Jonathan Longden, MSc by Research in Chemical Engineering

MSc Engineering student Jonathan Longden undertook a fully funded year in industry with Nucleotide Nutrition Ltd through the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation.

Why did you apply for an industry focussed Masters and work with a business?

"The idea of curiosity-driven science never appealed to me, the possibility that all my hard work may never benefit anyone was too daunting. However in my project, as very specific research objectives had been set, I was safe in the knowledge that my research was likely to benefit an industry. Although the benefits may not be as far-reaching as those achieved by some blue sky projects, there’s a hint of ‘who knows’ in industry-focused projects, there’s always a chance of stumbling upon something much more important to you and me.

Secondary to this, there’s a nice pressure of working with partner companies, which is often a real motivator. I knew that aside from the office and lab work, I’d be travelling far and wide for meetings and presentations. So aside from being a graduate researcher, I was also being delved into the world of a young professional, something I found very appealing."

What was the focus of your company project?

"During some preliminary tests, a UK waste stream was shown to be rich in a number of nutrients that were likely to be of value to a number of UK and EU markets. The task of this project was to devise and refine an extraction process to isolate these nutrients at an acceptable yield and purity to serve these markets. A method that was capable of upscaling to industrial levels was gradually developed, based on similar conventional methods, to specifically isolate targets. Economics and safety were also key considerations at every stage of development."

Had you worked with a business before starting your Masters?

"No, but working with businesses in this sort of professional capacity was particularly appealing to me."

Can you describe what it’s like studying at a top global 1% Lancaster University?

"I was lucky enough to have done my undergraduate studies at Lancaster too, so I spent four very memorable years as a student there. I simply cannot speak highly enough of Lancaster University. Personally, the location was ideal, and both my undergraduate and postgraduate departments both stood strongly in league tables against other top Universities all over the country. I obviously worked much more closely with University staff in my postgraduate project, and here I realised how dedicated and eager these staff members are. Whether this was my academic supervisor, laboratory technicians, other academics or office staff, everyone seemed to be happy to do everything they could to help my project succeed. I felt very fortunate to have conducted my research project in the campus’ brand new Engineering building, where I had my own office space and made use of their state-of-the-art facilities in the building’s laboratories. The number and variety of amenities available within walking distance, self-contained in the campus, never failed to amaze me. I will miss Lancaster greatly!"

What did you think of being part of a team of graduate researchers working with businesses on research for new products and processes?

"I found the whole project very fulfilling. I was actually the only graduate researcher working on the project, but I felt I had a strong and dedicated support network to rely on for advice and support whenever I needed it. The work was intense, but I expected nothing more. I felt the hard work was certainly worth it, and after seeing results improve and, ultimately, the project succeed."

What skills did you use and develop working with the business?

"I knew from the outset that I would have to be organised, timely and meticulous in my work for the project to succeed. And although a research objective had been stated, developing a method required a lot of independent thinking. I also ended up having to liaise with a great number of people during my project, so communication skills were absolutely vital. Aside from these transferable skills, which I developed massively during my project, I learnt a lot of new specific skills, mainly software and lab process related." 

Did you get paid? What expenses did you have and were they paid for by the business?

"I found the stipend very generous and the expenses budget was sufficient to allow me to buy all necessary equipment and reagents, and to conduct all of the travel I needed to make. This included several trips all over the UK, and flights to Switzerland to liaise with company partners during a three-day stay."

What was the best thing you think you did for the business?

"The best thing I did for the business was my presentation explaining my results at the end of the project’s experimental phase. Company partners were invited to the University and I arranged the agenda for the day, which included lab demonstrations of my process and a full presentation of my results. This was very well received and inspired a lot of confidence in my work from the company partners. It was realised here that my results were more positive than were expected, and further bids for follow-on projects have been applied for to develop the work that I conducted."

What was the best thing about doing your Masters for you?

"The best thing about the project for me was visiting a laboratory in Basel, Switzerland. Here, I saw the employment of nutrient extraction and analysis methods that were similar to those I had devised. Not only was it nice to see similarities between my methods and established methods, I was also lucky enough to see some incredible parts of Switzerland during my stay."

What was the result- has it lead to more projects?

"The project was a success, and the company partners continue to work with University staff to bid for follow-on projects to refine the method I have developed."

What career do you hope to pursue at the end of your Masters and how do you think it will help you achieve that?

"I was offered an extension to a PhD project, but declined this very generous offer to pursue other things:- I have since graduated from my MSc with a pass with distinction. I’m torn between applying for a PhD in the future or applying for medical school. Before making this decision, I have been accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, where I’ll be teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren for 1-5 years in rural Japan. I depart in July this year."

What advice would you give to anyone starting an industry-focused Masters like yours? Any top tips?

"Make sure the research topic is something that interests you. It’s much easier to motivate yourself to conduct research when the results excite you! Otherwise, just ensure you’ve explored the University, their facilities and department and you know you’ll be working alongside people who you get along with."