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#STEMStories: Dr Zoë, Research Scientist, UK

#STEMStories: Dr Zoë, Research Scientist, UK

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

Hi, I'm Dr Zoë Ayres - I am a research scientist in the water industry. I lead a small research team in the UK, where we work on new technologies to keep our water clean and safe.I also advocate for improving inclusion and diversity in research, specifically improving mental health awareness.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I've always loved science, but I never really knew what I wanted to "do" specifically. I've made it here by going with the flow and doing what interests me. I did my undergraduate degree in forensic science, before going on to do analytical science, then I did a PhD in chemical sensor development. The water industry interested me as we need use a lot of analytical science methods to understand our water, and the work is super important - we all know how essential water is for life!

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Absolutely the challenge. I am rarely bored and get to do new and exciting research most days. I get to do cutting edge research and solve challenges, and think about possible future challenges that haven’t even emerged yet. The people that I work with are also amazing. We get to do some great science, but also have a laugh at the same time.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

For me, I’ve had to make sure that I personally recognise that whilst I am a scientist, I am a person too. I have had to develop hobbies outside of my research: I love painting, creating posters (for my mental health advocacy), and archery, to name just a few. In times of doubt, I always try to remember that tomorrow is another day, and we don’t know what it will bring.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

My parents, 100%, as role models in life. Both have always encouraged me to be creative and allowed me to be curious about the world. As for role models in STEM, I’ve had the benefit of having great mentors both male and female, who have helped me work towards my goals. More recently, Dr Jess Wade (@JessWade on Twitter), who does a range of fantastic initiatives to increase representation in STEM, including writing Wikipedia articles to increase the number of female scientist Wiki articles that exist (the ratio female:male is not representative right now), has inspired me to take action about things that I care about. For me that has become my mental health advocacy.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I did very poorly in my exams before going to university and thought it was the end of the world at the time. Now I have realised that it was just a small blip. It also helped me figure out what I wanted and go for it. I’d like to tell myself that that “failure” was really the catalyst for where I am today – and I don’t regret it for an instant. It ultimately has made me into a better scientist.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  • Don’t be afraid to fail – In STEM, when we are doing new research, science often doesn’t go our way. It is not a reflection of our ability. We need to get comfortable with our ‘failures’ and learn from them.
  • Write a list of your achievements to date – Sometimes our confidence is going to get knocked, but you absolutely deserve to be where you are and are capable. By writing a list of your achievements (scientific or otherwise) you can look back when you have any doubt.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help – Asking for help is essential for us to succeed. We cannot know everything or be superwoman. Sometimes reaching out for advice/guidance from others can save us a lot of time and energy. There is no stupid question!

8. How do you measure your success?

For me it is now about what makes me happy. The main thing is that I have learnt to not compare myself against others. No one persons journey is the same, so it is essential we realise that we are different. Success also looks very different on different days. Some days it is simply getting out of bed, and that is okay.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

You can find out a little bit more about me, as well as my mental health advocacy at www.zjayres.com

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

You can find me on twitter - @zjayres