An Interview with Hannah Semple: Research Scientist at AstraZeneca – Rebecca Chatwin

On the 28th of January this academic year 2018/2019, the Biomedical and Life Sciences department was delighted to welcome some Lancaster Alumni to talk to our students about their current profession and past experiences. These alumni were Hannah Semple (Research Scientist), Kate Anderton (Scientific Editor) and Hannah Fagg (Trainee Healthcare scientist in Genomic Counselling). I had the pleasure of interviewing recently graduated (2016) Hannah Kemp who has worked with Astra Zeneca as a research scientist in High Throughput Screening at Astra Zeneca since September 2017.

After the informative and interesting presentations given by all speakers, I sat down with Hannah to ask some questions about her career as a research scientist.


Q: So, Hannah you’re currently working with Astra Zeneca as a scientist within the labs. How would you describe a typical day at work?


A: Yeah, so a typical day is quite difficult to describe because it’s very varied day to day, it depends on what projects are going on. Sometimes, if there’s screens going on, then I’ll be in the lab every day putting reagents on automation and prepping for the day’s run; doing some data analysis. But then other times it might be a bit quieter in the lab so then I will be writing a paper or doing some kind of write up for some experiments I have done, things like that.


Q: Is there anything in particular you’re working on at the moment?


A: Yeah, so I’ve got a project just coming up at the moment, obviously I can’t tell you what it actually is, but I’ve got someone coming over from Sweden tomorrow, he’s going to help us develop the assay. We kind of do a series of experiments to optimise the assay, make sure it’s all working so we can definitely identify inhibitors, things like that. So that should be good!


Q: What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned from working in a lab?


A: Organisation skills, definitely. Screening a lot of compounds means that you have to be very organized, you have to know what experiment you’ve done when, you have to be able to know what data you want to analyse when.


Q: What has been your hardest task working in a lab?


A: That’s a good question to ask. Okay so sometimes it’s high pressure when there’s a project going on. People want you to do things to a very tight timeline and if you can’t meet the timeline then you do get feedback and they say, why has this not happened, give reasons for this, and you kind of have to explain what went wrong, which can be tough, I mean you always take it as kind of in a team and its fine, but you have to have some kind of determination to get things happening when they should be happening and to make sure you don’t get that kind of thing from a project team that is happy with you.


Q: On the topic of teams, what is your role within a team in the lab?


A: We generally work in very small teams, so there’s about three of us on a project. I’m on the screening projects in my lab but there’s a wider project team for each drug project and so with the wider drug projects I have to present data to them, send them email updates tell them what’s going on, on our side. Within the lab I’m quite an integral part because sometimes I’ll just go in and do the experiment and someone else will come look at the data or we’ll do it together. So it’s quite varied in terms of how I act in a project.


Q: What’s the best thing about your job?


A: Okay, two things. The fact that I get to work in a lab all the time, I just really enjoy it. I know it’s not for some people. The second thing is the people I get to work with are all great and I learn lots from them every day.


Q: As a final question, is there any advice that you could give to any aspiring scientists?


A: Yeah, I say try and get as much experience as you can, read up on what’s going on in the industry at the moment. There’s always lots of interesting things going on; read some papers to see what different companies are interested in at the time. There’s always new technologies and things. Just try and find out as much as you can about it.


If anyone has any further questions Hannah is very happy to answer these through her email:


Any students who were unfortunate enough to miss the event can find a panopto recording on the Biomedical and Life Sciences Careers and Employablity Moodle page underneath the heading ‘Bioscience Evening Career Events Lent Term’.