Dave – Research scientist

Dave works at the Institute of Food Research as a Research scientist. He splits his time between working in the lab and the office analysing various different foods and their components. If this sounds like something you might be interested in then read on. You may well be following in Dave’s footsteps in the future.


The Big Picture…

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A chef. I guess chemistry is pretty close to cooking – only with chemistry you mustn’t lick the spoon!

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

I’m really old now, so I grew up in the days when Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman were on TV a lot. I also loved Sam the Technician on the TV show Quincy! But being at school in London we also spent a lot of time at the science museum (which was still good back then) so some of the lecturers there (especially Aubrey Tulley).

What do you love about your job?

I get to spend every day playing with a chemistry set that costs £14 million a year to maintain!


What qualifications did you take at school/college?

I left school with 6 O levels (GCSE’s) and got a job in a lab that sent you out on day release to college where I did a TEC qualification in molecular science.

Did you go to university? Was a degree required for your role?

I’ve been quite fortunate to have progressed through my career on experience rather than qualifications – something very rare today.

Are there opportunities for apprentices within your organisation?

Not as such, but I guess you could see a post grad or even post doc placement as a form of apprenticeship, but with a high initial qualification.


What does your typical day involve?

I’m an analytical chemist, so I analyse stuff to see what is in it. I get to use some pretty cool instruments, but also do some old-school ‘wet chemistry’ a bit too.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Having a triplicate analysis where all the results are really close is pretty satisfying, but the ultimate comes when you discover something that no one else in history has ever seen. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does … wow!

What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future?

We might produce a vegetable that would protect you from the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

I guess the starting salary here for a band D is £26,000. If you want the big money go for the private sector.

What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?

We get some fun enquiries from TV production companies, and I’ve been an ‘expert’ on a couple of TV shows to do with food.


What do your friends and family think about your job?

Most think it’s pretty cool, but they all think I’m a geek. However the TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has given us a lot of Geek Chic!

Would you say you have a good standard of living/work-life balance?

Pretty much, yeah – I live on my own so I do pretty much as I please.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

Play badminton, ride bikes and fly kites, but over the past year I’ve trained and qualified as a sensory judge for the UK Barista Championships, so I spend a lot of time looking for the ultimate espresso and cappuccino.

…and finally…

What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I have no further aspirations. Were I to go any further it would take me away from the bench, and I don’t want that. I’m here to have fun and get paid for having it.

What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist?

I’d like them to think that I was a good trainer, and that my love of science rubbed off on them a bit.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

I think it would have to be the power of super sight – being able to zoom in on something without using a microscope, and maybe being able to see into the ultra violet range a bit so that I could judge optical densities of UV absorbing solutions. That, or being able to talk to plants!


With thanks to the Institute of Food Research and Dee Rawsthorne of the Norwich Bioscience Institutes.