Q&A – Andrew Lewis FIMMM

Materials World magazine
3 Sep 2015

Natalie Daniels talks to Andrew Lewis FIMMM about his career, managing professional development, and speaking and presenting. 

Tell me about your background and your career to date. 

I graduated with a degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry from Aston University, UK, and went on to do a PhD in Polymer Chemistry. In 1990, I got my first job as a Senior Scientist for Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), where I worked on performance polymer membranes and polymer development. I left ICI in 1994 to join Johnson & Johnson, working as a project leader in consumer goods. I then joined Biocompatibles in 1996, as a project leader in polymer chemistry cardiovascular applications, and now run the research and development group. During my time at the company, I have been involved in novel biomedical polymers, biomaterials, drug delivery and cardiovascular devices. My focus more recently has been on combination products for liver cancer treatments using drug-eluting beads and encapsulated stem cell systems for cardiovascular applications. 

Describe a typical day at work. 

It is quite varied, which is why I like it. My team at Biocompatibles are largely responsible for the pipeline and life-cycle management of our interventional-oncology business, particularly our work on drug eluting beads. My job involves new product development – I work with the teams to develop the strategy for the products, we start with the commercial drive for the product, then we work out how to make it. I take control of the feasibility work and then, within my group, we improve on the principle before developing a prototype that could be transferred into manufacturing. I also am involved in the publication strategy – publishing early work on the properties of a product before it goes into the clinical phase. 

How do you manage your professional development?

Since university, I have been a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and have maintained that connection throughout my career, doing little bits here and there. From that, I joined the Macro Group, where I served on the committee on a number of occasions. I am also a member of the EPSRC College of Peer Reviewers – analysing grant applications and attending panels to assess and rank the various grant applications – this keeps me up to date with new technologies. Also, of course, I am now Chair of the Biomedical Applications Division at IOM3, which keeps me involved and engaged with the biomaterials community. As part of my Chartered Scientist and Chemist qualifications, I also have continuing professional development. In order to keep up to date with that, I keep a record of all the things I have done from presentations to publications, all to be used as evidence to show continued work in the science field. From a professional standpoint, LinkedIn can be very useful for making connections. It is surprising how many things come out from LinkedIn. It is great for making contacts and finding people in your field. In between working, where possible, I attend and speak at conferences, as this keeps me up to date with presenting my work and hearing others developments too. 

What advice would you give to someone who is preparing to speak at an event or pitching a presentation? 

I think if you go to present, you have got to remember to engage with your audience. Firstly, understand who your audience is going to be, because whatever you are trying to pitch, you need to pitch to the right level. You can get that completely wrong if you don’t know who is going to be in the room. There is a lot of advice out there, for example, focus on the back of the room, don’t turn your back – that sort of thing, but I think you can learn a lot by recording yourself and watching it back. 

Always make your presentations interesting and try to not put too many words on a slide – use pictures instead. Talking naturally around a slide has always worked for me. I never have used cards and I think if you do then you should remember not to look down. It is not about trying to remember what is on the card – you have to be familiar with the content of your presentation. Also, don’t be afraid to add a bit of meat, rather than just what is on the slides. And remember to be interactive with the audience – capture people’s eye and attention and ask questions. 

What can be done to encourage more young people into STEM careers? 

I have always gone by the thought, ‘If you enjoy what you do, you tend to be successful at it.’ Learn about the elements of a subject that enthuse you, and the things that are going to ignite the passion about what you do. It was only recently when I gave a presentation on my career to a selection of PhD students, that I realised how and why I made certain decisions and how even the small things could be really relevant. I think that if you are doing something you enjoy then you are going to be happy and successful.

How do you engage with the next generation? 

We do a lot within Biocompatibles with young people – we have connections with local schools, run work experience placements and often bring in groups from schools to run workshops. It is all about nurturing future talent – these are the next generation, and we want to enthuse people to take science at school and higher education. 

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