Find out what life is really like at Durham University


Working as a Research Scientist

I graduated from Durham University in the summer of 2018 with first class honours in Natural Science (Biology and Physics). I spent the following summer and autumn working in a local shop in my hometown. Whilst the nostalgia of being back at home was nice for a while, I was keen to begin a career that put my degree to good use.

Grad schemes are not the only option

During my final year, like a lot of my peers, I had followed the common path of arduous applications into city grad schemes with little success. I had also interned as a teacher in a previous summer, but knew neither option was really suited for me. As my final year progressed, I became more and more keen to utilise my science degree in the working world without committing to a PhD, therefore the role at LightOx was a perfect fit. I applied for the job with LightOx through the Durham Careers and Enterprise website, and an interview was quickly arranged. We talked through the business plan and what my role would entail. The team were so enthusiastic about where the company was going, it was hard not to get excited at the prospect of working there. I was very pleased to be successful in my application and started in the new year.

LightOx is a spin-out company from Durham University, established in 2016 after 8 years of collaborative research from Durham, Oxford and York Universities. LightOx has engineered novel fluorescent compounds capable of entering biological cells for imaging and therapeutics. The imaging probes are used to ‘paint’ cells that are then imaged with microscopes, while the therapeutic probes disrupt the normal activity of the cell causing cell death which has large scope for cancer treatment!

My role is primarily focused on analysing the photophysical properties of the compounds through microscopy. I am tasked to design and implement experiments before analysing and presenting the resultant data. My secondary role is involved with business development. As a small company with only a hand full of employees, we are all expected to be flexible in our roles. Therefore, I do pitch, and meet with potential and current clients and collaborators.

More to learn in a startup

One of my concerns about working for the university I studied at was that I would still be treated as a student, but that has absolutely not been the case. I have been given a number of important responsibilities and feel like an integral part of the company, equal to my other colleagues.

Being part of a company in its early stages is providing me with a broad range of invaluable experiences and professional skills. One day I will be in the lab learning a new research technique, the day after I could be presenting at a conference and the next, I could be meeting with a collaborator. This flexibility and variety are exciting perks of working for a small, growing company and I couldn’t think of a better way to have been introduced to the world of work.

I would absolutely recommend working with a small start-up company; the opportunities and the wide range of skills I have developed are so unique to these businesses. It is definitely worth bearing in mind that, as a graduate, you do not have to follow the well-trodden paths of grad schemes or PhDs… there are exciting alternatives available if you know where to find them!

Joshua Hughes

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