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I'm a STEM research scientist

(80 Posts)
JohnMcCainsDeathStare Wed 21-Oct-20 01:04:57

Early mid-career material scientist - don't want to be too identifying but ask me questions about career, life as a scientist and what it's like to be a parent too.
My second time in AMA.

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grassisjeweled Wed 21-Oct-20 01:07:54

What's a material scientist?

Itsatoughgig Wed 21-Oct-20 01:16:12

What was your undergrad and have you done post grad studies?

JohnMcCainsDeathStare Wed 21-Oct-20 01:18:17

A material scientist tends to be somewhat cross-disciplinary with aspects of chemistry, physics, biology and engineering depending on the type of materials. I have two main specialities: metal-ceramic composites and functional materials you will find in things like computer memory.

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Wed 21-Oct-20 01:19:22

I have three degrees with a strong physics/chemistry underpinning - my first degree was physics. I also have a MSc and a PhD.
I have also spent the best part of a decade working in industry as well as academia.

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Itsatoughgig Wed 21-Oct-20 01:30:28

@JohnMcCainsDeathStare thanks

grassisjeweled Wed 21-Oct-20 01:32:10

So you study those materials? For example, aluminium? To make them more effective?

Great idea for a thread, better than the others we've had tonight!

JohnMcCainsDeathStare Wed 21-Oct-20 01:35:46

I actually make them too - there is a new material recently synthesized which is a pain in the ass to reproduce but has all kinds of cool properties.
I have also invented two new materials of the ceramic metal variety.
You'd be surprised how often hammers feature in my research - putting the 'Physical' into physical science.

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Thu 22-Oct-20 07:53:40

I have also got to do all kinds of things that are rather awesome too!. Not to mention the fact that having a 1600C high-pressure furnace in your lab is rather cool too.

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Mon 26-Oct-20 18:23:51

I'm still here - thought that MNetters had some interest in science - I can give you an insight into how it gets done - we have to walk the walk not just talk the talk!

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dontwantamirena Mon 26-Oct-20 19:31:30

I hope this isn’t too outing but can I ask where you did your MSc and what it covered? I considered going into this before. Thanks.

BullshitVivienne Mon 26-Oct-20 19:33:32

Do you think all the efforts to get women into STEM are working? If not, what more can be done?

fruitpastille Mon 26-Oct-20 19:37:41

What do you do in a typical day?

JohnMcCainsDeathStare Tue 27-Oct-20 00:08:41

I did a new MSc that at the time went into novel material science. As it was quite technological it also had a mix of managment modules - some of which were quite interesting. However, I'.m still not sold on why managment accounting was one of them...

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Tue 27-Oct-20 00:14:39

Some of the efforts of getting women into STEM are paying off but the nature of academic life really isn't family friendly, that and the fact that the rest of society is still playing catch-up.

You often do long, erratic hours and when you look for a job, unconscious bias is still very much a thing - I have former and current collegues who have faced blatant sexism such as 'oh you're going to go off and have a baby aren't you' type thing. This is particularly bad in industry - it is a mixed picture though. My AS has probably both helped and hindered things though.

The main issue is getting girls into STEM - the sex ratio at university hasn't really changed in 25 years since I was an undergrad. There is still a considerable amount of hostility to girls expressing interest in STEM or indeed an interest in anything particularly demanding - both from peer group but also unconscious bias from teachers/parents.

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Tue 27-Oct-20 00:17:58

My typical day - it still somewhat mirrors what I did pre-Covid. I usually start with email and practical work if I am on a practical work cycle. Then its usually writing papers/admin in the afternoon. If not writing papers, then lit survey and planning.

There is also meetings, liasing with colleagues and visiting other collaborators. In the summer there are usually conferences. Other times trips to central facilities such as ISIS in Daresbury to use equipment time. Most days have something new to them.

At the moment practical work is a PITA since the system I'm making is a pain to synthesize!

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Hotwaterbottlelove Tue 27-Oct-20 10:29:19

Interesting. How much do you currently get paid? And what is the one liner description you roll out when people first meet you and ask what you do? I have a job that was niche a decade ago and most people either pretended they understood or fail to hide their boredom.

JohnMcCainsDeathStare Fri 30-Oct-20 12:24:30

Currently just shy of 40K as befits someone who is midway between postdoc and fellow - I did actually take a strategic pay cut when entering industry - I got the job mostly from a single technique I'd played with during tinker time.

I know the feeling of watching people's eyes glaze over if you want to talk about something vaguely technical - scientific literacy is still rather poor in society - particularly for the over 40's.
Someone can say they are a lawyer or a teacher or they study history - most people can connect. But you try saying scientist and....
So I simply say materials scientist as that will do for now.

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Fri 30-Oct-20 17:24:26

I also get to go to cool places overseas (when that was a thing) and in this country like the Royal Society. Sometimes I need to remember I'm technically an expert - still feel like the awkward schoolgirl but perhaps that's my imposter syndrome. It isn't always bad - helps keep me grounded. Didn't get a single A at A level either...just sayin'

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SonEtLumiere Fri 30-Oct-20 17:54:00

Have you ever thought about going into industry and doubling your salary?

What sorts of applications are your metallo-ceramics used for?

JohnMcCainsDeathStare Fri 30-Oct-20 18:02:12

Doubling my salary?!? Nice work if you can get it. Already been in industry for the best part of a decade - that's where I invented things.
That and the fact the crapshow of jobseeking in 2017 taught me is that I'm too weird for industry, my impersonation of an NT person is rubbish and recruiters want to try me to apply for HS and E type jobs and not actual science.

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JohnMcCainsDeathStare Fri 30-Oct-20 18:03:28

My metalloceramics - cutting tools and facings for extreme enviroments. Possible that they could be game-changing radiation shielding. And you can make them in existing factories in principle, 'cause that's where I invented them.

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SonEtLumiere Sat 31-Oct-20 06:03:42

Thank you. Sounds really interesting.

Are there any “primer” books or articles you could recommend about them.

Do you think you would go the same route again if you suddenly woke up aged 14?

GreenLeafTurnip Sat 31-Oct-20 06:36:44

Did you do your PhD before having children? I've just finished my masters in molecular biotechnology and am working as a technician in a biochemistry lab which I absolutely love. My bosses want me to pursue a PhD but with a young son (He's nearly 2) I just don't think I have the time for both. I'm also really horrible at presenting my work and answering questions about it on the spot so defending my thesis scared the crap out of me!

JohnMcCainsDeathStare Sat 31-Oct-20 08:44:54

In terms of 'primers' Isaac Asimov is a good start. TBH I'm not that up on popular science but New Scientist is a good place as a general resource as well as Wikipedia. Wikipedia in terms of scientific content is as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica and a Wikipedia rabbit hole can take you strange places.

As for my route - I would have probably gone straight into nuclear research but that was 1993 when people were a bit more ambivalent. I origninally wanted to be an extra-solar planet hunter!

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