International Day of Women and Girls in Science

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated each year on February 11, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

According to UNESCO data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education.

Carin Tattershall, Senior Scientist, is one of many women at Cristal who play a critical role in research and development and technical service. Carin earned her bachelor of science and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from University of Sheffield where she also earned the Turner Prize for the best inorganic chemistry Ph.D. thesis. She has published 19 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Carin is a valued member of the Cristal team, having joined in 2007 and has contributed to numerous research and development and technical support projects for pigmentary and ultrafine titanium dioxide. Her current focus is coatings applications work to support new product development, manufacturing and customers.

She has also contributed to development work on photocatalytic TiO2 products, including dispersions and surface treated photocatalysts for applications in pollution control, dye-sensitized solar cells and pro-degradants for plastics.

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we asked Carin to share her experiences.

How did you become interested in a career in science?

I had a very good chemistry teacher at school, who made us think for ourselves. I enjoyed the lessons and played with chemistry sets at home. I was also interested in biology and growing plants and even tried to produce my own hybrids! I chose sciences as my study path at 16 and then went on to study chemistry at university.

I think research in general was something I started to enjoy as a child. I got into family history research in a big way. During my chemistry degree, I really enjoyed the two short third-year research projects, especially digging into the literature and finding my own explanations for what had happened with my lab experiments. So I decided to carry on and do a PhD.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as a scientist?

I find this question really hard. I have worked on some high profile projects but always as part of a larger team. I think some of my best work has been on projects that went nowhere! But that is the reality of life as a scientist.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like getting all of the experimental results together and working out what they mean. Sometimes that means digging back through past results or through the chemical literature to see if there are any clues. Sometimes that means designing more experiments to clarify what is going on. I also enjoy analyzing data, showing clearly what the results mean and writing about them in such a way that other people can understand what we have learnt from the work we are doing.

I like the supportive and relatively non-pressured work environment that has been part of all of the science jobs in my career. I also enjoy the balance between active laboratory work and sedentary deskwork that comes with being a laboratory scientist.

Although there are some tasks that are mundane, I think I would come to work even if I was not paid for it, and that is the best kind of job to have!

What do you think needs to be done to achieve progress for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics?

I actually think a lot has changed since I started work in 1989. After I had my first daughter, I didn’t return to work because the company that I worked for decided that being a scientist had to be a full-time role. Since then, I worked part-time for many years, and I think in many places, it is accepted that being a scientist is certainly a job you can do part-time. However, I am sure that this acceptance is not universal!

After a seven-year career break to bring up my family, my skills were a bit out-of-date, and finding an R&D job was difficult. I was sponsored by the Daphne Jackson Trust to retrain as a polymer scientist at the University of Manchester, and it is schemes like these that help women to get back into science after a break.

I have personally never felt discriminated against as a woman in science, but I am aware that this is not the experience for all women. My comfortable personal experience may be partly because I have never aspired to a senior position. The Royal Society of Chemistry carried out a recent survey that found that “Talented women, interested in an academic career, are leaving the sector before reaching their full potential. Many excellent female scientists who stay in academia are not progressing to senior grades in the same proportion as their male peers.” They report the same trends for industrial careers, although not to the same extent as in academia.

What would your advice be to young women thinking about a career in STEM?

My advice to young women would be the same as to young men: choose a career that you will enjoy doing. Your working life is too large a part of your life to spend it doing something that you don’t enjoy but that you think will earn you a good living, or will please your parents. Think about your hobbies, what you like to do in your spare time: what career can you do that uses those skills and those interests?

If you like to find out things, and puzzle things out, maybe science is a career for you!

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