Interview with Tim White, consulting scientist

29 June 2011

Tim White has been a member of SCI since 1980, and has been involved with the Environment Group Committee. In 2001, he founded Marquis and Lord, a company of consulting scientists offering bespoke investigation and review services to the legal, insurance and engineering professions, whose main areas of expertise are in public health issues relating to water and land quality, product liability (materials defect investigation) and chemical fate and behaviour issues.

What does your current job involve?
TW: I am managing director of my firm; however, I still perform technical (fee-earning) work within the consultancy. This work comprises largely of expert witness appointments relating to water quality. The remainder of my technical work is made up of a mixture of chemical properties modelling and interpretation of environmental data for a range of media.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
TW: For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a chemist. I still have the chemistry set I was given at the age of 12! I doubt you could buy one now in the modern safety-conscious world we live in.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
TW: Understanding how things work was always my driving force, so there was never another choice for me.

What has your experience ascending the career ladder been like?
TW: Some would regard it as relatively slow; however, in my line of work it is a matter of experience dominating the qualification for the next step. Gaining experience is always a slow process.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
TW: Most of the problems I have been asked to solve for clients always require an examination of the science from first principles up. I have learned that you cannot ignore the fundamentals; usually, it was sidestepping them in the first place that caused the problem I have been asked to address.

What would you have done differently?
TW: There have been so many factors impacting on the direction of my career, causing minor adjustments to be made, that it is difficult to identify one single thing I would change. At one point, I was offered an interview for the British Antarctic Survey. I guess if I had taken up that offer things might have turned out differently, but I will never know.

How have you set goals for yourself and managed to achieve them?
TW: My primary goal has always been to own and run a science-based business. However, for many years it was difficult to identify a commercial market for my particular skill set outside of government agencies. As with all things though, markets changed, which presented an opportunity to firmly get on track.

What would you say have been the key milestones in your career?
TW: Without a doubt, becoming a member of SCI allowed me to meet so many people whose knowledge and enthusiasm for good science reinforced my approach and inspired me to spread the word. The second milestone was forming Marquis and Lord.

What key things would a young person need to do if they wanted to get to the position you've achieved?
TW: In my view, someone starting out to follow my career path today would be best advised to stick to a pure science qualification and be diligent about continuing professional development throughout their employment. They'd need to experience as many cross-fertilising opportunities as possible to be able to express how basic scientific principles affect everyday lives in a manner relevant to a client.

How do you achieve work/life balance?
TW: This has always been tricky, as the key to effective consultancy is to be available. With practice, you learn the skill of managing people's expectations in this regard. However, this does not get over the problem of finding the time needed to stay up to date with required reading. To me, weekends and annual holidays are precious. I preserve them at the expense of losing evenings to personal research and reading.

What is your leadership style? How do you keep a team engaged and motivated?
TW: My approach is quite simple: as a manager, I see my role as a facilitator, to remove obstacles that prevent my team from doing their job. I have never had a problem with team engagement or motivation. When you give people ownership of the task and the outcome, motivation to do a good job is self-sustaining.

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