Returning to Scotland: the best of both worlds

Published: 19 May 2022

Mark Grafton’s interest in chemistry was ignited at an early age when he was at school, leading him to follow a path in chemistry: from studying in Scotland to working in England, before returning back to Scotland where he now works in the chemistry team at BioAscent, this blog tells Mark’s career journey to date, and shares his views on living and working in Scotland.

Mark’s undergraduate degree at the University of Strathclyde included a placement year in industry, which he carried out at Pfizer in Sandwich. It was during his placement, that he realised that after his studies, he wanted to take the route into industry rather than academia.

Mark completed his final year in 2010, and then decided to move to the University of Glasgow to complete his PhD within Andrew Sutherland’s group. His PhD on New One-Pot Multi-Reaction Processes for the Synthesis of Highly Functionalised Carbocycles and Heterocycles was completed at the end of 2014, after which he spent a bit of time looking for the right job in industry.

He secured a position at Peakdale Molecular (which became Concept Life Sciences and then Malvern Panalytical) where he worked for five and a half years as a Chemist and Senior Chemist. Whilst there, Mark worked on a wide range of projects from small scale to large scale chemistry, mostly looking at small molecules for pharma companies. 

“I really enjoyed working on the small-scale chemistry, making small molecules – this was an area I found very interesting.” Mark reflects. “I gained a lot of experience at Peakdale. However, my plan was always to come back to Scotland, and the onset of the pandemic accelerated my decision to move back.”

Mark spotted an advert for chemists at BioAscent, and was interested in working for a growing, integrated drug discovery CRO.

“Going through the recruitment process in the middle of a pandemic was strange as all interviews were carried out completely via Zoom calls, and I hadn’t had the chance to visit the site. But Angus, Phil and the team sparked the excitement for me, and I was attracted to the opportunity to work for a CRO that is really going somewhere – I wanted to be part of that.” Mark recalls. 

Mark moved back to Scotland in November 2020 and joined BioAscent as Senior Scientist.

Originally from Scotland, Mark was happy to be back near family and friends. “Scotland has so much to offer. I am a keen golfer and get to play some of the world’s best courses. I also enjoy football and there are some fantastic teams to support in Scotland, with plenty of healthy rivalry of course! Living and working in Scotland offers the best of both worlds. I have huge opportunities and very rewarding work at BioAscent, and then at the weekends can enjoy the beautiful countryside – Loch Lomond, the coastline or the Highlands - all essentially on my doorstep.” 

At BioAscent, Mark’s role gives him access to a variety of different projects where he is involved in carrying out the chemistry. With some projects at BioAscent, there is a lot of interaction with compound management who take the compounds from the chemists, plate them and pass them on to biology for screening. “It is great to have the opportunity to see the results coming back and to be able to input into the drug design of the potential candidate. This was something that really attracted me to the job as in previous roles, the compounds were sent out for testing, so I rarely saw the results.”

Mark takes advantage of the opportunities presented to him at BioAscent, from mentoring new starters, to benefitting from the increased training options available. BioAscent’s focus on personal objectives has allowed Mark to develop in certain areas of interest to him, including becoming a superuser of certain pieces of equipment in the labs.

“There are loads of opportunities at BioAscent, particularly as we grow as a company. I enjoy the chance to try out new technologies – photochemistry, flow chemistry, and electrochemistry. At BioAscent we have the autonomy to design and plan our own syntheses towards novel compounds for the customer. We also get the opportunity to interact with the customer which I enjoy. It’s really satisfying to make a compound, see the screening data and know we are making a positive impact on a customer’s project.”

“I see BioAscent as a long-term career move for me. The company is growing, and I am involved in interesting projects, with a wide variety of chemistry, whilst working with a really friendly team of people in a great atmosphere,” concludes Mark.

To find out more about BioAscent as a place to develop your career, as well as details of our current vacancies, visit our careers page.

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