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Jenny Atter

 Name: Jenny Atter


Research institution: Department of Chemistry, University of Bath

Research career length: Degree still in progress (going into 4th year)

Research Council:
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as part of my Year in Industry

Location: Bath, England

Salary: <£22k

School qualifications:
A-levels: Chemistry, Biology, German
AS: Theatre Studies

Qualifications post-school:
MChem, University of Bath, including a year in industry working in the Communications Department for the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Career path:
Undergraduate Student, Department of Chemistry, University of Bath

Choosing to study science doesn’t mean you will work in a lab for the rest of your career – though you may choose to – but it does broaden your options. During her degree course, Jenny Atter spent a year working in communications for one of the seven research councils, who fund much of the research that takes place in the UK. These days, communicating ‘about’ research is a major part of what many academics and research institutes do.

I decided to do a chemistry degree as I found that understanding the very basics of how substances interact and affect the world around us fascinating. The smaller you go, the more exciting the world becomes, with strange laws and concepts you can't ever really fully understand. Then, as part of my degree, I was fortunate to be able to spend a year in industry, which I’d really recommend. Rather than a lab placement, which tends to be the norm, I decided to do a year in communications for STFC - a science research council. I’d really recommend it. The work involved planning and editing publications, writing various articles for different audiences, managing public and other events, and promoting the work of STFC to new audiences. I also liaised with people from many different departments as we put together a new social media policy.

I was able to put my scientific background and knowledge to good use – though in a different way than I would previously have thought. I saw the world of science from a different perspective, including how a research council operates, and the wide range of choices there are out there for anyone interested in science. The experience also showed me the importance of being able to communicate my research - not simply related to issues of funding, but to inspire a new generation of scientists by engaging with the public, especially with young people.

It is important to show just how crucial science is to society - many young people believe science just takes place in a lab, and they don't realise how much of their everyday lives is possible because of science

Working at a research council has showed me just how much is happening and the exciting possibilities that could be coming around over the next few years. There's always more to discover, and it's more interesting and exciting than I could have imagined, when I was at school.

I've always wanted to find out why things worked in the most detail I could. To me, it wasn't enough to be told that something, just was a particular way, I wanted to know more. I used to be a little frustrated when the teacher would skim over some topics because they were seen as too technical for our age at the time. The questions never went away, and these experiences inspired me to go to university, to find out all about the areas I felt I was missing out on.

The role science plays is always expanding and developing, opening up more and more opportunities for a whole range of people. It’s important that young people see that science isn't what they stereotypically think it is, and highlight all of the unexpected careers science offers. The next generation of scientists will be vitally important, and we need to make sure they have as many chances as possible to be inspired by the variety of science out there.

I haven't yet specialised in the type of Chemistry I will work on. This leaves me with lots of choices about where I could go next. I've recently been looking into the possibility of a PhD next year, or maybe a graduate scheme. There are advantages to both, and at the moment, it's just a bit too far away for me to make any decisions. My future ambitions are really just to find a job that I really believe in - I couldn't do something that I didn't feel had any purpose or that I didn't find interesting. I've been looking into Marine Chemistry, or something along those lines, as with issues such as global warming becoming big problems, it's more important than ever to find ways to help our planet and keep it healthy.


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