An advocate for women in science, Katriona is a director at cosmetics company L’Oréal, and has judged the L’Oréal–UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.
Katriona Methven is the UK and Ireland director of scientific and techno-regulatory affairs at cosmetics company L’Oréal. Her role involves 'cosmetovigilance' (monitoring of the safety of cosmetics in terms of human health), ensuring that the marketing claims made for the products are based on scientific evidence, and helping to convey the science behind the products in an easy to understand manner.
It’s a role that she greatly enjoys: “Each day is completely different to the next so there is plenty of variety to keep the job exciting. I love the challenge of pushing boundaries, and coming up with new and creative ways of looking at a problem.”
Katriona remembers vividly when her interest in chemistry was sparked. When she was seven years old, she received a chemistry set for Christmas:
“I couldn’t get enough and would create all sorts of concoctions with my new found ingredients. I used to mix all the chemicals together to see which ones I could get to explode!”
Her enthusiasm for chemistry was nurtured at school by her two teachers, who often used demonstrations to support their lessons. Katriona loved to experiment, and was particularly interested in the practical lessons. “I like the fact that things don’t always go as planned, and having to work out what’s happened and why has always fascinated me,” she says.
After she left school, Katriona went to study chemistry at university. One of her biggest challenges was coping with the mathematical aspects of her course – she hadn’t studied maths A-level, but learnt what she needed by trading lessons with other students on her course. They would teach her the maths she needed while she would teach them other parts of the chemistry course.
Katriona spent a year at GlaxoSmithKline during her degree, and after graduating, she went to work in the pharmaceutical industry. She would spend the next twenty years in various pharmaceutical companies before joining L’Oréal, and is enthusiastic about the opportunities that her degree opened up to her:
“I‘ve found the world of chemistry to be a varied work place where you can do anything from bench science all the way through to working in an office – all different but in their own way exciting and intriguing.”
Katriona has two school-age children and recognises first-hand the difficulties that parents can face in trying to balance working in science with family life. The burdens of parenthood often fall particularly hard on women, something of which L’Oréal is fully aware. L’Oréal works hard to promote and support women in science, and Katriona has been at the forefront of their efforts. In 2014, she was a judge on the selection panel for the L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science fellowships, which are awarded to female early-career researchers.
“Choosing the fellows was an exceedingly difficult task, as all the applicants were hugely impressive in their individual fields. However, it was inspiring to see the extraordinary work that is being carried out in diverse scientific disciplines all across the UK. These fellowships are designed to encourage, but also showcase, the amazing contribution female scientists are making, and I was so proud to play even a small role in that.”
On representing L’Oréal in supporting women in science she said:
“Supporting this cause is very important to me because of how much I have benefited from a career in science and how much women have to contribute to the advancement of research and industry.”
Words by Stephen McCarthy
Images courtesy of Katriona Methven
Published September 2014