Case study: A day in the life of Dr Sharon Williams

20 October 2010

20 Oct 2010

I am the Downstream Process Development manager and Product Support manager for a biotechnology company, ProMetic BioSciences in Cambridge. My first degree is in Biological Sciences from the University of Wolverhampton and my PhD is in Biochemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham. I have been working in the biotechnology field for the last eight years and have worked my way up from a laboratory scientist to a research manager.

Who or what first stimulated your interest in science?
I have always been interested in how things work, but I became interested in science as a potential career when I started my GCSE’s and I met a new science teacher at my school.  

Why did you decide to pursue a science career?
I was always good at science at school and I knew when I was choosing my A’ level that I wanted to have a career in science. At the time I was interested in being a vet or being a forensic scientist. I could also see that there was a wide variety of jobs that I could do with a science background.

What attracted you to your degree course(s)?
For my first degree I wanted to do something in biology as at A’ level this was my best subject. The degree course that I opted for was great for me as I could specialise in an area of biological science after my first year. I could have done human physiology, plant biology and microbiology after the first year modules I completed, but I decided to specialise in biotechnology and protein biochemistry. The degree was really good for being able to try out different subjects to find what interested me most before specialising in my 2nd and final year. This degree was also a sandwich degree which meant that I spent a year away from my university working. I was lucky enough to work as a research assistant in the Chemical Engineering department at Birmingham University, which is where I went back to, to do my PhD. From my year out I realised that I really enjoyed biochemical engineering and I have been in that field ever since.

How did you come to join SCI and why?
A few years ago I was introduced to a very active member of SCI, who became my mentor. He knew that I was keen to advance my career and he suggested SCI as a good way to improve my networking and so I joined. I have also always been very passionate about encouraging people into science, and in particular into biochemical engineering and I saw this as a good organisation to contribute to in order to show young people how a career in science is worthwhile.

Is SCI helping you develop your career and how?
Being a member of SCI and being on SCI committees has really helped my career because of the networking opportunities. Through SCI I have vastly increased my network of contacts in the field. To be a really successful scientist you need to have a good reputation within the industry and this only comes with publishing work and meeting the people in your industry. Once people begin to recognise you and your face, then you are on your way to making a place for yourself within the industry.

Is it important for young scientists to become involved in SCI activities?   
I think that it is really important for young people to be involved with SCI. It is young people that drive organisations like this forward and it is young people who know what they need from SCI. If you don’t get involved the organisation won’t change to give you what you need to help develop your career. Organisations like SCI only work when people take the time to become involved and contribute. SCI is a great organisation for helping scientists make the most of their careers, but in return it needs the help of young scientists to understand what they need to offer.

How would you persuade young people that science offers interesting and worthwhile career opportunities?
The subject area of science is vast and with a general knowledge of science you can diversify into any area such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, food and energy to name a few. A career in science isn’t only about lab work, but there are great careers in areas such as management, manufacturing, business development, marketing and sales. I started working in a lab as a research associate, but now I am part of an R&D management team and I help the commercial team within my company. For me, having a career in science has allowed me to do a job that a love, but that can constantly evolve to satisfy my ambitions. It can also be quite exciting when you make a new discovery! I often tell my team that ‘today we have pushed back the frontiers of science’….dramatic, I know and they often raise their eyebrows at me, but even with small things, when you know you are the first person to have done something you get a huge buzz!

Do you have a science hero? 
This is going to sound a little sad, but my school science teacher is my science hero. I’ve never really looked up to famous scientists and thought ‘I want to be just like him/her’, as I want to make my own mark in science. But, if it wasn’t for my school science teacher I probably wouldn’t have taken a career in science as I was planning on being a hairdresser. I had never come across someone who worked in science and had never considered it as a career and so Mr Fowler is my science hero.

If you could do one thing to improve the image of science what would that be?
Ban the word boffin! It makes scientists sound either like geeks or mad scientists….we are actually all quite normal, average people.

How old were you when you started to become interested in science?  
I remember at primary school, when I was 4 years old joining the school science club and so you could say from a very young age…..

What did you do today that was exciting?
I had some work accepted for a presentation at a European conference. So I get to do a talk to fellow scientists on my subject area, which is quite daunting, but exciting at the same time!

What do you hope to be doing in 5 years time?  
In five years time I want to be a company director, either as a Research and Development, Commercial or Scientific director.

You can connect with other SCI members who are in a similar field to Sharon, through the SCI Members' Directory.

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