Cristina tells us about her secondment at Molecular Dimensions

Screenshot 2018-11-20 at 15.26.47– What is the purpose of this secondment?

As part of my PhD project I had the chance to spend two months at Molecular Dimensions Ltd (MDL) in Newmarket, Suffolk, UK.

This secondment had the purpose of developing a new product that could be useful in my and the other ESRs research projects. I found interesting and exciting to work on an idea with the perspective of make it take shape and become real.

Furthermore, I had always been on the customers’ side, buying and using MDL products, whereas for two months I had to change my perspective and put myself in the supplier’s shoes. This helped me consider the different and most practical aspects of the implementation of an idea and think about many details, such as: the most suitable materials, the most convenient solution for shipment, what could be improved to make the product as straightforward and useful as possible.

Moreover, I had always been a stranger to marketing and finances, but I had to learn how to effectively take them into account in the development of a project.

– What added value(s) do you think this secondment will bring to your PhD?

I guess it is always good to learn new skills, not only in a different laboratory but in a very different working environment. Working in industry is usually quite different than academia, so it is good to change perspective, widen your horizon and get a taste of it. Seeing how the products that I use in my PhD project are manufactured was not only interesting, but also instructive.

Moreover, I had the chance to be in charge of managing every single step of the product development, from the theory to practice, from deciding the different materials and costing them to arranging product development meetings with collaborators from different countries (and continents!) and planning a “field trip” to perform the procedure.

Networking, working with collaborators, project management and problem solving are all essential skills for a researcher, so the more opportunities we have to practice them, the better!

– What do you miss most from your home institute/city?

Well, of course I missed London and Imperial College because I missed my friends, my colleagues and all the opportunities London gives.

During this secondment, I spent a lot of time doing office work, which is quite a big change from what I was used to. I guess wearing my lab coat, gloves and goggles and “playing” around with solutions and experiments are among the things I missed most.

To be honest, I found many friendly and very welcoming colleagues at Molecular Dimensions, this definitely helped me feel less “home sick” and they even planned an awesome surprise party to say goodbye at the end of my time there.

– How is the city you’re staying in? What would you recommend to anyone visiting?

Molecular Dimensions is in Newmarket, a small town in Suffolk, close to Cambridge. It is famous for hosting quite a few horseracing events throughout the year.

Apparently, horseracing in Newmarket dates back to the 1500s and 1600s, at the time of King James I and King Charles II of England, and nowadays you can take advantage of it to wear fancy dresses/suits, hats and fascinators and experience an authentic British atmosphere.

The area is very green and quiet and I decided to start riding a bicycle again after few years. Should you like exploring the surroundings a bit, Cambridge is a very lovely city and it is very close, reachable by regular trains that take 20 minutes only. I really recommend a visit!

– Would you prefer to spend more or less time in your secondment as to the research work you are doing/ had to do? 

2 months were long enough to work on the preliminary step of the project and test the preliminary procedure, but it is definitely too short a time to carry on the development of the final product, that should be taken over. However, the purpose of the secondment was to start the project and learn how to do it in an industrial environment, so it can be considered a success.

– If it was possible, would you like to go back? If yes, how long? What for?

The aim was to start this project, that is actually ongoing and it will still take time and a lot of collaboration to be developed. I don’t think would be necessary for me to go back just because I reckon we will keep in touch even though we are in different locations. If I got it right, I think that this recent secondment can be considered an “ongoing” one.