Emily is on the Civil Service Science and Engineering Fast Stream, where she uses her knowledge of chemistry to influence government policy.
The walls of Emily’s bedroom were covered with space posters as a child. During her A-levels, her love for science branched into chemistry through the encouragement of her teachers. Emily remembers catching the chemistry bug from a particularly enthusiastic teacher, Mr Lloyd, who taught her to try hard at finding solutions to difficult problems.
For a long time, Emily thought that chemistry was a subject for boys and at 16, she decided she was going to drop all sciences after GCSE, with the mentality that she simply wasn’t smart enough. After consulting her teacher, she was convinced otherwise. The biggest challenge she has faced was believing in herself.
“Having someone who believed in me, especially at that age, made a huge difference to my confidence and I went on to get a Master's in chemistry.”
At university, Emily realised early on that laboratory work wasn’t the right area of chemistry for her: “On my first day of labs at university, I managed to smash all my test-tubes when I caught them with my lab-coat sleeve. It was hardly the shining start to university I’d hoped for”. However, Emily still loved the quest for new knowledge that underpins chemistry and thrived on the idea that there was always more to discover.
A fast-paced job where every day is different
With her love for communicating scientific ideas, Emily considered a career as a secondary school teacher as she wanted to make chemistry accessible to everyone. After exploring other options outside the classroom, Emily is now on the Civil Service Science and Engineering Fast Stream where she communicates science to adults who can influence government policy.
“The science roles don’t involve experiments, or white-coats and it’s far more likely that you will see me applying my science background at a desk than in a lab.”
As part of the scheme so far, Emily has worked in the policy team at the government Department for Business Innovation and Skills that encouraged businesses to create offshore wind farms in the UK. She has also worked in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. There, she coordinated a consortium of scientists researching the potential impact of the differing severity of climate change.
“The role was incredibly enjoyable as I was working at the bridge between science and policy - helping to communicate scientific ideas and ensuring that government policy was evidence based. Both of which are things I feel passionately about.”
Emily says that the Civil Service is diversifying, but having a science background gives her the ability to approach issues from a different angle to those with a humanities background: “My degree taught me to think analytically about problems, research issues deeply, and to base solutions on evidence.”
Joining the community
Emily sees that it may be difficult for some people to join the scientific community and get past the preconceived idea that science is predominantly for white males. Coming from a working class background herself, she still believes there is an image issue with science.
“Until all children at school, regardless of ethnicity, gender or background, can look at a scientist and think ‘I can do that’, we won’t be attracting the full-range of scientists we can.”
Emily’s advice to others is to believe in yourself and to never turn down an opportunity. Having applied to the Civil Service on a whim, she sees how science has opened up more opportunities than she expected.
“You might not look like the “traditional” version of a chemist and might think that because of that, you’re not suited to the profession. Trust me, it does not matter in the slightest.”
Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Emily Tofts
Published March 2015