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SSPC PhD industry placement with Reabetswe Zwane
November 22, 2021

I am a final year PhD student at Dublin City University. My PhD project is in computational chemistry, wherein I model pharmaceutical drugs. I am concerned with understanding the mechanical properties of pharmaceutical solid forms, as they have major implications on drug processes and development. Poor mechanical properties of a drug can lead to issues with instability, formulation, solubility of the drug.

For my industry placement, I was placed at Applied Process Company (APC) in Cherrywood, Dublin. I was put with the innovation team (Research & Development) in the particle engineering stream and my objective was to help streamline and establish workflows for some of their computational work. In that way, the work I did at APC did not veer too far off from my PhD project in that, it was still modelling pharmaceutical solid forms.

I got to work on a project that was naturally going to be the next part of my PhD project. In that way, I learnt something new. I also had the opportunity to be in a wet chemistry lab after five years of being in computational chemistry. That allowed me to not only learn new experimental techniques and refresh old ones, but to also have a different perspective as a mature research student.

APC is neatly positioned as a research and industry hub, so in some little ways, it is similar to the PhD environment, but the pace, organization and the dynamic is different. The workload is similar, or arguably even less, to a well time managed PhD project but the organization and strategic thinking is quite different. In the innovation team, you work with a project manager for all project logistics, a research team lead, and you often liaise with commercialization scientists, to realize research projects beyond the theory and research. This is different from a PhD project, where you can easily take up the role of a project manager and team lead to some extent. APC’s selling point is accelerating the development of medicine from bench to the market, and therefore the strategic thinking behind methods is quite different from the nature of my PhD project. In my work at APC, I had to start thinking about the play-off between time, cost and capacity.

I got to learn how what I am doing in my PhD applies in the pharmaceutical industry beyond theory and research. One thing I have learnt about myself is that that I prefer to work in a team versus alone, as in a PhD. I have always been geared towards industry over academia, and the placement affirmed that even more and it highlighted that I would like to be research-adjacent in industry, such as being part of a research and development team, that liaises with commercialization teams.

An industry placement is not only an opportunity to sharpen and develop new skills (both technical and soft skills) but it is also a testing ground to see if a job in industry is for you. It is a good place to get workplace experience and cultivate confidence outside of a school/university environment. In addition to acquiring experience and skills, a placement is an opportunity to showcase your hard and soft skills as a potential future employer.

SSPC’s Industry Placement Programme emphasis is to train the next generation of highly skilled industry-relevant researchers to spearhead a new phase in the evolution of Ireland’s pharmaceutical sector and brings students into the industrial environment for a three-month placement aligned with their research area.

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