William Peveler completed his Nuffield Research Placement in 2006 at the University of Southampton. He completed his PhD in Sept. 2015 and is currently a postdoctoral Fellow.
What was your project about?
Predicting the efficacy of drugs on African trypanosomiasis using cheminformatics. I used a computer script, developed in the group, to screen a library of compounds for how they bound to a key enzyme of the trypanosomiasis protozoa. Drugs that bound well were thought to be good potential targets for treating the disease. Once I had screened hundreds of compounds, I then analysed the data looking for trends in the molecular properties for the best candidates, to examine what made a molecule bind well, and thus what properties might new drugs need to have, to be able to fight the disease.
What was the highlight/best bit of your placement?
I learned a huge amount about working with members of a research group, and how to be independent as a scientist. Concepts such as how do you develop your own project, and how do you bounce ideas off others to further your own work. I also gained a great deal of advice on how to report and present my work in a formal scientific setting, whilst making it accessible to people who might now know so much about the ideas or techniques involved. Finally, I learned (albeit a small amount) of computer programming,which got me interested in the idea of how to use computers and statistics in science along with traditional ‘wet chemistry’ bench top experiments.
What was your least favourite part of the placement?
It was hugely hot that summer, and the office I worked in didn’t have windows that opened – I remember roasting alive for several weeks! I think I also remember getting frustrated that sometimes things went very slowly, and took a long time to complete, but I have now learned that this is often the way, and you have to develop ways of working around it!
What is your current role? If you are currently studying, what course are you doing?
I’m currently an EPSRC Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London, starting out on an independent research career. I work on nanotechnology and its application to sensing, particularly in relation to medicine and disease diagnosis. I am especially interested in how to make sensors that work by generating unique patterns or fingerprints, that can be used to diagnose disease.
Did your Nuffield Research Placement have an effect on the choices that you made after finishing school/college/university?
Definitely! It was during my placement I got a feeling that I would enjoy studying and doing science. I also got to know other academics at the University which hosted me, and they enabled me to return for summer placements during my degree. This meant I ended up with an excellent set of skills in practical chemistry, which helped me in my degree and in particular in my PhD. I was also introduced that summer to an academic who encouraged me to apply to Oxford (where I completed my undergraduate degree) in the first place, and has become a long term friend and mentor, and has provided amazing advice through the years to help me build my career.
What would your advice be to young people thinking about a career in STEM?
A STEM degree is a gateway to a whole range of good jobs. I have friends who studied chemistry and now work all over the world doing different things, from engineering, to manufacturing to finance and computing. You will learn a huge number of key skills that will enable you to go far, even if you ultimately choose not to stay in a lab after your degree.