What are you currently doing?
I have just finished a degree in archaeology where the focus for my dissertation was the last common ancestor between humans, chimpanzees and bonobos. I am currently working with Youth STEMM ambassador, Mark Thompson, helping to organise the Guinness World Record ‘World’s Longest Lecture’ attempt and I’m preparing to start my masters by research in September when I will be investigating the methods used by zoos to communicate great ape conservation to the general public.
Sounds straightforward, why is your story unusual?
I suppose I’m not the ‘average’ student, I am a 28 year old mother of two children. I wanted to put my story out there to show young people who are interested in pursuing a career in STEMM that there isn’t just one linear path to your goals.
So what has your journey been like so far?
When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to live all over the world with my family and while this has meant I have some amazing memories and experiences, it also means I didn’t have a straightforward education and when it came to making my choices at 16, I had just moved back to the UK and my focus was settling back into a different country, culture and way of life. So instead of concentrating on A-levels and thinking about a career plan, I decided to do what I really enjoyed (and still do), which was theatre and performance. I went to Lincoln college to do a BTEC in musical theatre and had an absolutely brilliant time which at that point in my life, was more important than thinking ahead about career choices. I spent time on the stage and gigging with a band. When I finished at 18 I ended up getting a job as a climbing and abseiling instructor but eventually ‘fell into’ dental nursing. I did this until I fell pregnant with my first child.
So how did you end up doing a degree in archaeology?
All my life I have been fascinated by science, animals and nature. Family holidays would always be adventurous explorations, climbing mountains, sightseeing in unusual places and spotting wildlife. Unfortunately though I had a negative experience with a teacher when I was about 12 who told me I would never have a career in science and this sadly put me off pursuing any kind of path within STEMM. But when I was on maternity leave with my children, I had the chance to step back and think about what I really wanted to do and I found that archaeology was a good way to combine my love of history with my hidden passion for science and, I thought, may even give me a back route into a STEMM career. People assume archaeology is just excavating but it is so much more than that and I soon found myself in a lab, learning skills needed for ancient DNA extraction, studying human evolution and working at various science festivals sharing research with the general public. I absolutely loved it and saw my confidence soar.
Now you’re moving into great ape conservation, how and why?
So although I love archaeology and my degree was an amazing three years, I was always aware that it was a stepping stone. As I said, I have always had a passion for science and of course the natural world. I grew up surrounded by animals and nature, always appreciating the world around me. But of course the older I got, the more I looked around and saw the changes that were happening to the world around me and I realised I needed to do something about it. During my degree I was lucky enough to have the chance to get some work experience with Professor Gilly Forrester from Birkbeck University, my first up close work with captive great apes. I knew then that that was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to dedicate myself to working with the public to help create a positive shift in attitudes towards not only great ape conservation, but conservation of our entire planet. One day whilst watching ‘Baby Chimp Rescue’ on the BBC, I was inspired to take a leap and contact Professor Ben Garrod who presented the programme, this was something I never would have done without the confidence I gained during my degree. Taking a chance paid off and Ben, along with Dr Alex Georgiev, agreed to supervise me for my masters by research. And that takes us to now, preparing my research project for the next year and planning for a PhD afterwards and an exciting and impactful career.
What is your message for people reading this?
I just hope that this helps people realise there isn’t a linear path to your career goals. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do right now, there is still time. It took me nearly ten years after finishing school, and two children, to discover which direction I wanted my career to go in and that’s fine. Everything I have done up to this point has made me who I am. My time in dental nursing and surgery gave me experience working with people in difficult circumstances. My musical theatre and performance background has given me the confidence and ability to combine disciplines and hopefully prove that creative, arty people can be scientists too! So I suppose my message is, there is no ‘one route’ to where you want to be. Explore life and get a taste for a variety of options. Find a way to combine your passions, if you’re a creative person then harness that and use it to your advantage. I hope that sharing my journey up until this point has shown you that anyone can have a career in STEMM. At 16, I would never have imagined my life how it is now, take the opportunities presented to you, you never know what they will lead to.