My love of chemistry started in high school in Iran: meet Shirin Alexander

image2Dr Shirin Alexander completed My PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Bristol in 2012. Her principal research interest is in surface chemistry, materials, polymers, and colloids. Shirin took a postdoctoral research position after her PhD in the Surfactant Research group at Bristol University, developing a range of Low Surface Energy Materials (LSEMs). After that she started a new position as a research officer in Swansea University. Her current work in the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) is focused mainly on material chemistry, functionalization/synthesis of nanoparticles and microparticles, where she combines the LSEMs with aluminum oxide nanoparticles for obtaining green superhydrophobic (waterproof) surfaces.


SS: Shirin, how did you get to your current position?

SA: My undergraduate degree was chemistry with a year in industry, where I spent my third year in a polymer company in Essex. Up to that point I didn’t know that I wanted to do a PhD, I always wanted to go into industry and sometimes I was even thinking about going into teaching. However, during that year I developed an interest in Research and Development, especially in polymer and colloid chemistry. I returned to the University knowing that I wanted to continue my studies and start a PhD and that turned into a postdoc position and here I am now, soon to take a new position as a Welsh Research Fellow in ESRI.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

SA: I would say my love of chemistry started in high school in Iran. I used to love our chemistry teacher, she was a young inspiring lady who was very enthusiastic. I was always wanted to be like her, and then I remember that I used to enjoy the chemistry experiments in the lab so much and I was always looking forward to it. My highest mark in high school was in chemistry and all of those helped me decide to study chemistry in the University.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

SA: The most fascinating aspect of my research is the connection of it with the real world. I think about real issues and how to solve them. I believe that this was one of the attractions of the research in the polymer company in my placement year. I was working on the products and the issues around them that we use in our everyday life, from paints and adhesives to detergents.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

SA: Be able to explain the cool chemistry to people and make them think about the natural phenomena that exist around us.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

SA: Excitement


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

SA: One thing that really frustrates me is the temporary positions that exist for scientists after their PhD. A lot of these positions are based on one year fix term contacts which makes it so hard for a lot of scientists to plan for their life and becomes a huge barrier for many people to stay in academia.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

SA: If academia is your passion, don’t let your gender stop you achieving it. Academia, especially in STEMM subjects is very male dominated and competitive. You need to be very determined and persuasive no matter what barriers you will face and for sure you will get there!


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