“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”

Our business development manager Dr Jude Huggan looks back on her first year at NCIMB.

I’ve heard this phrase a lot recently, especially in the context of summing up the progress of vaccine development in 2020, but it’s a phrase that works equally well in summarising the year for me. As 2020 draws to a close I’ve taken the time to reflect on my first year as part of the NCIMB family – and what a year it’s been, despite the challenges that COVID had to throw at us!

Upon reflection, starting a new role just as a global pandemic hit wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had, but despite all the issues that has created, it’s been wonderful!  I love working in business development – meeting new people, learning new things, seeing the amazing work people do, and figuring out how you can help customers, genuinely makes me happy.  Here are just a few of the things I’ve been up to this year and my thoughts on 2021.

I felt like I spent most of January and February on a train. My regular week consisted of an early morning Monday commute from my home in Ayrshire to NCIMB headquarters in Aberdeen, with the return journey home on a Thursday evening.  Although I had previously known some of the NCIMB stalwarts (culture collection curator Dr Samantha Law and CEO Dr Carol Phillips) from my previous role at IBioIC, it was great to spend some time with the wider team in Aberdeen, and get to know them a bit better.  I also became very familiar with the menu at the local hotel where I was staying – for anyone visiting the Aberdeen/Dyce area, check out The Dunavon House Hotel – it’s a great wee place!

Having worked for the grand total of seven weeks, I decided a ski holiday in Italy to celebrate my 40th birthday was well deserved, so off I went!  A great week on the slopes was followed by a hastily arranged COVID test and two weeks of self-isolation at home, as I’d been tracked to a positive case on the flight home – little did I know that this short experience of working from home would be a sign of things to come.

Dr Jude Huggan

Mid-March came and we were all ushered indoors, although NCIMB was kept busy. Our microbial identification service has a role in serving important supply chains, such as food & drink, and pharmaceutical manufacturing and so it was important that we continued to offer this service throughout lockdown.

We’ve also seen a continued demand for our biological storage business. Paused research programmes and a shift to remote working highlight the need for both industry and academia to have off-site, confidential back-up storage for their important biological material.

Although not much new business development was happening at this time, it was great to be in contact with our existing customers to see how they were faring and what support we could provide for them.

As lockdown eased, more of our customers started up their R&D and manufacturing facilities again, which was great to see.  Late summer saw the return of many academic researchers to their labs, eager to kick-start their research and teaching programmes once again. The life science industry is adjusting to new ways of working – and at NCIMB we’ve been making sure we support our customers on this journey.

Although I’ve been busy throughout the year attending virtual events and meeting new people, I do miss face to face networking and real life exhibition stands – this side of things just isn’t quite the same – it is hard to recreate the buzz of a busy exhibition hall online!

However, it’s great that this kind of activity has been kept going through the use of online platforms. Event organisers have worked really hard to keep people connected, making the most of the resources available to them, and in some cases it has allowed us to attend events that we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to go to.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of attending and presenting at a number of conferences, many of which were new to me.  It was great to meet and engage with new and existing contacts, and here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to:

BioProcess UK – this was my first visit to this flagship event for the bioprocessing industry, but it certainly won’t be my last.  A great event, rightly celebrating the magnificent effort by all in the industry who are developing solutions for COVID-19.  The BIA have a great networking platform – REMO – which allows you to network well with other attendees.  The virtual beer-tasting session was brilliant fun, and my table even managed to win (well done Table 8!)

Pharmig – I was asked to give a talk at the 28th Pharmig Annual Conference.  Pharmig is a not-for-profit organisation for microbiologists working in the Pharmaceutical, Healthcare, Cosmetics and NHS.  It was great to have a platform to highlight the importance of environmental monitoring for these sectors and to meet many of our customers working in this area.

Life Sciences Scotland Annual Conference – this event had an excellent programme.  Not only did it showcase the role and value of the life sciences sector in Scotland, but highlighted the great work Scotland is doing in response to COVID-19, be that R&D, clinical trials or manufacturing. 

EastBIO DTP Thematic Meeting – the topic for this meeting was Clean Growth and I was delighted to be asked to present at this event to outline the role of microbial repositories in delivering sustainable solutions, particularly in bio-manufacturing.  Interacting with students is brilliant and am always keen to engage with the community as much as possible.

Explore:  Science for Sustainability – it was brilliant to be asked to present the work we’re involved in with Dr Stephen Wallace from the University of Edinburgh.  Stephen’s doing some amazing work looking at developing sustainable chemical processes using biology and microbes in particular.  I really see this as the way the chemical industry will meet its ambitious sustainability targets and it was great to get perspectives from industry on the challenges they face on how microbial manufacturing may provide a solution.

2020 has been a strange year but a very busy one.  Time for some rest and relaxation so that I’m ready to spring into 2021!