Pretty sure the I'm a Scientist live chats are the only reason I know what day of the week it is :)
EducationWoodmill High School, Dunfermline, Scotland
Qualifications7 Standard Grades 6 Highers (5 A and B), 3 CSYS (B) University of St Andrews 1997 - 2004, Scotland (Chemistry) Master in Chemistry (MChem) then PhD Keele University 2017 Master of Arts (MA) in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Work HistoryPostdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Current JobSenior Lecturer in Chemistry
Keele University, England
Favourite thing to do in my job: Analyse data from experiments and work out what was going on.
About Me: When I'm not working or walking the dog, I am a knitter and printmaker. I'm also trying to cook a recipe from every cookbook I own this year.
My pronouns are she/her. I live near Keele with my husband, two cats and one dog.
This is Jester who’s a 1 year old black labrador and wants to be friends with everyone. He forgets that he’s quite big and strong sometimes when he gets enthusiastic. He snores when he sleeps.
This is Merlin who is quite nervous and hides if there are any loud noises.
And finally, this is Maverick who always looks a bit confused, and talks a lot.
My Work: I try to find better ways to help students learn chemistry by doing education research. I also try to understand why some people are scared of some chemicals.
My research involves trying to understand how students learn chemistry so they can get through their degrees by learning more efficiently and get to the ‘cutting edge’ of research faster. That’s really important because there is a lot of knowledge in chemistry. I am developing diagnostic tests so that I can understand what students already know and then ways to tailor teaching around that.
I’m also interested in why people are afraid of chemicals, even chemistry students! Many people have different definitions of the word chemical which is why we see ‘chemical free’ products being advertised. A lot of people get annoyed with that because technically nothing can be chemical free. On the other hand, some people use chemical to refer to specific types of substances, normally ones that are synthetic or have more toxicity associated with them so it’s a perfectly rational description. Or it may just be a marketing ploy!
I didn’t start my career interested in chemistry education, that’s grown over the past 12 years that I have been a lecturer. Before then, my research interests were in materials chemistry. My research was about making new materials by combining two different types of molecules. That way we get the best properties of each type of molecule and some new ones.
Some of the molecules look like honeycombs . This family of materials are called zeolites and they have lots of uses. They are used in washing powder, as catalysts to speed up reactions and get better products, and sometimes even in cheese shops! The holes in the zeolites (called pores) soak up small molecules such as smelly gases from stinky cheese. Zeolites have also been fed to farm animals to stop their wind smelling so much!
The other family of molecules are called dendrimers, and they look a bit like snowflakes. They are polymers so are related to things like nylon and the stuff plastic drink bottles are made of. They are beautifully symmetric, and can be used in all kinds of ways.
My Typical Day: I do some teaching, maybe some marking, work on some research ideas and meet with students.
When I’m teaching I might be giving lectures or helping students in problems classes. The problem with all the teaching is the students hand in lots of work that has to be marked. I usually meet with a few students every day to talk about how the course is going and then the rest of the time is spent working on research ideas. I might be working on ways to get money to do more research, writing up the results so that it can be published or (and one of the best bits) planning studies.
My research is in chemistry education. That means I’m really interested in how students learn chemistry and ways to help them learn better. I don’t work in a laboratory to do that research. I use things like questionnaires and interviews to find out what students thought about an activity, or look at data like grades to understand whether it helps students learn better or not.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
confused, organised, sleepy
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I'd run a cafe
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
A couple of years back I went on holiday to the Galapagos Islands and went snorkling with sealions. They come right up to you and play. It was amazing.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To have sufficient money to run a small research group, including undergraduate and high school students working on exciting ideas; to visit the Antarctic and see penguins in the wild; to go on a road or rail trip around North and Central America.
Tell us a joke.
I am rubbish at telling jokes so I’ll spare you.