- Course: BSc Biochemistry and PhD Molecular Biology
Matt studied at Leeds for a BSc in Biochemistry from 1983 to 1986, before undertaking a PhD in Molecular Biology supervised by Professor John Findlay. Matt now works as a Clinical Research Director for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Why did you choose to come to Leeds University to study your course?
A combination of a good course, at a good university with a vibrant live music scene. I came from a small West Yorkshire village and wanted to study at a big city university.
What were the highlights of the course?
My 3rd year lab project. I enjoyed the practical aspect of the project so much that I decided to continue my studies for a PhD in molecular biology. I ended up staying at Leeds by accident as my first choice PhD offer (at Imperial College) fell through at the last minute, however it all worked out perfectly!
What were your greatest challenges throughout your degree course?
Keeping up with my course work while working on Leeds University Union Ents stage crew. I was Ents stage manager in my final year!
Did staff support help you throughout your time at university? If so, how?
Yes, I felt well supported. They were there to answer questions and provide their expertise.
Did you undertake a placement or study abroad year? We would love to hear about it
Between my 2nd and 3rd year I worked for 8 weeks in a lab over the summer at Middlesex Hospital Medical School in London. This was a placement awarded through the Faculty.
What have you been doing since finishing your studies? What are you doing in terms of your career?
I went on to complete a PhD in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Leeds, graduating in 1991. This was followed by a 2-year visiting fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, USA.
I quickly realised that I was not interested in a career in academia. However, I really enjoyed the practical side of research, taking a problem and working through solutions, so I moved into industry, starting at a pharmaceuticals company in Cambridge. I worked in early stage drug discovery, mostly in assay development – constructing recombinant cell lines. Over time I became more interested in the analysis side of things and retrained in bioinformatics; learning simple database skills and Perl scripting. I joined GSK as a bioinformatics analyst in 2001, progressing to a Director in the department.
In 2012 I took 6 months out of my job to work on GSK’s employee volunteering programme: PULSE. I spent 6 months in Western Kenya as a volunteer with a local NGO, using my professional skills to help build capacity and improve access to HIV prevention, care and treatment for patients in rural HIV clinics. I am still at GSK but now work in the R&D Global Health group – working in partnership with academic researchers in Africa to better understand non-communicable diseases in African patients.
What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve? If you are undertaking further study, what are you studying and what do hope to use this in your career?
I work as a Clinical Research Director for GSK in Pharmaceuticals Reasearch and Development (R&D).
My role is very untypical for pharma R&D as I don’t work in a traditional drug discovery or drug development role. I work in a group called the Global Health Catalyst. This R&D unit supports much needed research into the global health needs for the developing world. My current area of focus is supporting research into non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa. We are collaborating with funders, researchers and academic groups to share expertise and resources to conduct research in Africa aimed at increasing scientific understanding of the unique attributes of NCDs in African patients. I act as the GSK lead contact for several projects looking at NCDs such as severe asthma, COPD, heart disease and chronic kidney disease.
In the summer of 2017 I completed training on GSK's professional coaching course. I work with clients at GSK who are interested to use a coaching approach that may be beneficial for their personal development. I do this on top of my day job.
Which experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career/will help with your future career? (How did your degree benefit your career?)
My studies at Leeds provided essential training for a career in scientific research. I did not have a career plan when I went to Leeds and my career path has been fairly “organic” as I have followed the things that have interested me and taken opportunities that came my way. I was fascinated by the molecular biology aspects in my degree course; the role of genes and the mechanisms that encode and control biology. I also enjoyed problem solving and getting involved in the practical aspects of research.
Have you got any advice you can offer to current and prospective students?
Follow your passions, do what interests you, and think about what careers that align with your core values. Also, be prepared to take a few risks. Be prepared to network, it’s a great way to learn about different careers, these connections can lead to opportunities.