Rebecca Price-Davies (@rpricedavies) is a lecturer and research pharmacist at Cardiff University. She studies injectable drug stability and compatibility with medical devices, and intravenous nutrition stability. Her research improves medical care for people receiving intravenous therapy, allowing them to leave hospital earlier. Her story shows that careers don’t always go as planned and can still turn out just fine. Rebecca is looking forward to visiting the beach when she speaks at Swansea Soapbox Science!
SS: Rebecca, tell us how you got to your current position?
RPD: Not by design! I wanted to be a chef but was persuaded to do my A-levels. Once I’d done those, everyone thought it would make sense to go to university. While I was at a careers fair, it started to pour with rain so I ducked into the nearest talk and it was about pharmacy. It appealed to my scientific side so I decided to go for it. I graduated from the University of Bath after three years of working and playing hard, then took a job as a community pharmacist. Doing that, I used my scientific training on a daily basis, but I wanted to investigate more. I got a job as a research pharmacist for a pharmaceuticals company who make products for people who can’t eat normally. Alongside that, I was funded to do my PhD in Cardiff University. I’ve kept doing research in that area, but I’ve expanded my role, particularly to include a lot of teaching. My family think that’s hilarious as most of them are teachers and they always told me (and I agreed!) that I didn’t have the patience for teaching. Weirdly, my early aspirations have sort of been fulfilled in that my research involves nutrition, I use food to demonstrate scientific principles in lectures and I teach formulation (how to make medicines). My husband thinks I’m the potions masters at Cardiff University, but I don’t look like Professor Snape!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
RPD: I was one of those kids who kept asking “why?” and luckily for me, my parents were happy to answer, even when the answer was “I don’t know”. If they didn’t know, then we’d find out. My form 1 / year 7 chemistry teacher was great; he was always gleeful about science and excited by asking and answering questions. My A-level physics teacher was also brilliant; I remember the class having a totally off topic discussion about whether you needed a rocket to get to space or if a really long ladder would suffice. He knew the answer but instead of telling us, he asked questions and let us go through the process and come to the conclusion for ourselves. We didn’t cover the syllabus that day but learned a whole lot more! I might have become a scientist without these inspirational people, but I doubt it.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?
RPD: I’m right at the interface between science and patients. The work I do in my lab will be keeping someone alive in a couple of days time.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
RPD: I’m always sad when I hear someone say that science is boring. I love explaining a new idea and seeing the person get excited or intrigued, or even confused, because it got them thinking. That’s part of my job, but it’s a new challenge to take it out of the university. The Soapbox Science audience isn’t going to have an exam, so if its not interesting to them, they won’t listen.
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be
RPD: I’d stop making people work on short contracts for extended periods; the system means that scientists, particularly early in their careers, spend a vast amount of time hunting for funding to keep them in employment. That’s time they could be spending doing research. It seems crazy to me that the country spends a fortune training intelligent people to be excellent in their field then asks them to work on six month contracts for decades. It’s stressful, demoralising and diverts people from doing great work.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
RPD: The same as to a male student:
say “yes” to lots of things (but not all);
say “please” and “thank you” (even to people who don’t say it to you);
do everything with confidence, even if you’re not 100% sure about what you’re doing!