Davina Stevenson enjoys a career where people's lives and vast sums of money are at stake , reports Yfke Hager.
Davina Stevenson enjoys a career where people’s lives and vast sums of money are at stake , reports Yfke Hager.
As an undergraduate, Davina Stevenson recognised the importance of work experience. ’I chose a Masters in chemistry at Strathclyde University, UK, because you get to do an industrial placement for the fourth year of the course, which gives you hands-on training,’ she explains. Her experience as an industrial trainee in medicinal chemistry at Glaxo Wellcome R&D in Stevenage, UK, was a positive one. ’Even though you’re still an undergraduate, you’re not job shadowing,’ she says. ’You’re treated as a full member of the team and are responsible for your own projects.’ Since she enjoyed doing research, she decided to do a PhD at Strathclyde. However, some networking at Glaxo caused a change in plans. Her colleagues knew that she was considering further study and urged her to consider her options. ’They told me to take a look around Cambridge, UK, before making up my mind.’
Stevenson met up with several group leaders in the chemistry department at the University of Cambridge and was delighted when Ian Paterson offered her a position as a PhD student. She enjoyed her PhD, and puts this down to the fact that ’there was a nice group environment in our lab, but on top of that Cambridge offers so much to do outside the lab.’ During her PhD, Stevenson became a local younger members representative for the RSC, which involved organising symposia at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge for UK-based chemistry postgraduate students. She also attended a BioBusiness course at Babraham, which showed her that ’there are satisfying careers in science outside academia.’
These activities helped Stevenson decide that she did not want to pursue an academic career. ’In the second year of my PhD I decided that I did not want to spend the rest of my life in the lab, but I did want a career that allowed me to use my science background,’ she says.
Change of address
Stevenson gained a clearer idea of what she did want to do after attending a media careers festival in Cambridge. She got involved with The Naked Scientists, a radio show presented by local scientists, and wrote science articles for their website. Her interest in science communication aroused, she applied for jobs that involved writing about science, including medical writing, patent work and jobs at journals.
But once again networking led to a shift in Stevenson’s career plans. She had kept in touch with colleagues from her placement at Glaxo, and realised that ’a few of them had jobs in regulatory affairs and seemed very happy.’ Through one of her ex-colleagues, Stevenson got in touch with Merck Generics, and was offered a job in International Regulatory Affairs. She had not yet completed writing up her PhD thesis, but Merck was happy for her to do this while working for them. ’They were very flexible and gave me time off to complete writing up and for my viva.’
While it wasn’t easy juggling a full-time post and writing up her PhD, Stevenson loved her job from the start. ’I enjoyed the diversity and the international aspects of the job, dealing with different generic drugs and working on projects for different countries,’ she says. ’The work was always varied; no two days were the same.’ She soon learned that to succeed in regulatory affairs you need people skills, time management skills and close attention to detail - all of which she picked up during her PhD. ’In this job you have to work closely with people in many different departments: clinical, biometrics, suppliers and so on,’ she says. ’And you’ve got to be good at time management; you have to meet tight deadlines or risk losing drug licences. The pressure is on because there are people’s lives and also vast amounts of money at stake.’
Staying close to home
Work-life balance has always been important to Stevenson, and commuting from Cambridge to Merck in Potters Bar left little time for pursuits outside work. So she sought a new challenge closer to home, and in November last year she accepted an international regulatory affairs position at Napp Pharmaceutical Research in Cambridge. She was attracted by the company’s good reputation in a specialised therapeutic area and the friendly team. Stevenson chose to stay in regulatory affairs because ’it gives me the scope to move into a number of different areas, like pharmacovigilance and pharmaceutics.’
Stevenson believes that a chemistry background is extremely valuable for a career in regulatory affairs. ’It makes it easier to write up the parts of dossiers dealing with chemistry, and it also helps when it comes to understanding manufacturing aspects,’ she says. ’And if someone from our lab phones me with an issue, I may not be an expert but at least I understand what they’re talking about.’
Regulatory affairs officer, Napp Pharmaceutical Research
Regulatory officer - Marketed Drugs, Merck Generics
Industrial trainee, Medicinal Chemistry, Glaxo Wellcome R&D
2001 MSci Chemistry, Strathclyde University
2005 PhD, University of Cambridge
Fitness, arts & crafts, science communication