26 days to go – meet Dr Geetha Srinivasan, organiser of Soapbox Science Ireland

GeethaWith childhood dreams of becoming a medical doctor and not able to pursue medical pathway due to personal circumstances (losing parents), I went to explore the world of molecules and reactions. ‘Chemistry is the basis of any life and chemistry has naturally become a part of my life’. Being a hyperactive person, I wanted to electrocute materials and study their reactions – in other words I was interested in electrochemistry and electroactive materials which led me to do my doctorate in conducting polymers. Starting my doctorate studies with a new born baby was very challenging but with the encouragement and support provided by the family, not only that  I managed to pursue my research work but also secured senior research fellowship from Council of Science and Industrial Research, India (after attempting for three times). After qualifying as a Doctor in Applied Chemistry from Southern India, I flew to Northern Ireland to work with ionic liquids and Prof Seddon – a renowned scientist in ionic liquids.

It was my first trip outside India and everything was exciting. I remember looking out of the plane window at the plains and sea whichever I managed to see through the clouds and the passenger next to me was very much convinced that it was my first trip on the plane. Queen’s University particularly QUILL (Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories) had been very welcoming and I managed to settle with my flat, food and lab life in two weeks’ time. I am grateful to all those who took me around to shop for the first time, showed me the Indian grocery shop and toured me around Belfast and Giant’s Causeway.  My research progressed with the industrial projects in electrochemistry and in 2008 I switched to a challenging project in petrochemistry. Research is very rewarding not only when we find them working in the lab but also applied in real life. I had been very lucky to experience the transformation of a lab scale research to a full scale industrial plant. As an applied chemist and also due to inherent interest in the field of medicine I am exploring materials for medical device applications. My second child came along in Northern Ireland. Several awards came along my way and put me in the light. Several disappointments also crossed my path and every time I kept inspiring myself to rise up and move on. It is similar to research experiments in the lab – not always the experimental outcomes are positive but when they fail, they leave back some important facts that will be useful to carry out a better research in future – whatsoever the experimental conditions have to be considered and carried out carefully and safely. Likewise a researcher’s mind should never be put off by failures and hurdles.

In the flow of my chemistry career I came across various experts, highly cited scientists, specialised technologists, inspiring lecturers, efficient managers and a nice pool of competitive researchers, all thriving for success in the same building. Learning was always not just the subject but also learning from different personalities. Academia is a dynamic world but highly rewarding. An academic career can be an ever demanding job where one needs to stay in touch with the cutting edge of science which in turn needs self-inspiration, motivation and multitasking skills. Women should never consider that having children and a family life will be a hindrance to their academic pathway. These days, there are lot of opportunities including flexible working hours, sometimes childcare support, various exclusive research funding opportunities for women that can all  help women to enable research/academic careers.  All needed is to stay determined and practice science like any other job.

Soapbox Dublin - Ionic liquids-liquid salts6Following my L’Oreal UNESCO FWIS award in 2012, I joined the network of women scientists across the country and was introduced to the Soapbox Science. Last year I was a speaker in the Dublin event where I totally fell into love for this event as it is a great platform for women in science to communicate to the public very naturally regarding their research area. No hassle of presentation slides etc. but almost like talking to next door neighbour regarding research. It is my attempt to bring this platform and wonderful opportunity to Northern Ireland and here we are now ready with 13 innovative scientists from various discipline ranging in all STEMM subjects. Speakers at various levels of their research life and from 4 different universities are holding hands together to join public on 20th June 2015 at the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens area from 2-5 pm to talk about their exciting research. I think it is an honour to attract the younger generation to the ever exciting world of science and make the public aware of what is a research world all about.

I am totally thrilled and so are the speakers. Counting down…….26 days more.

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