Judith’s career has taken her from the lab to politics; she focuses on bringing science to a wide audience, and creating a fairer society and stronger economy.
Making the abstract seem sensible
At about the age of five, Judith started chemistry experiments in her bathroom. Making potions with bath salts, TCP and other ingredients from the cupboards, it was hardly a precise affair. At her all-girls secondary school, her determination to study chemistry at university came from a combination of great teachers and a rich science environment. After watching a careers film shown in the school library, she vividly remembers the “great steaming vats of chemicals and molten metals” of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), Wilton.
One particular chemistry teacher, Mr Dearman left a lasting impression on Judith.
“He managed to link theoretical principles to real life, to make the abstract seem sensible and practical. Le Chatelier’s principle about chemical equilibrium just seemed the only sensible way for the world to behave. I still think of the world working that way most days.”
A great place to be a chemist
Getting to Cambridge was Judith’s biggest challenge. With no-one from her school having gone to Cambridge University for more than 25 years, “the exam was a mystery.” A-level entry meant Judith secured a place at Cambridge to study undergraduate chemistry at Fitzwilliam College.
After graduating, Judith intended on becoming a researcher in chemistry, but even though she enjoyed lab work, she didn’t like the isolation that came with it. Judith became a TV science documentary director at the BBC and stayed for 25 years. She describes this as a wonderful experience, working with researchers and crew, to bring fascinating ideas to life with science, content, pictures and music, all in a TV programme ready for public consumption. She created programmes for Tomorrow’s World and Horizon, among others.
“At eight years old, my daughter told her school friend, ‘My Mum’s got the best job in the world.’ And she was right. It used to be my mission to bring an understanding of science in the news and in the everyday world to as many people as possible.”
Time to stand up and be counted
After the financial crash of 2008, it became apparent to Judith that far too many people were having a hard time. Currently, Judith is a politician and a campaigner for a fairer society with a stronger economy. She particularly enjoys meeting people that have ideas for how to fix things in society, as well as people who have issues in their own lives.
“I was delighted to recently be selected as one of a group of Liberal Democrat MPs and candidates to be supported by Team Science; the party’s association of scientists and engineers. We’re campaigning, among other things, for a ring-fenced increase in the science budget to be accepted across the parties. It’s pretty critical.”
Standing for parliament, Judith divides her time between campaigning and working as executive producer for Remark Media. In her role, she pitches and sells ideas for TV programmes, with her latest series, Magic Hands, a surprise hit that presents children’s poetry in British Sign Language. “It is amazingly popular,” she says.
Ask for advice
From her experience at the BBC and her time in mixed gender education at Cambridge University, she sees that nowadays, girls have more choice at university. However, she questions whether they are put off earlier in education, by the media or by family and peers.
“We need to link chemistry to things youngsters relate to – like the colour of their clothes or hair. Smuggle chemistry information into entertaining items.”
Judith emphasises the need for employers to advertise vacancies to reach a wide audience. Whilst at the BBC, she set out to recruit an ethnically diverse team for an upcoming series by advertising positions outside the usual media haunts.
“We ended up with a fantastically diverse team behind the scenes, which resulted in a wider ethnic range of contributors on-screen in the transmitted programmes.”
Words by Jenny Lovell
Published December 2014