STEM Mentor: Pushing the boundaries of the next generation of science and technology

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 6 May, 2021 | Girls in STEM

Elaine Baxter is a Chemist and Director of Boutique Innovation

People often ask me why I took on a career as a scientist and the honest answer is that for as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by science.  From an early age I was interested in ‘how things worked’ and my first lab instrument was a microscope which I pored over for many hours inspecting grains of salt and dead insects!  

Like many girls who follow the path of training in STEM, I was lucky enough to have a truly inspirational science teacher at school. Mrs. Murphy gave me a taste for the excitement that science and particularly chemistry can bring.  I was fascinated by transformational chemistry where things change colour, bubble and emit gases in a reaction.

Whilst our school chemistry lab was far from modern (it was in an old prefab with no heating, where we were allowed to light the Bunsen burners just to keep warm!), that did not deter me from wanting to pursue a career in STEM.

Four years at university taught me that I had a strong desire to do more research and another three years of study resulted in gaining a PhD in synthetic inorganic chemistry.  Then what?  After many years of academic pursuit, I was ready for a career that could make a difference to peoples’ lives.  I spent an amazing 13 years working for the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble in London, bringing chemistry to life developing products in skincare, shaving, cosmetics and fragrances. Not only did I get to formulate products, but I worked with process engineers to scale these formulations up and in manufacturing plants to make them.  

Over time, I became more interested in how innovation works and I went on to design the first innovation accelerator program at P&G in the UK.  I now work for myself helping other companies to develop their own innovations, within and outside of the scientific field.

STEM scientists spend time both in and out of the lab working in teams to develop new technologies. 

The importance of diversity in this environment is critical.  Everyone being the same and thinking the same would result in products and services that were all ‘the same’!  This is why it is critical for girls to continue to embrace STEM and push the boundaries of the next generation of science and technology.  

On being a girl in STEM – For sure, taking some STEM subjects is a path less trodden by girls.  For sure you will sometimes be the only girl in the room.  For sure, this can be intimidating and difficult.  During my career I have tried to focus on ‘being a scientist’ (regardless of gender) and delivering excellent results every time.  Sometimes you have to be brave to be the only girl in the room and to make your voice heard, but this is of the highest importance.  Someday, you’ll be an inspirational role model for the next generation to come.

There are lots of places where you’ll find resources online to help in decisions with studying STEM.  The professional bodies for Chemistry, Physics and Biology are some of those.  Hopefully you’ll find some inspiration there for your careers ahead. My one piece of advice is ’do what you love’. I did and it’s worked for me!

My favourite resources:

https://www.iop.org

http://rsc.org

https://www.rsb.org.uk

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Written by Elaine Baxter