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My job explained: Inorganic chemist

inorganic chemistJulia Heslop describes her research in cancer treatments and her current job working for a coal-fired power station. Read on to find out about the challenges she’s faced in getting to where she is now and why she thinks it is all worth it.

What inspired you to study chemistry?

I found chemistry pretty difficult at school but during my first year at university it all started making sense, everything fell into place and I was inspired to study it further.

How long did it take to train and what did the training involve?

I did a four year BSC(tech) degree in New Zealand, which involved three years studying science subjects including chemistry and biology as well as learning about the management requirements of science jobs such as communication and finance. The final year was a work placement in a chemistry job.

I then completed a four year DPhil in inorganic chemistry researching copper complexes and how they can be used in treating cancer.

Can you describe a typical working day?

I work in the chemistry and environment department at a coal-fired power station so my working day can be pretty varied. A working day could include: checking plant readings on the computer, going out onsite to take samples from the boilers, analysing samples in the lab, working on projects together with engineers and operatives to improve processes onsite and doing risk assessments of the chemicals being used.

What's the best thing about your job?

The variety. I work with different people including engineers and the operating technicians who operate the power station and on a daily basis do a range of different tasks including donning a boiler suit and hard hat to go out and do work on the plant.

Have there been any challenges in getting to where you are now?

Overcoming my natural shyness to be able to put my ideas and opinions forward with confidence. I was able to achieve this through experiences at school and university of giving presentations and also building my confidence through other activities such as playing football.

What qualities and skills do you think are important for your role?

  • A solid scientific and chemistry background
  • Good communication and people skills
  • Adaptability and willingness to learn new things
  • Problem-solving skills

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

Find something you find enjoyable and challenging and don’t be afraid to ask questions or admit you don’t understand.

What is your favourite chemistry related invention?

My favourite chemistry inventions are probably the formulations that have been made for drugs and medical treatments such as cisplatin for chemotherapy treatment of cancer, which targets the rapidly dividing cancer cells in the body and destroys the DNA to kill the cells.