What is your current Job Title or Role?
PhD Researcher and City Councillor
What advice would you have for young women who are interested in a STEM career or job?
If you love it, do it. A STEM career is a huge place to play, explore, invent, and learn. It will be hard work and there will be some sexism but find your allies and raise each other up together. There's no one path into and through a career in STEM so keep an open mind and look for the opportunities that you really care about.
How did you get to where you are today?
Initially I trained as a marine biologist and worked on a PhD about marine body clocks, which didn’t work out for multiple reasons. After that I worked in science communication for a national charity for nearly a decade, learning a lot about how to motivate and manage volunteers, and how science interacts with society. Alongside my work I did an MSc in coastal zone management and my interest in how individuals engage with the sea and participate in policy and decision-making really blossomed. My team were made redundant around the time that I finished my MSc, which made me look seriously at academia again. I was able to secure funding from ESRC for a very different kind of PhD at Exeter University, in the Human Geography department, and Environment and Sustainability research group. I moved with my young family down to Plymouth and have just started the third year of my PhD investigating marine citizenship - how and why people do things for the sea out of a sense of responsibility. This brings together all my interests in science and society, politics, and public participation.
What do you do on a daily basis in your work?
Tied into my interests in citizenship and public policy, I was elected as a city councillor in May 2018. This led to me changing my PhD from full-time to part-time, to accommodate the new workload. As a result, I no longer have any set daily routine, and squeeze everything in wherever I can. In my PhD I'm currently organising the final interviews required for my fieldwork, as well as transcribing the interviews I've already done. I have young children so I fit time at the computer in around taking them to and from school and clubs. I often work evenings and weekends. I work from home and mostly only go into university for research team meetings, so I save on travel time. Because I’m also a councillor, I attend lots of committee and board meetings, around casework and monthly full council meetings. I'm on a number of boards that relate to different aspects of the marine environment and I draw together all these threads to think about how we can improve our relationship with the sea, engage people more, and use the sea more sustainably. I’m already thinking about the research I’d like to do next.
Who or what inspired you to get into STEM?
I always loved science and there is no one person or event that prompted me to pursue it as a career. At first I wanted to be an astronomer but I wasn't great at physics so I moved away from that. Then I wanted to be a meteorologist but it turned out that needed physics too, so that was a no go! I found biology was my love at secondary school, and always wanted to be by the sea, so marine biology became the obvious choice. I've always been someone who eagerly explores the connections between things and my interdisciplinary research now really suits me. My time in science communication as a volunteer manager, and my political interests, have driven me to look at how science fits into our society and I’m very keen on driving forward evidence-based policy, but also softening the way natural science interacts with society.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The thing I most enjoy about being a PhD student is the flexibility of time and freedom to self-direct. It means I can fit everything into my life, with some juggling. I like being able to spend time reading and thinking about the world and how it fits together without being bogged down by hours of administration. Being a researcher is such a privilege.
What do you like to do outside work?
I do lots and lots of things outside of my research work. There’s my role as a city councillor, which is very time-demanding. Outside of both these paid roles, I volunteer with the Social Mobility Foundation as a mentor for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are looking to apply to university. I’m a trustee for a young people’s charity based in the ward I represent, called Honicknowle Commnet. I’m also a trustee with the marine conservation charity Sea-Changers, which involves supporting the development of the charity and judging funding applications. It’s an amazing window into UK marine citizenship activities. I’m involved with a political group called Labour: Coast and Country, and I do a lot of extracurricular activities promoting women’s participation in politics. I love to do embroidery and have an Etsy shop selling science themed cross-stitch patterns that I design, but I much more enjoy doing free embroidery works. I play the piano and I love to snorkel, hoping to one day get back to SCUBA diving again. Last but far from least, I’m Mum to two fabulous young children, who occupy most of my time outside work.