Smashing Stereotypes – “I didn’t think science was open to me”

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Dr Chris Peel had a less than straightforward route into a career as a scientist. Here he describes his pathway, motivation and plans for the future.

"I didn't think Science was open to me"

Science had always innately intrigued me from a young age, however in the absence of relatable role models and due to my environment and background, I didn’t think this path was open to me. I didn’t know anyone who had been to university with most of my family members barely finishing secondary school, never mind any form of further or higher education. 

Therefore, having started A-levels I was then convinced to join a trade after my AS level first year rather than continue, with no-one to persuade me otherwise. I enrolled on an apprenticeship as an electrician which was great – lots of travel around and very good money for such a young age. 

I continued in this role until 2008, where I was made redundant in the final year of my apprenticeship. The economic crisis at the time meant that finding another position to complete my apprenticeship would be virtually impossible.

However, I took this as an opportunity to reinvent myself. At the ripe old age of 21, I decided I would return to education to pursue science; a passion of mine that had developed at school.

Being a Mature Student

As a “mature student”, I had to pay for A-levels myself, initially through working in retail (The Early Learning centre!) before landing a job as a Pharmacy Dispensing Assistant where I worked part-time while studying. 

After obtaining good A-level results I attended The University of Nottingham to study a MSci in Chemistry and stayed on for a PhD with Elaine O’Reilly in Biocatalysis. 

PhD and Beyond

During my PhD I was blessed with a daughter which while extremely magical, made life a balancing act! Following my PhD, I did a year long stint at Charnwood as a Research Chemist before taking up a postdoctoral position in Toyama, Japan for a further year. I learned so much from this experience and have developed a lifelong love of the country and culture with Japanese lessons a regular part of my life!

Upon returning to England, I rejoined Charnwood initially as a Senior Chemist before making a transition to a commercial role as a Business Development Executive. 

Despite being a scientist at heart, I’ve enjoyed the transition to a commercial role as it applies knowledge I’ve spent a long time accruing to different challenges. This has been a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge as a scientist across all the disciplines involved along the whole drug discovery process. It’s allowed me to step back and admire the whole process as a scientist rather than focus in more detail on the chemistry, with more breadth of topics compared to depth. 

I think in summary when we talk about smashing stereotypes, I want people from a similar background as me to realize that it is possible to achieve what you want even if it takes a little longer than most.

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