Chemistry gave me a direction when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. It’s now formed the basis of my life, it’s what I do every single day.

I’m Tilly, I’m an analytical chemist and I work for Owlstone Medical in Cambridge. Our vision is to save 100,000 lives and 1.5 billion dollars in healthcare costs. I work for the breath biopsy test team. You have molecules floating around your body, in your blood. They come out in your breath and we detect what they are and where we think they came from. We relate this to infectious disease, cancers and asthma.

Salary range and qualifications required 

  • Minimum qualification for role: Undergraduate science degree. A master’s degree or PhD can help with entry into more advanced analytical or research roles. 
  • Starting salary range: £19,000–£25,000 (dependent on experience, qualifications and location).

I spend a lot of time in the lab, which I really enjoy. I come in early and check the instrument that we’re going to be running our patient samples on. I need to make sure that its fit for purpose for what we need throughout the day. I then meet with my team about what’s going on, what tests we need to run and how each project is going. In the afternoon I setup sequences that include all our patient samples. Then I process this data and look at the results.

Problem solving is a big part of my job. We get old problems that we know all about, new problems that we’ve never seen before and some that are completely baffling which require a whole team to look at. I really enjoy this part of my job, it’s a challenge and it makes every day different.

While I was at school I didn’t actually pick chemistry as an A-level. I was encouraged to do it by one of my teachers. I was quite reluctant but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I ended up really enjoying it and it was my favourite subject at A-level so I picked it to go to university. At university I studied lots of different types of chemistry. I gravitated towards analytical chemistry which is related to what we do here at Owlstone. That’s how I came from my masters to the company here.

I am very proud to be a chemist. When people ask me what I do for my job and I tell them that we’re working towards the diagnosis of diseases like asthma and cancer they all say “wow” because they can tell that it’s such a world-changing thing to be involved in.

Want to know more?

  • Find out about work placements or experience opportunities and speak to your school career adviser or science/chemistry teacher.
  • Check out our YouTube channel for chemistry experiments you can do at home.
  • Attend virtual or in-person science events, fairs and talks to find out more about chemistry.
  • Read or sign up for science magazines such Chemistry World or New Scientist to find out more about science and jobs in science.

First published 2020