"I did my undergraduate degree in chemistry and pharmacology in Australia. I then won a scholarship to Cambridge, and I focused on molecular neurobiology and pharmacology. Following my doctorate, I worked as a researcher for 12 years, initially on short term contracts, and then as a five-year senior research associate running my own lab – but I got to the point where I had done everything I wanted to do. I had published in international journals, received an international award, and supervised doctoral students.
"When I had children, I changed to part-time arrangements – but when I reached the end of my contract, I quickly realised that, as soon as you want to find a new part-time position at a senior level, there is nothing there. To a certain extent I didn’t have a choice – if I was going to stay in pharmacology I was going to have to create my own work.
"I originally gave myself two years to see if I could make my science education consultancy work – and I am still going five years later, having built up my consultancy by word of mouth. When I set up in 2004 I knew what I wanted to do – I was interested in science communication and education, and I’ve done a lot of work teaching maths to biologists, putting calculations into words rather than in equations, as well as explaining pharmacology to non-specialist audiences. I am an education consultant at the moment – my business is called Science Education, Training and Communication, and for five years I have been delivering teaching sessions to chiropractors, osteopaths and pharmacists who have already qualified. I’ve developed materials on maths skills, but also general pharmacology such as how drugs work and medicines.
"For my first year I was very lucky, being in the right place at the right time, and won a bid developing online maths materials. My second year was really hard – because I’d been so busy in the first year, I hadn’t been looking for any other work. It picked up in the third year, and since then I’ve been really busy. It is tough to find that balance between marketing yourself to find new work and doing the work that is there. I did find it hard to promote myself and sell myself at first. I did a couple of very good training courses around developing consultancy skills, which were funded by the East of England Development Agency, but unfortunately those courses no longer exist. From being an academic I just had to get into a whole new way of thinking. If recommending to anyone else today, I’d say go to your nearest Business Link or to places like Enterprising Women – because, as an academic, how you conduct yourself is very different, and such courses can get you into a more commercial mind set.
"Cambridge AWiSE (Cambridge Association for Women in Science and Engineering) has also really helped. It is useful to know that there are other women doing similar things to me, particularly in the area of science. Just having other people there, and knowing that they are going through the same thing, was a tremendous source of strength. I helped to re-found Cambridge AWiSE and was Chair for three years – this is a great example of voluntary work which also allows you to get out of the academic mindset.
"Flexibility in my career has been one of the most important things for me, as has my ability to maintain my lifestyle. By using Schein’s ‘career anchors’ tool, I was able to narrow down what was most important to me – so I would also thoroughly recommend such a step to others."