A final year undergraduate chemistry student at Aston University, Symiah Barnett is a passionate promoter of inclusion and diversity as well as a future leader on environmental change.
“I chose to study chemistry as a way of understanding the world around me,” says Symiah. “There’s nothing that you can look at without a bit of chemistry knowledge that you cannot explain, and I’ve been able to learn a lot more about the world throughout my chemistry degree.
“My course has been excellent, and the whole chemistry department has been fantastic, particularly both my dissertation tutor and my personal tutor, Dr Rob Evans. Rob has been so supportive in terms of academics and has always given me advice on how to study more effectively. He’s also helped me with careers advice and stretched me to the point where, as an undergrad, I have been published in a Royal Society of Chemistry bulletin. I don’t think I would have got there without him.”
During her third year of university, Symiah undertook an internship at Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, working in the microplastic team. It was here that she further developed her enthusiasm for environmental chemistry – a subject she had already been interested in throughout her degree.
Environmental issues are at the forefront of daily life, and my internship gave me a whole new view and perspective on the subject. While I was there I had the chance to write a paper on my findings surrounding the identification of microplastics using density analysis, which was actually published in the RSC’s January bulletin.
“I also presented my findings at #EnvChem2020 – an event I previously saw on the RSC’s website and contacted Tom Sizumr to ask if I could speak at, who encouraged me to present. And then I’ve also submitted my paper for Chemistry and Toxicology, which is currently in the resubmission process!”
With this experience under her belt, Symiah’s goal after university is to start a PhD in environmental chemistry. “Longer term I’d like to carry out field research, so to not be the chemist that you see in the white lab coat, but the one who’s doing the scuba diving to collect samples and all that other crazy stuff!”
Symiah has been a member of the RSC since her first year of university, joining following encouragement from her personal tutor. She has since used her membership for a multitude of activities such as online conferences and formal lunches, as well as to participate in a number of inclusion and diversity projects to make chemistry more accessible to all.
“Inclusion and diversity are such important topics to me as a black female chemist with a learning difficulty. There are many barriers within the field of chemistry but recognising where they have been put in place and discussing how we can remove them can improve the situation for the next generation of chemical scientists.
“As a body, the RSC has been performing some great work in terms of trying to create a more inclusive and diverse chemistry community. I’ve been seeing things improve, but I think that there’s a lot of work still to be done."
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Aside from the vital work Symiah has been doing to support the RSC in their inclusion and diversity initiatives, she has been using her membership to attend many events and conferences. These meetings have provided her with the opportunity to meet people across all industries and membership categories who have helped her grow her skill set.
“I’ve been able to meet so many people who have sent me research, advice or support following the event, which has been invaluable to my growth as a chemist. If I didn’t attend the #EnvChem2020 conference, I wouldn’t have a publication under my belt, and I think that’s really helped with making my PhD applications stronger.
“I really can’t begin to list the number of people that I’ve met through the RSC. I think one of the greatest things about the society is that anyone can meet anyone – as an undergrad I’ve been able to meet and have a conversation with the current president, which I think is fantastic.”
Symiah also recommends the support services that the RSC has on offer, particularly the careers services that she has been using to help plan her next steps.
I’ve used the career consultations a number of times to get advice and support moving forward. Accessible to everyone, they’re very informative and provide you with knowledge of how to progress, help you with PhD applications and provide you with guidance, which is particularly useful for learning all the unspoken rules. I would absolutely recommend them to others, especially if you’re unsure of how to progress.
“It’s the amount of support that I value most about the RSC – whether that’s the RSC giving support itself, or other members supporting you. It’s invaluable because you can’t possibly improve yourself and progress and navigate the careers field with just your knowledge alone.
“The amount of support, networking and resources available to you as a member is incredible. It’s truly up to you how much you take from the RSC, but I would encourage everyone to become an active member and truly benefit from being part of the society.”