Ifat leads a research group at Aberystwyth University, and shares her enthusiasm through the Widening Participation and Social Inclusion programme.
Ifat developed a fascination for science through conversations with her older brother. His passion for science fuelled her own, and she decided to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical sciences to help people suffering with cancer.
"Growing up in Burnley, from a poor background, I did not have access to a chemistry kit. My brother was a major inspiration in showing me how chemistry is fundamental to my understanding of the world, and how studying chemistry can lead to an exciting career path."
Ifat continued with science throughout school and completed a degree in chemistry at Manchester Metropolitan University.
She gained her PhD from the University of Bath in 2001 in synthetic medicinal chemistry.
The challenges of interdisciplinary research
Ifat now works at Aberystwyth University, where her research focusses on the interface between chemistry and biology. Her group investigate chemical compounds in plants that can be used to create a range of products, from medicines to plastics. She explains:
"My job is to try to understand the chemistry that is happening within plants and use my knowledge to identify mechanisms to transform the ‘building blocks’ of chemical compounds into industrially useful products. As oil becomes more expensive and supplies drop in the future, it will become increasingly important to find such naturally derived alternatives."
Ifat enjoys applying her expertise in chemistry to this challenging interdisciplinary research area.
Committed to sharing knowledge
Throughout her career, Ifat has been inspired by her teachers and colleagues who have helped her to develop her passion for chemistry. She understands the importance of good role models and is committed to sharing her enthusiasm and knowledge with others. At Aberystwyth, she communicates chemistry to undergraduate students and delivers activities as part of the Widening Participation and Social Inclusion programme, which she finds particularly rewarding.
Words of advice
Ifat advises those hoping to have a career in chemistry to build their networks by attending events and conferences and finding suitable mentors. She thinks that a good way to find these opportunities is through the Royal Society of Chemistry. She also highlights the importance of being adaptable and building a broad skill set by gaining experience both in academia and in industry. She gives final words of encouragement to those who may feel under-represented in the chemical sciences:
"As a female from a poor Asian background, I am proof that anyone with the right passion can make it in chemistry."
Words by Ifat Parveen Shah and Florence Greatrix
Images courtesy of Dayna Mason
Pubilshed January 2016