Ghanaian chemist Sylvia has worked on healthcare challenges, including MRI scanning and HIV, advising international organisations.
Dr Sylvia Anie is from Ghana and currently works as a consulting scientist, applying chemistry principles to health care challenges, and offering advice and strategic planning to a range of clients. She has worked in sustainable development for several years, focussing on health, education and gender. Through working at the Commonwealth Secretariat she has been involved in international policymaking processes and contributed to UN declarations. Prior to this she worked on the topic of HIV and AIDS, and was instrumental in establishing Ghana’s multi-sectoral response to the disease. She tells us, in her own words, about her career.
The unpredictability of classes in school is what I enjoyed the most. The loud ‘bangs’ during experiments, the stubbornness of titrations which refused to change colour, separation techniques that never worked, chemistry teachers who looked flustered half the time. All this chaos made each class special and I loved it.
At university, I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity within chemistry and the applications of chemistry to real life situations. One of the main challenges was that as women we were outnumbered by men, and they often tried to get the best seats, answer questions the quickest and pretended to know much more. This didn’t hinder my progress though; rather it pushed me and the other women to work harder and to challenge ourselves even further.
A personal challenge was balancing my other interests and hobbies with my degree. I was eventually able to make time for both, but reaching this point was not easy in the beginning!
The years I spent in research were particularly challenging, so I’m extremely proud that something I invented with colleagues in the area of magnetic resonance imaging, during my doctoral research at the University of Manchester, was patented. The research was so challenging because there were numerous occasions when my experiments went wrong and I wondered if it was worth the long hours I spent in the laboratory, and the even longer hours I spent on design and implementation. So to produce something that we then went on to patent was incredibly rewarding.
Another challenge professionally was deciding whether to remain in the core chemistry environment, for instance becoming involved in laboratory work and research, or to go into the application of chemistry or even the combination of chemistry with other subject areas such as management, policy formulation and so on.
I finally decided to strengthen my skills in chemistry as applied to medicine and health, and also to formally study management principles. This was invaluable to me as I progressed into policy formulation, strategic planning and impact assessments.
Chemistry has no boundaries. The sky is the limit.
I would encourage those considering a career in chemistry, as I believe it’s a good choice to make; I’ve certainly had few regrets! Chemistry and its principles underlie our everyday life. Everywhere you look chemistry is in action and as the years roll by, its applications are an increasing necessity in preparing us to embrace the next nine decades heading for the 22nd century.
Studying chemistry allows you to develop subject-specific and transferable skills, which are valued and sought after by employers, meaning your future career can be as diverse as working in stem cell and genetic engineering to healthcare and to space science.
Diversity in chemistry
I think gender equality in the sciences has evened out remarkably over the last four decades. There are many female experts in science and the opportunities available during study and afterwards, in my opinion, is equal for both sexes by and large.
Lately though, I have pondered over the issue of knowledge transfer to help minority groups advance and apply science and technology more aptly. By this, I mean exchange programs, experts engaging with smaller groups in different communities to share experience, collaborate, and nurture each other.
My advice to those currently under-represented is to keep striving to achieve great things for the industry. Do not let the fact that you are under-represented hinder your ambition! Aim to encourage more people like you to get involved with the chemical sciences.
Words by Sylvia Anie
Edited by Rachel Purser-Lowman
Images courtesy of Sylvia Anie
Published May 2014