37 minutes | Sep 3, 2020

Episode 7 - Dr. Natalie Whitehead, Co-Founder Exeter Science Centre

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Natalie Whitehead, co-founder of the Exeter Science Centre. Here are some links to the different organisations and schemes we discussed in the podcast:  Dr. Natalie Whitehead Linkedin  Exeter Science Centre  Student Start Ups  SETsquared   Exeter City Futures  Exeter Science Park  Kaleider  The Ocean Clean-Up  The Impact Lab  National Marine Aquarium   CDT Metamaterials    Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses   Podcast transcript   1 00:00:10,940 --> 00:00:23,510 Hello and welcome to the Beyond your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College 2 00:00:23,510 --> 00:00:27,590 Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree. 3 00:00:27,590 --> 00:00:34,550 I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and I'm delighted for this episode to be joined by one of our recent graduates, Dr Natalie Whitehead. 4 00:00:34,550 --> 00:00:39,770 Natalie, are you happy to introduce yourself? OK, great. 5 00:00:39,770 --> 00:00:46,640 So I'm Natalie Whitehead. I recently finished my PhD in physics. 6 00:00:46,640 --> 00:00:54,050 I was looking at spin waves through magnets, which are just a special type of wave that travels through magnets. 7 00:00:54,050 --> 00:00:58,310 That was my PhD and that finished in September. 8 00:00:58,310 --> 00:01:07,910 And I'm now the founder and director alongside my colleague, Dr Alice Mills for the Exeter Science Centre. 9 00:01:07,910 --> 00:01:12,920 Talk to me about the Exeter Science Centre. How how did this come about? 10 00:01:12,920 --> 00:01:20,180 So this is something that I've been thinking about for, oh, I don't know, probably just a bit over a year now. 11 00:01:20,180 --> 00:01:26,390 But a year and a half. And basically, I I was trying to work out what to do after my PhD 12 00:01:26,390 --> 00:01:32,810 So this who was in physics and during my PhD and undergraduate degree, 13 00:01:32,810 --> 00:01:38,180 I was really involved in doing public engagement with research and a lot of science outreach. 14 00:01:38,180 --> 00:01:45,260 I absolutely love talking about science and and speaking to the public about it and showing them demos and getting their 15 00:01:45,260 --> 00:01:53,660 views and trying to answer questions and things and basically just trying to inspire them about how amazing science is. 16 00:01:53,660 --> 00:01:59,540 So I was trying to work out what to do after the PhD, which would, you know, 17 00:01:59,540 --> 00:02:04,970 be good for me, but also for something that I can really contribute towards. 18 00:02:04,970 --> 00:02:08,770 So, you know, the climate crisis is a really big thing at the moment. 19 00:02:08,770 --> 00:02:14,370 Of course, it should be and should have been for the. I don't know how many decades. 20 00:02:14,370 --> 00:02:23,930 And I really feel like I have some kind of responsibility to do something with my physics training, which is useful. 21 00:02:23,930 --> 00:02:27,350 So I was trying to work out what to do and whether, you know, 22 00:02:27,350 --> 00:02:32,030 whether I should go and work for one of these amazing Start-Up companies doing cool things. 23 00:02:32,030 --> 00:02:34,280 You know, I was looking at the the ocean clean up. 24 00:02:34,280 --> 00:02:41,780 I think what they're doing is amazing, using science and tech to solve the problem and a global issue and lots of other companies like that. 25 00:02:41,780 --> 00:02:50,990 It's nice thinking. Well, you know, I could go and work for someone like that. Will I be the best scientist or engineer to do that? 26 00:02:50,990 --> 00:02:56,240 I don't know. But I thought really what my what my skills are. 27 00:02:56,240 --> 00:03:01,610 One of the things I'm really passionate about, as I mentioned, is science communication. 28 00:03:01,610 --> 00:03:11,330 And this idea really just came to me one afternoon having lunch and thinking like, why don't I just make a science centre in Exeter? 29 00:03:11,330 --> 00:03:16,070 It's just something that I've always kind of thought, wow, we should really have one of those here 30 00:03:16,070 --> 00:03:20,540 I've been to a few around the UK and across the world. 31 00:03:20,540 --> 00:03:28,610 And I just I love going there. And I see adults and people of all ages just absolutely loving, 32 00:03:28,610 --> 00:03:37,480 understanding different things about science and playing with scientific equipment and just really engaging with science. 33 00:03:37,480 --> 00:03:43,530 And I just figured, why don't we have one here? And why don't I just make it? 34 00:03:43,530 --> 00:03:49,580 So I approached my colleague Alice, and she's a very passionate science communicator as well. 35 00:03:49,580 --> 00:03:53,150 And she loved the idea here. And we've just been talking about it since then. 36 00:03:53,150 --> 00:03:57,050 So, yeah, we're just super dedicated to making it happen. 