Dr Nicholas Cundy
MSci Chemistry, 2016; PhD Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, 2020
Postdoctoral Fellow, The Institute of Cancer Research
Following my MSci and PhD in Birmingham, I moved to Canada to undertake a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Ottawa working on cancer and neurodegenerative drug development projects. Since then I have taken up a Postdoctoral Training Fellowship at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London where I work in an interdisciplinary team developing novel therapeutic tools to help fight cancer.
My day-to-day typically includes team meetings to share project progress and develop future strategy, lab-based work synthesising target compounds, data analysis and general lab responsibilities.
What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
The best thing about my job is that i’m utilising my expertise developed throughout my PhD to contribute to pressing research aims whilst also continuing to develop my knowledge of new research fields. The ICR is a diverse research institute meaning I get to work in a large project team consisting of computational chemists, crystallographers, assay scientists, cancer biologists and bioinformaticians all of whom help drive our on-going aim of developing novel, robust cancer therapies.
What made you interested in your current role?
My Masters and PhD work focused on the synthesis of biologically active targets, however toward the end of my PhD I began to take a more active role in the evaluation of the drugs I has synthesised. This sparked a real enthusiasm to develop my skills further outside of ‘just chemistry’.
How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
I am in the early stages of my career but my experiences in Birmingham pointed me in the right direction and towards an area of research I find very interesting. After completing my PhD in Birmingham I moved to Canada to pursue a Postdoctoral Fellowship position in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Ottawa. There I was offered the opportunity to develop my own hypotheses, synthesise biologically active compounds and then be directly involved in the initial testing process. Since then I have returned to the UK take up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Cancer Research where I work on developing novel targeted cancer therapies. Looking forward, I intend to pursue positions that will allow me to further expand my knowledge and understanding of medicinal chemistry whilst contributing to important research aims.
What motivates you?
My main source of motivation is derived from an innate curiosity of the world around me; I’m fascinated by figuring out how things work. My work in the field of medicinal chemistry allows me to apply my knowledge of chemistry to understand how diseases progress and how we can chemically intervene to prevent them causing harm. Another source of motivation for me is the work that I do could one day contribute toward disease prevention and the saving lives.
Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
I came from a background where very few people had attended university, so I never really knew what to look for when I was applying. However, Birmingham really stood out from the moment I attended an Open Day. On arrival, I was completely awestruck by the campus but my decision to apply was cemented when I experienced the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the School of Chemistry and the variety the course had to offer. Upon arrival as an undergraduate, this feeling remained and after seven years of being part of the Chemistry Community in Birmingham, I left with nothing but fond memories of the staff and the environment they created.
What are your fondest memories of the University?
Having lived in Birmingham and been a member of the University for the best part of seven years, this is an incredibly difficult question for me to even begin to answer! Some stand out memories for me would include the friends I made, spending days (and nights!) in Digbeth, house parties in Selly, the regular pub quizzes and, towards the end of my time in Brum, the quality of the emerging craft beer scene.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?
As an undergraduate, I became involved with BrumSki quite heavily in my 1st and 2nd years, and during my PhD I joined the Cycling Club – both were great opportunities to meet new people from across the University.
What was your biggest influence at University?
By far the biggest influence on my career has been my advisors throughout my Masters year and PhD who helped guide me through my research training. Their multidisciplinary approach to research opened my eyes to the value of having a broad foundation of knowledge – as such, I sought a position that allowed me to build on my core skills as a synthetic organic chemist but also develop new areas of expertise in medicinal chemistry, biochemistry and cancer biology. I still have a very good relationship with my advisors and I still go to them for their advice and knowledge.
Nicholas' advice to future chemists
“I benefitted massively from getting involved in summer internships with academics in the School. I worked two summers in an academic research lab and had the opportunity to contribute toward some really exciting research projects. For me, it immediately sparked an interest in research and contributed towards my decision to stay in Birmingham to complete my PhD.”