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Spotlight: Lucy Smythe, Scientific Advisor, Food Standards Scotland

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I have flown a plane before!

Tell us about your career journey so far.

During school, I wasn’t sure whether to study Maths or Chemistry at university but I ended up studying Chemistry at Edinburgh University.

I chose Edinburgh University because I thought it was a lovely city and you had the option to choose other courses in first and second year (I did maths, Italian and geography).

During my degree I did a year in industry in Connecticut, USA which was a great experience, both for learning new chemistry skills, but also to experience a new culture and to be close to New York. After university I still wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do so I did a PhD in chemistry.

I enjoyed learning new chemistry techniques but I realised I wanted to move out of research and into science policy. I looked for jobs where I would still be involved in chemistry but more on the policy side of things. That is what attracted me to my current job in Food Standards Scotland.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

My favourite subject at school was Maths, I liked the problem solving element of it and being able to spot patterns. That feeling of figuring out a complex trigonometry problem gave me a lot of satisfaction!

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

There are qualifications that are necessary for my role (eg. My chemistry degrees), however all of the subjects I have studied and skills I have learnt over the years through teaching, outreach events and volunteering really help with building soft skills like communication and teamwork. The ability to communicate scientific concepts and ideas is equally as import as understanding them yourself.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I enjoy the varied aspect of my job. It is interesting and feels as though it is doing some good (no one wants nasty chemicals in the food chain). But from a chemical side it’s very interesting to learn a bit more about toxicology and how new products (eg. Alternative protein sources) are checked to ensure safety before they go on the market.

What is a normal day in your role like?

On a normal day we start with a whole science team meeting. This sets me up for the day as we discuss interesting issues that have arisen or just have more of a general chat about how we are getting on. Then I might work on checking a scientific dossier (the application that a company might submit to check that the food or feed additive they want to sell is safe and useful). I also might respond to another team in the organisation about a query they have. Otherwise I might work on preparing a business case for a research project that the science team are commissioning.

And what does your job title mean?

I am Scientific Advisor in the chemical safety team. We help to risk assess what actions should be taken if a harmful chemical is found in food (eg. High levels of toxins in a packet of nuts), help explain chemical issues to other people within Food Standards Scotland, and commission science projects if we feel there is an evidence gap in an aspect of chemical food safety which might affect the Scottish consumer.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

The Food Standards Scotland website has lots of useful tools to learn about allergens, food safety in your kitchen and nutrition.


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