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Tara O'Neill and her father
Tara O’Neill RSci AMRSC


Tara was one of the Royal Society of Chemistry's first members to obtain a Registered Scientist (RSci) award.

Tara tells us, in her own words, how a supportive environment working in industry has led her to acheive Registered Scientist status.

Inspired from an early age

My father is a mechanic and has been a major influence in my life. Being a mechanic, he loves to find out how and why things work. But science, chemistry in particular, has always interested me; my mother bought me a Dorling Kindersley scientific encyclopaedia when I was ten and since then I’ve been hooked! I, like my father, long to find out how and why things work, and for me, chemistry helps to explain the world around us.

At school, my A-level chemistry teacher Miss McCrossan was amazing! She had recently graduated from university and was excellent at communicating the various aspects of chemistry to the class. She made science come alive, studying enjoyable, and definitely helped inspire my scientific career.

At university, I really enjoyed the practical aspects of studying chemistry. I loved designing and conducting experiments, and seeing all the literature I studied in the classroom come to life. I especially enjoyed any experiments where there were changes in physical states, colour or appearance. These types of experiments helped me to observe and visualise the reactions, and reinforced my understanding of the topic. To me, chemistry has always been interesting and exciting, and an opportunity to learn something new every day!

A career in industry

Photograph of Tara O'Neill with her mother, both holding her DK Science book

I like the diversity that the chemical industry offers. Chemistry can be applied to so many aspects of our lives, and can be used in so many disciplines.You can find chemistry laboratories in the strangest of places, at locations you would never even dream of, investigating all types of processes from analytical to physical, organic to inorganic.

The chemistry industry offers numerous opportunities – experience you have in one field can be applied in another, and there is always room to grow, learn and develop both personally and professionally.

I currently work in the Northern Ireland Water Wastewater Laboratory, analysing regulatory, operational and survey influent and effluent samples. The work I do (and the laboratory as a whole) ensures the protection of environmentally protected waters and bathing waters throughout Northern Ireland and the local environment. I enjoy the fact that the work I do helps to create and maintain clean bathing waters and river ways for the province. Northern Ireland Water really promotes and encourages staff development. My line manager, Gillian Williamson, suggested that I apply for the Registered Scientist (RSci) accolade offered by the Royal Society of Chemistry and it has opened new doors and provided new opportunities for me, really helping to boost my career. I hope to continue my development with the Royal Society of Chemistry and obtain Chartered Chemist status.

Chemistry is constantly evolving

For anyone considering a career in chemistry, they should know that learning doesn’t end when you leave the classroom! Chemistry is continually evolving, with new advances and discoveries are being made all the time. As a chemist, it is important to be adaptable and willing to embrace change. The Royal Society of Chemistry is an invaluable resource when it comes to this. The Royal Society of Chemistry helps members, like me, keep abreast of new developments and ideas, as well as providing networking opportunities to communicate with other chemists in the same field.

Chemistry is a constant learning curve - no two days are exactly the same, and I like the fact that there are always new discoveries to be made.

The changing face of chemistry

I think that, in the past, it was quite difficult for women to work within the scientific community. Science in general was seen as a very male orientated discipline, but in recent years there has been a definite change. The achievements and contributions of previous women within the field have paved the way for modern women to overcome gender barriers, and break down the stereotypical ideas that society may have had towards them. Women nowadays are more respected for their ideas and academic attributes, and are seen as a strong driving force within the scientific community.

It is still important to target the youth of today. 

When we were younger, we all dreamed we could be anyone or anything we want to be – regardless of money, race, colour or creed.

If we show all children from all backgrounds how interesting and fun science can be - it will stick with them. If we get young enthusiastic people into schools promoting science and showing it as a realistic and exciting career choice, I think we would have more diversity within the science and technology community when these children reach adulthood. More diversity can only lead to more new and unexplored ideas, which can only be good for the profession.

Interview by Rachel Purser-Lowman
Images courtesy of Tara O’Neill
Published October 2013

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