Meet the Scientist

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Lauren Nelson

Medicinal and Computational Chemistry PhD at Newcastle University

What scientific field do you study?

Medicinal and computational chemistry in drug design

"...I still have a few Easter eggs left..."

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Could you briefly explain what your degrees have involved?

My undergraduate and postgraduate degrees have focused on the application of chemistry in drug discovery. I learnt about the interface between biology and chemistry and how drugs can be designed to be more targeted, performing with greater accuracy. Now I apply my degrees to designing drugs computationally.

Do you have any secret talents?

I played the saxophone when I was younger and learnt a technique called “slap tonguing” where you hit the reed with your tongue to make a sharp sound. A weird side-effect of this is that I can now make an incredibly loud noise with my tongue. It sounds a bit like the noise made when you hit a wooden block in percussion.

When did you decide you wanted to work as a scientist?

I’ve known since I was 11 that I wanted to be a research chemist, although I’m not sure I really knew what it meant then. I always enjoyed science in school, and knew it was what I wanted to do when I was older.

"...we would go out with the sports teams... or just with friends."


What's your favourite food?

My favourite food has always been, and will always be, chocolate. My love of chocolate is well known and as a result, I got so much chocolate at Easter, that I still have a few Easter eggs left 5 months later!

What educational pathway did you take to get to where you are now?

I did Maths, Chemistry and Biology for my A Levels and didn’t get the grades for pharmacy (which was the route I wanted to take originally into research). However, I went through the clearing process and studied a degree in Chemistry for Drug Discovery at the University of Bradford, gaining a 1st Class hons in my BSc/MChem. I did an industrial placement during my MChem year and found I needed more experience to do a PhD. I then studied an MSc at the University of Leeds in Chemical Biology and Drug Design, gaining a Distinction. I finally started my Chemistry PhD at Newcastle University in Sept 2017, working with Dr Daniel Cole and the Northern Institute for Cancer Research.

"I like to sketch when I have any free time... to completely disconnect from stress, work, etc."


What's your favourite movie quote?

I’m a big Harry Potter fan and therefore pretty much anything that Dumbledore says seems profound. I particularly like “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.

What was the best thing about your degree?

The best thing about my undergraduate degree was the interdisciplinary approach we were taught. The lecturers demonstrated various ways in which chemistry could be applied over numerous areas, providing both practical and applied skills. I think it is important to know how the sciences work together and not keep them separate.

What was the worst thing about your degree?

During my undergraduate degree, student night was always on a Wednesday, this is when we would go out with the sports teams we played with or just with friends. However, in our second year, labs were timetabled all day on Thursdays. There is quite a lot of preparation work that needs to be done before you can work in the labs each week, and as a result I never went out on a Wednesday in my second year, a decision I hugely regret. It is most definitely all about balance!

If you could take one thing with you to an island, what would it be and why?

I’d take my partner because he would keep me sane. Although, if I could only take a possession it would be my sketch pads and pencils. I like to sketch when I have any free time, I find it a good way to completely disconnect from stress, work, etc. Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of sights to sketch on an island.

Have you taken part in any research?

Through my degree and into my PhD I have had a few research projects but I am currently working alongside the Northern Institute for Cancer Research (NICR). Most of the projects I have taken part in were only brief so an opportunity to work with the NICR is amazing. I will be able to follow my work and this research over the course of my PhD.

"I'm a big Harry Potter fan..."

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Would you recommend your course to others who are interested?

Most definitely. Computational chemistry is still relatively new to the university platform, but it’s the next big thing in research. Everything is being automated and as a result, students should embrace the opportunity to learn coding and computational programmes in STEM degrees.

Lauren also runs her own science blog, which we absolutely love! We definitely recommend checking it out. Don't forget to follow the blog so you don't miss a new post!

Ask Lauren a question

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