Tell us a fun fact about yourself
- I blew up a chemistry lab during my PhD, but later that experience helped me get my first job and several consulting assignments
- I have a YouTube talk describing my career and all the things that a Ph.D in Chemistry can lead to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5FMjW2pNgI
Tell us about your career journey so far
I started my started my career with a bang by blowing up a laboratory at the University of Cambridge! However, despite this I was hired by BP to work in their lubricants R&D group, who were having a problem with car, diesel and marine engines blowing up. I worked for BP for 12 years, in R&D, technical sales, and technology management in the lubricants business. My final job there was in a Science Advice Group asking questions like ‘what happens when the oil runs out’, and, ‘when should we be in photovoltaics?’ Although BP had been trying to diversify out of oil and gas for several years few of their new technology projects had ever worked. I wrote reports about why that was, that formed the basis of my subsequent career in Innovation and business start-ups.
Now some 25 years later I run a small a training and consultancy company. I answer questions like ‘how many wind turbines do we need to replace one coal power station, and how much would that cost?’ and ‘how much oil would it take to fill an Olympic Swimming pool?’
What was your favourite subject in school and why?
My favourite subject at School was chemistry. Not just because I memorised the whole periodic table, but also because I had a great teacher who never pretended if he didn’t know the answers to any question. “hmm that’s a good question”, he’d say, “let’s do the experiment and find out”. In 2019 I was able to reconnect with him after a 40 year interval and it turned out that we had a lot in common outside science as well!
What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?
I need to understand a very wide range of science. Although I did some very specialised study at University, I often come back to topics I learned at school (like the ideal gas laws) to check what might happen when science moves from the laboratory to the real world. I have an additional business qualification that helps with money and costs, but the most important thing is working with other people. I have to be good at talking to, asking questions and (especially) listening hard to other people. I’m a natural introvert so this has taken many years to practice and learn!
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I really enjoy working with young adults at Universities or other places. They are at the start of their careers and are all very clever. My work with them involves showing them some trick, insights and techniques that greatly improves their chances of getting a good job, starting a company, making a good presentation, or winning a competition. I get real satisfaction when they use my teaching and go on to be successful. In 2019, I spent 90 minutes with a group of scientists from Oxford University, working on a better way of making silk for medical applications. They later said that my short input was crucial in them winning a £100,000 grant to start their company.
What is a normal day in your role like?
I have two sorts of typical day – home-based days and client-based days. At home I am writing things for people: these might be reports, short answers to questions, or what we call proposals – the client has a problem, doesn’t know what to do about it and the Proposal suggests some work we can do tighter to solve the problem. I will spend quite a lot of time writing e-mails, and quite a lot talking to people over the phone or on Zoom etc.
When I’m working at a client’s site, I’m usually running a meeting for them, or delivering training. Training is like being a teacher, except working with people who are adults. They are typically young adults such as students and they are all very bright – so we go very fast and make them do a lot of work each day. There is a lot of problem-solving group work and each group has to be watched carefully to see that they are making progress in the right direction. At the end of a day training, everyone is very tired!
And what does your job title mean?
I am the founder and director of my own small training and consultancy company. Being a director means that I am responsible for both finding and carrying out work for the companies customers – usually other companies or Universities. It also means that I am responsible for legal things around the company, such as filing accounts and paying tax!
Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
Part of my work is helping people (entrepreneurs, investors, politicians,) to understand how science interacts with the world outside the laboratory. I have a ‘Science in the Real World’ Quiz where each question is about this area. Its multiple and you can find the questions at http://www.kkitech.com/ScienceQuiz.pdf Try running the Quiz at your School or at your home. You should be able to work out the answers but if you get stuck the are contact details on my web-site