ANTHONY STARKEY IBIOIC MSC STUDENT 2016/17

“I wouldn’t hesitate in giving a strong recommendation to take part in the MSc programme for any ambitious bioscientist looking to get their foot in the door and acquire strong links within the biotech industry."

The MSc in Industrial Biotechnology is an unique collaborative twelve month educational programme, with teaching spread across a number of Scottish HEI’s. It also offers students valuable exposure to and experience in an industrial environment.

Anthony Starkey, an IBioIC MSc student in 2016/2017, talks about his experience with his industrial placement in the summer of 2017:

"I spent just a little over 10 weeks across the summer of 2017 contributing towards IBioIC-funded research for UoE start-up company Carbogenics. They are an upcoming biotech organisation which has strong ambitions to use Biochar (a C-based porous substance manufactured via pyrolysis of various organic feedstocks) to support Anaerobic Digestion (AD) sites by reducing process costs whilst also enhancing biogas yields and reducing the Carbon footprint. I was naturally drawn towards the project due to its promotion of renewable green technology, microbiological/biochemical-centred research, and also to have the opportunity to gain additional experience in Chemical Engineering and Business Management; both of which were key areas within the biotech industry which my past studies had not explored.

I had two primary supervisors during the project; Dr Jan Mumme (CEO of Carbogenics) and Dr Andrew Free (Senior Lecturer at UoE). The former gave me an insight into the running and management of a start-up, highlighting the key challenges facing new and emerging biotech firms in the current regulatory climate as well as letting me accompany him on company-related visits and meetings with potential clients in the AD industry to promote the brand, in addition to listening and taking note of the comments and advice received by experts in the field. The latter supervisor used his expertise to provide academic support throughout the duration of my project by aiding in experimental design, explaining AD concepts at the micro level to aid with the investigation and giving me direction when encountering research obstacles in the lab or when confused by an inconsistent dataset.

My research culminated in the completion of a 15,000 word thesis which provided the start-up with interesting data surrounding potential biochar feedstocks untested at the large scale which could be used as a raw material in the pyrolysis process. I also presented my findings to my MSc peers and examiners, and later gave a similar presentation to industrial experts at a small conference in Glasgow.

I am pleased to say that thanks to the wonderful experience and support from my colleagues in Edinburgh during my placement, I was able to pass my MSc with distinction. Shortly after graduating in November, I received a job offer for a diagnostics company based near Stirling as a Development Scientist where I currently remain and enjoy my new role in the industry. Despite moving away from Edinburgh and having taken a different research direction from AD, I still retain contact with Jan from time to time and I also visit the friends and colleagues I made during my time at the University.

I think it goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with Carbogenics & the University of Edinburgh, and I wouldn’t hesitate in giving a strong recommendation to take part in the MSc programme for any ambitious bioscientist looking to get their foot in the door and acquire strong links within the biotech industry. It reinforced my knowledge in independently designing experiments based on previously acquired data, troubleshooting when experiments failed to work and in constructing a dissertation which offers the necessary detail the reader needs to reproduce the work, understand the testing which was carried out and why testing was done in the first place, and what the data means for future work in that area. Furthermore, I gained technical skills in qPCR, handling of anaerobic microbes, various biochemical testing and statistics, in addition to further developing the soft skills such as time management, communicating findings to senior management / colleagues and close attention to detail; all of which are equally as important as the technical skillset in industry."

- Anthony Starkey, 2016-2017 MSc Student