A Future in Chemistry - Your career starts here
Test tubes

Vice President of Research and Development

Dr Helen Neville

I am responsible for packaging across a global company.

00:22 Actually a lot of people have asked me ‘why chemistry?’ and I have to say that I loved it from my first exposure.

00:30 I think I was a kind of a ‘Why? Why? Why?’ child,

00:32 I know all children go through that kind of ‘Why? Why?’ stage but that stayed with me a long time.

00:37 And what I really found really fascinating about chemistry

00:40 was that you learn about things you can’t see,

00:45 at a molecular level, but it explains the things you can see in the world,

00:49 why some things are solids or gasses,

00:52 and I just found that fascinating, it was you know, rather like magic.

00:56 I started to study chemistry as a standalone subject at secondary school,

01:01 and I had a wonderful chemistry teacher, Mr Salmon,

01:04 and it was him who actually told me the reason that there is life on Earth is because of hydrogen bonding

01:09 of water, so as soon he told me that I was really hooked.

01:13 I did a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry,

01:16 and with a case award I was very focused on a career in industry.

01:20 After my PhD I was thinking very much about the pharmaceutical industry or the agrichemical industry,

01:27 but actually as I studied more I recognised that I actually wanted to work in an industry

01:32 where I would be able to apply the chemistry and see the products that I worked on,

01:37 actually be in the market relatively quickly.

01:40 So I actually chose to work for Procter and Gamble.

01:48 At some point in your career there’s very often an opportunity to live and work abroad.

01:53 And actually, that’s what happened to me after working for two years in Newcastle.

01:58 The company said ‘would you like to go to Germany for just a couple of years?’

02:03 You know, at that stage, as a young person I thought ‘well this is a little adventure’,

02:09 to go and live for a couple of years in Germany, so I jumped at the chance to go.

02:16 And as it’s turned out, I then spent the next 23 years out of the UK, working in Germany and in Brussels.

02:23 I’m currently responsible for all of the packaging across the company,

02:28 so it’s really a huge range from a very simple polyethylene bags that you would find around Pampers,

02:34 really right through to prestige fine fragrance, Dolce and Gabbana, and Gucci.

02:40 I would say that if you ever get the chance to live and work abroad, I would jump for it, I would take it with both hands.

02:49 You just learn so much when you’re living in a different culture, you’re exposed to people who think differently.

02:57 So at first I think it’s just very enjoyable, but second it helps you grow just because you have these different experiences.

03:10 So as I think about students joining Procter and Gamble, I think the first thing to know is that

03:15 Procter and Gamble is a promote-from-within company.

03:18 So we don’t bring people into the company mid-career,

03:22 so that means that everybody that is in the company today, all started at entry level,

03:28 and we actually have just two entry levels depending on academic qualifications,

03:34 and then people move up different levels as they spend their career in the company.

03:39 A large majority of the people that we hire come from our internship programmes,

03:44 so we would call that ‘mutual trial’,

03:47 and it works really well because we give the students real projects to work on,

03:51 actual business projects, so we get to see them working on a real project.

03:57 And it’s equally helpful for the students because they actually

04:00 are able to experience what it would be like if they would actually decide to come and join us at Procter and Gamble.

“You just learn so much when you're living in a different culture; you're exposed to people who think differently. First, I think it's enjoyable, but second, it helps you grow. ”

How did I get started?

I loved chemistry from the start, and at secondary school I had a wonderful chemistry teacher who helped me to get really hooked on the subject. This ended up in me doing a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry.

Career progression

I came to work for Procter and Gamble and after two years they sent me to Germany. I've been here or Brussels for the last twenty three years, and risen to a senior position.

“Actually a lot of people have asked me ‘why chemistry?’ and I have to say that I loved it from my first exposure.”