Name: Dr Kylie Vincent
Age range: 36
Research institution: Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford
Research career length: 14 years
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Location: Oxford, England
Australia A-level equivalent subjects: English, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Music
BSc (Hons)/BA (Majors: Chemistry, Biochemistry and English Literature) at the University of Melbourne, Australia
PhD in Chemistry, University of Melbourne, Australia
Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford
RJP Williams Junior/Senior Research Fellow, Wadham College, Oxford
Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Oxford
RCUK Academic Fellow, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College Oxford
From October 2013 appointed as a University Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, University of Oxford and a Tutorial Fellow at Jesus College Oxford
Microorganisms are able to carry out chemical reactions inside cells that chemists find almost impossible to do out in the laboratory, so researchers like Kylie Vincent are interested in learning from bacteria, and making use of this knowledge to develop new chemical processes. But until embarking on her PhD, Kylie was also keeping her options open for a career in the arts.
My research involves developing new tools to help gain a detailed understanding of the enzymes used by bacteria so we can copy and exploit their enzyme chemistry. We also use the bacterial enzymes themselves to help make complex chemicals, which is how we have developed and patented a system for combining enzymes on carbon beads to produce chemicals used in pharmaceuticals, food flavourings and fragrances.
Both my parents were teachers with a scientific background, and they always took time to explain things in the world around me. I was always interested in science, but at school I also loved English literature and I was very lucky in Australia that at the time I went to university, it was possible to study for both arts and science degrees together. Although I loved chemistry, it was a difficult decision to give up studying literature when I started a science PhD, but I am very grateful for my training in writing because a huge part of my job now involves giving presentations, lectures, producing research papers and funding applications. However, it was a short research project in chemistry during my degree that showed me the excitement of discovering something completely new, and that made me decide to work in scientific research.
I have always loved being able to work closely with others, and spend a lot of time meeting with group members to discuss our research. My team are very good at building things – we won't be beaten by a problem – I love the interplay between the scientific and technical problems that we encounter each day in the laboratory.
During university term times, I’m busy with teaching and administrative responsibilities, so I focus on research between terms and in the summer, analysing results and writing up publications, as well as attending conferences and presenting our research. I have close links with a microbiology team in Berlin so I travel quite regularly to Germany to meet with them and discuss our projects.
I find it really rewarding to go out into schools and speak about my research to students, as they have often not heard much about real scientific discovery. It helps when I can link my research to topics covered in the school curriculum, such as fuel cells, hydrogen energy or bacterial cells and it is great to see them make the links and feel a little of the excitement of scientific research.
Research needs to be about the accidental discoveries, as well as about improving existing technologies. You never know where you might end up, and it is often from the most unlikely sounding chance findings that new technologies emerge. You’ve simply got to keep looking for the surprise results - the observations that don't quite match up, and always ask 'why?'
I have just been appointed to a position as Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry. I could stay in this position for the rest of my career if I wanted to or I might aim for a professorship, or take on senior management roles. An academic job provides constant opportunities for new experiences, such as advising other universities, companies or government, or even starting up a spin-out company to commercialise research. One of the great things about the academic job is the freedom to explore all sorts of different areas of work.