My project is about developing a continuous manufacturing platform for pharmaceuticals at a small or microfluidic scale. There are many steps involved in a pharmaceutical manufacturing process and this industry is the only one left that is still using batch processing. This is slow, inefficient and requires large amounts of toxic solvents, which then cannot be recycled due to strict regulations surrounding the pharmaceutical industry. Therefore, especially in times of crisis such as the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus, the need for efficient pharmaceutical production is urgent.
Making pharmaceutical processing continuous would make medicine available to a larger part of the population and would make remote regions in the world more prepared for times of crisis. My work right now focuses on crystallization of pharmaceutical ingredients on a microfluidic scale for the improvement of crystal production, shape and flowability.
I did an integrated master’s degree in chemical engineering at Loughborough University before starting my PhD.
During the third year of my master's, I had the opportunity to do a 6-month research project at INSA Toulouse, France, where I was introduced into the world of research and mainly microfluidics and bioengineering. I was able to investigate the effects of microchannel geometry on nanoparticle and bacteria phenomenon of spontaneous focusing inside microchannels, and the properties of flow within microchannels. This inspired me to investigate PhD opportunities in this area and it so happened that my department was offering a few projects connecting microfluidics and pharmaceuticals, which made this the best option available. Although I may have been more interested in bioengineering and processing, pharmaceuticals are closely related and are still one of my areas of interest.
I was looking at various PhD programmes, with a preference in projects in France, however, not all PhD projects are funded. I struggled to find one closely related to my interests in other countries, and Loughborough ticked both boxes for funding and my interests, therefore it was the best option available.
My main lab is located in S Building, home to the Chemical Engineering department. I work across a couple of labs within the building, have access to a 3D printer and different types of microscopes located in the lab. Some of my work also involves using the Loughborough Materials Characterisation Centre’s equipment such as the SEM (scanning electron microscope), TEM (transmission electron microscope) or XRD (X-ray diffraction). I also do some 3D printing, so I can always ask for help from any of the technicians working in Wolfson in additive manufacturing.
A PhD is an opportunity to learn lots of new things. Mostly, I’ve gotten to know myself and the way I work in the most efficient manner. I’ve learned how to be more assertive and not be afraid to ask for help when I need it. I’ve learned that I work best in an inclusive environment, surrounded by people equally as passionate about research as I am. Working hours can be quite flexible; you are in charge of your time, so you have to make sure you organise yourself to achieve the highest potential. I also had some teaching opportunities, so I learned a lot about how to approach students and teach them new concepts.
Loughborough has so many things to offer. Apart from the high-quality laboratory facilities and friendly staff that I need for the progress of my PhD, there are lots of extracurricular activities that you may get involved in as a PhD student. There are a tonne of sports and societies to fit every person's interest. I’ve been in the orchestra society, LSU Classical, for most of my time at Loughborough, and it is where I’ve made lots of new friends. There are lots of one-off events always going on, and opportunities for PhD students to showcase their research, which is something I hope to get involved in once I obtain some substantial results.
During my undergraduate, I was part of the LSU Classical society, which is a student-led orchestra. I was on the committee as Media Rep and helped organise one of the biggest events on campus, our annual concert, which sold out with over 150 people in the audience. I continued playing with the orchestra during my PhD as lead violinist, however, our concert in 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19. I hope to resume attending rehearsals when we can meet together again as it is great fun with lots of friendly people.
I have not yet taken part in any student-led seminars as I am currently in my second year of PhD, but I hope to do so when I am in my third year and I will have more data collected to be able to present some results and analysis from my findings.
The good thing about a PhD is that you can adjust the work to your routine. I am not a morning person, but I am alright with staying a bit later to finish off some work. In the morning, I usually come to my office and prepare my plan for the week. I then go to the lab and run a couple of experiments, and then after I’ve finished, I clean up my area in the lab, and save my results for analysis. I analyse different crystal shapes and sizes, so a lot of my work is to go through hundreds of pictures in ImageJ and find the size distribution of my samples. In the evenings, I try to do an activity unrelated to work, this can be going for a walk with a friend, or doing some yoga or going climbing to release some stress. As a PhD student, it is important that you have a work-life balance, as you can get easily overwhelmed and burned out.
There are various sources of support as a PhD student, your supervisor being the main one, guiding you along the process of the project. In the labs, lab technicians have been crucial in helping me set up my rig and training me in using various types of analysing units. Outside of the department, there are other services available, such as the student support services that deal with anything related to wellbeing or financial troubles. PhD students are also supported by the Doctoral College which offers a link between the main offices and the Students' Union. We also have a social group organised by PhD students from different departments that organise events to bring PhD students together, called the PhD Student Support Network (PhDSSN), which is full of friendly faces.
Choosing your supervisor is almost as important as choosing your topic. Make sure to meet in person with your supervisor and check if you get along with them. See how passionate they are about the research. See that you can communicate clearly with them and that your expectations are in line with theirs. When you are a PhD student, you’re partners in research, so it is a different dynamic than between lecturer and student.
My dream would be to work in a cosmetics, bioengineering or pharmaceuticals manufacturing company where the process is flexible enough to implement changes and improvement for production. I am also quite interested in the composition and formulation of cosmetic products, which my PhD slightly touches on. My PhD is focused on pharmaceuticals, but microfluidic and flow processing can be applied to almost any industry, which I believe will help me in having an understanding that can be applied to different products.
I could see myself possibly working in a French company that manufactures cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, ideally using microfluidic techniques. Since I lived in France before and it is the central hub for microfluidics research, I would really like to continue my career there. If not, my options are open to anywhere in Europe or even outside of it, as I speak four languages, the location should not limit where I go.
My first proudest moment was during my research project in France during my undergraduate, where, by the end of it, my supervisor invited me to present at a conference with other PhD students in the INSA laboratories, and I was able to present my research to other researchers in French. It was one of those moments where I felt like I was part of a research community and it is what inspired me to pursue a PhD after my degree. Now, during my PhD, I have been able to teach other students and demonstrate in labs, as well as participate in the University open days to invite and inspire new students. During my PhD, I still hope to be able to participate in conferences and share my research, however due to the pandemic, my progress has been slowed down a bit. Hopefully, I can catch up in the next year and I am looking forward to new opportunities opening after my PhD.