37 00:03:57,050 --> 00:04:02,120 So what stage are you at with your plans for the science centre? 38 00:04:02,120 --> 00:04:08,120 We're still in the very early stages. So, as I mentioned, I finished the PhD in September. 39 00:04:08,120 --> 00:04:12,030 And of course, when you, you know, hand in a PhDthesis, 40 00:04:12,030 --> 00:04:16,440 you still got a lot of work to do afterwards to kind of, you know, do the viva and make corrections. 41 00:04:16,440 --> 00:04:22,570 So that's been kind of continued and maybe into about January or so. 42 00:04:22,570 --> 00:04:29,580 And then I really properly submitted it put in online and then then could properly focus on this that I've been working on. 43 00:04:29,580 --> 00:04:35,930 It's pretty much full time on and off, you know, around the thesis since September. 44 00:04:35,930 --> 00:04:44,420 So what we're what we're doing at the moment is trying to get trying to get the public to be aware of our plans and try 45 00:04:44,420 --> 00:04:54,650 to get their input and really just try to establish ourselves as a science discovery centre for Exeter and for the region. 46 00:04:54,650 --> 00:04:59,150 And just trying to raise awareness, try to raise money as well. 47 00:04:59,150 --> 00:05:03,920 That's a big part of it. And just trying to make it happen. 48 00:05:03,920 --> 00:05:15,740 We've got a a team of advisers who are amazing and super inspiring from different areas of science education and business as well. 49 00:05:15,740 --> 00:05:21,020 And they're kind of our advisory boards. They'll be moving over to be our trustees. 50 00:05:21,020 --> 00:05:27,650 Once we establish ourselves as a charity soon. But there's there's loads of things to do about it. 51 00:05:27,650 --> 00:05:33,350 When you take on such a big project, you realise that, you know, you're running a business. 52 00:05:33,350 --> 00:05:38,170 You're also trying to create a charity here, charitable business. 53 00:05:38,170 --> 00:05:46,240 Engage with the public. And that is just a kind of multidisciplinary project ready, which is really exciting or very overwhelming. 54 00:05:46,240 --> 00:05:50,380 But at the same time, it's some I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. 55 00:05:50,380 --> 00:05:55,870 I was going to say it's it's a huge project and and it is there must be an awful 56 00:05:55,870 --> 00:06:02,440 lot of business based skills and business based work that needs to be done. 57 00:06:02,440 --> 00:06:05,890 How how has that been? How has it been. Yeah. 58 00:06:05,890 --> 00:06:10,650 You know, going from an academic environment to doing much more business related work. 59 00:06:10,650 --> 00:06:12,610 Have you found that transition easy? 60 00:06:12,610 --> 00:06:19,690 Have there been kind of skills and experiences you've been able to take across or has it been a complete learning curve? 61 00:06:19,690 --> 00:06:29,020 It's been a very steep learning curve. So am I. I don't have any experience of running a company myself, and nor does my colleague Alice. 62 00:06:29,020 --> 00:06:34,930 So we're learning. However, I feel like when you you do a PhD and you study. 63 00:06:34,930 --> 00:06:38,470 I mean, you know, from my experience of studying science and physics, 64 00:06:38,470 --> 00:06:45,470 you you have to take in a lot of information and and process things and think logically. 65 00:06:45,470 --> 00:06:49,480 And, you know, you you can learn things very quickly. 66 00:06:49,480 --> 00:06:58,420 And although the business and accounting and finance and all that kind of stuff is it's not my first language at all 67 00:06:58,420 --> 00:07:02,900 I feel like there's there's a lot of information out there that just needs synthesising, understanding. 68 00:07:02,900 --> 00:07:06,310 And really, that is the way we're approaching this. 69 00:07:06,310 --> 00:07:10,420 Of course, we understand it. We we shouldn't be expected to be absolute experts. 70 00:07:10,420 --> 00:07:12,630 Everything we're doing and this projects, rather, 71 00:07:12,630 --> 00:07:20,530 it's it's understanding when we need help and need assistance and guidance from people who really have experience in this. 72 00:07:20,530 --> 00:07:27,190 So we've been very lucky, actually, to have a lot of assistance from the university in. 73 00:07:27,190 --> 00:07:35,920 In this kind of Start-Up venture, if you would call with the start-ups team, setsquared programme. 74 00:07:35,920 --> 00:07:40,420 They've been absolutely wonderful and giving us the kind of business advice. 75 00:07:40,420 --> 00:07:50,590 So we've been assigned a business adviser, David So
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