International Day of Women and Girls in Science13 February 2023
It was International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February and with only 28% of women making up the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) workforce, the day is an opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. Full and equal participation ‘plays a vital role in ensuring diversity in research, expanding the pool of talented researchers and bringing in fresh perspectives.’
At Lucion Group, our scientific testing activities are one of our founding service lines, and we’re proud that our laboratory is Europe's largest asbestos testing facility, capable of processing a staggering 6,000 bulk samples per week. This is an unrivalled level of resource in the UK and enables us to react quickly to urgent works and restricted timescales, without compromising on quality controls.
We’re also proud that we have many talented women, at the heart of our laboratory operation, who are integral to its continued success.To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we caught up with Analytical Chemistry Specialist, Stephannie King, to ask her about her career route, what a typical working day looks like and what can be done to increase the percentage of female students selecting STEM-related fields in higher education.
Stephannie joined Lucion Group in March 2022, as part of our plans to launch a new chemistry laboratory, enabling us to offer a wider range of testing services, including the recent launch of our new lead in paint testing facility.
What inspired you to get into science?
I've always had an interest / passion for science, how things work, why they work and how the puzzle fits together. I originally wanted to be a forensic scientist which fulfilled all of those interests.
Can you share a little about your career route in the industry?
My career route has been quite varied within the field, allowing me to develop many skills and enhance my knowledge in lots of different areas. After graduating with a 2:1 honours in Forensic Chemistry, my first industrial job was at Tracerco as a Laboratory Analyst. In 2010 I was awarded a Scholarship through OneNorthEast to undertake a Masters degree in Analytical Chemistry. I graduated in 2012 with a Distinction, and was then promoted to Development Chemist. Following that I worked as a Research Assistant at Teesside University providing analytical support for a flagship research project linked to the food industry, and as a GC-MS Specialist in flavours and fragrance. Before joining Lucion Group, I was an ICP-MS Specialist (Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry - an analytical technique that can be used to measure elements at trace levels in biological fluids) in the pharmaceutical industry, and then a Senior Scientist at Intertect.
What is a typical working day like for you?
My days are usually very busy and full, with a variety of different aspects ranging from:- research, problem solving, planning, analytical method development / validation, data analysis, troubleshooting, report writing and staff training. I’m part time so I like to be as efficient as possible with my days in the lab!
What have you enjoyed most about being part of the new chemistry lab set up?
The excitement of building something from the ground up, pioneering new in house methodologies and passing on the skills I've learned throughout the years to others.
What’s your career highlight / biggest achievement?
Being in the top 10% of Gold Standard Employees at Intertek, especially since I worked part time, I should have been nowhere near the top!
Can you tell us a little more about the new Lead (Pb) in paint testing facility we are now able to offer and what that has involved?
This is a brand new service I have been working on setting up for the last 5 months. It involved instrument installation and development of a sample preparation method using microwave-assisted acid digestion (to ensure the element of interest is in solution form), ready for analysis using ICP-MS (Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry).
Once that was achieved an ICP-MS instrument method was developed and validated to confirm that there were no interferences and the analytical method was able to unequivocally assess the Lead (Pb) isotope(s) in the presence of other components / sample matrix.
All aspects of the validation protocol passed, enabling us to implement the Standard Analytical Method for routine in-house Lead (Pb) in paint analysis at the end of January 2023.
What should be done to increase the percentage of female students selecting STEM-related fields in higher education?
Introduce STEM from a young age, for example in primary schools and in children's toys / activities. From teenage years there needs to be more industries that offer apprenticeships / a day in the life of / placements and career days / site tours etc - they need to see and experience the joy of STEM, be given the tools to succeed and the reassurance and confidence that they can achieve a career in STEM too. When I was in school, I had no interest in maths and it wasn’t until I started taking physics that I realised that maths is really important in science too. Now I use maths every day in my work and I have a real passion for it, so there really needs to be more emphasis on how subjects can link together to pique childrens’ interests when they’re in school.
Are there any plans to showcase our own laboratory to local schools or colleges to give children and young adults an idea of the field?
At the moment our focus is in research and development and bringing methodologies in house. I do hope this is included in the near future though as it’s a key step in ensuring the future generation rises up to fill the ranks and keeps the field going and thriving. I also think our new chemistry lab would be particularly interesting for children to see as we have some really hi-tech equipment.
What advice would you give to somebody looking to embark upon a career in science?
As soon as possible, volunteer to work onsite in the industry to get practical experience and learn from those who have years of experience. University isn’t always necessary either. If you pursue the apprenticeship route, this will ensure that after 3-5 years you will have both the qualifications / degree and work experience making you far more employable than your counterparts who just have the degree / head knowledge.
As part of our Group mission to protect people and planet, we know that our commitment to STEM education is really important, as it builds knowledge and skills for young people across the UK. Promoting equality and diversity within this is just as important, and it’s great to have so many female champions of this, not only in our laboratory, but across our community.
We’re currently looking at a way to improve our engagement with STEM throughout the Lucion Group to make sure we’re playing our part in inspiring the next generation of scientists, so as Stephannie says we can ‘ensure the future generation rises up to fill the ranks and keep the field going and thriving.’
We regularly share what our Delta-Simons graduates get up to during their varied day-to-day job out in the field to give a taste of working life in the environmental sector. Chloe Glenn, a graduate in our Noise and Vibration team shared a recent account of a noise vibration assessment. You can read this here.