leaders through a Diverse Reverse Mentoring scheme. Recently, she has taken on the role of Lead for the DE&I UK team.
Since July 2021, Abby has been working full-time at GSK as an Associate Scientist within Lead Discovery, Medicinal Chemistry.
Who or what has inspired you?
My managers, mentors and colleagues have inspired me all throughout my career and continue to do so. In particular, the female leaders I’ve worked with inspire me to challenge myself and have higher aspirations for my career.
What motivates you?
I enjoy the different challenges I’m faced with every day and the problem solving nature of my scientific role is engaging. I’m also able to invest my energy into making the chemical sciences a more inclusive environment. The positive changes that can result from the work I contribute to in both science and inclusivity makes the work fulfilling.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
Where possible, connect with individuals within industry/academia and talk to them about their experiences. There are many different routes into the chemical sector so spend some time finding out what way you think would best suit you.
All forms of work experience will help you in deciding how to shape your career. However, work experience for those looking at chemistry apprenticeships is beneficial but not essential. Not having any experience shouldn’t be a barrier to applying for chemistry apprenticeships – I started my apprenticeship at GSK with only my AS-Level chemistry practical experience.
What has been a highlight for you (either personally or in your career)?
When the COVID-19 vaccination rollout started, I was able to volunteer at a mass vaccination centre through my employer. I provided general operational support to the centre and although it was very small, playing a part in the delivery of the vaccine to patients is something I’m really proud of.