Emma Timewell is the Communications Manager at Plant & Food Research and National Convener for the Association of Women in the Sciences NZ.
What do you do on an average work day?
A variety of things to communicate Plant & Food Research’s science, and how that science is having impact for the New Zealand primary industries. Generally, I work with scientists to share their achievements and activities with a range of audiences - the general public, businesses who might need our science to help them, and the government who fund a lot of our research. This could mean talking to journalists and arranging interviews with our scientists; writing press releases, articles or case studies; putting together scripts and editing videos for our YouTube channel; keeping our website up to date; or writing factcards for our business team to use at meetings.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
I went to school and university in the UK, and studied A-level Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths at high school before doing a BSc (Hons) in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of East Anglia. Since I started working in communications I’ve also gained a Diploma in Communications and a PostGraduate Diploma in Bioscience Enterprise (basically, business skills for biologists), and received my Accreditation in Public Relations.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
I’ve always loved science, but found during my degree that I didn’t enjoy being in a lab as much as I thought I would. So now I use my knowledge to talk about science instead, and it definitely helps that I understand how science works at a fundamental level when I’m talking to scientists, reading scientific papers or trying to break down scientific concepts into more general language.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Choose something that combines things you enjoy doing – for me that was science and talking! Science is a great way to get into a huge range of careers and you learn a lot of skills that will be useful wherever you end up. Whatever you start doing may not be what you end up doing 10 years down the track so don’t worry too much if things don’t work out exactly how you expected them to right now – just make the most of every opportunity as you’ll never be sure what you’ll learn (about yourself and the world) along the way.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
I’ve had a lot of personal and professional highlights along the way. I’m proud to be involved in the Association for Women in the Sciences and the Science Communicators Association of New Zealand. Through these I’ve helped raise the profile of science and scientists in New Zealand.
Some of my favourite moments are when stories that we’ve worked hard developing really capture the attention of the media and get the science out to a wide audience. My favourite of these was the sequencing of the apple genome, which we managed to link to the event that killed the dinosaurs – the media loved that one! But it’s also been really fulfilling to see companies that I worked with meet their milestones, such as raising the funds needed to continue their research or making new connections to move their science through the development pipeline.
Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
STEM is vital for everyday life. There’s very little appreciation of just how science has formed the way we live today – without scientists and scientific advances we wouldn’t have agriculture, technology, medicines, even hot and cold running water and electricity. It’s fundamental to everything we do, but in recent decades the public perception of science has gradually moved from something vital that should be respected to something scary or unnecessary.
A fundamental understanding of science, whether you choose to work in the field or not, is important in helping make choices around the decisions we make in our daily lives, as individuals, communities, nations or as a global population.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
STEM, like everything, requires a balance of views, opinions and cultures to ensure it can excel. If everyone in science thought and acted the same way, then there’d be little informed discussion and debate about the avenues science could or should take. Having a balanced workforce – of genders and cultures – is important in ensuring all views, skills and opinions are represented, whether in the lab or at policy level.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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