Stacey Heath is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Exeter. She has a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Social and Organizational Psychology. Here she tells us about leaving her working life to start a career in science, the inspiration she has received from a long list of people at the forefront of tackling adversity in society, the underlying drivers of her pursuit of a career in science, wanting to be an inspiration to her children and what she sees as key to completing a successful PhD. Catch her speaking at Soapbox Science in Exeter on the 11th of June,
SS: Stacey, how did you get to your current position?
SH: Having worked for local government and councils in an array of positions from working with the long term unemployed, opening jet (jobs enterprise and training) centres to working as a housing solutions officer I developed an avid interest in the experiences, difficulties and challenges of people from different social classes. In particular I was interested in the examinations of socioeconomic status and inequities in access to resources, plus issues related to privilege, power and control. These interests and working experiences were at the root of my decision to return to education. In 2014 I graduated with a BSc Honours degree in Psychology from Staffordshire University, with my final year project focussing on understanding the construction of communities. Whilst in my final year I applied for an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) 1+3 studentship at the University of Exeter, I was successful in this and began my MSc in social and organisational psychology at Exeter in October 2014. Having completed my MSc I am now in the first year of my PhD, still furthering my interest in the construction of communities, specifically, looking at urban regeneration schemes. My PhD has a current, working, title of ‘Exploring the impact of urban regeneration schemes on communities: An analysis of the proposed psychological processes involved in successful and sustainable communities’.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
SH: There are a number of people who have inspired me. The many people I worked with throughout my career, those helping people in the face of adversity to tackle the odds and complete key skills, such as learning to write, and gaining secure employment, those fighting homelessness, the list is never ending, these people were absolutely inspirational and the reason I decided to conduct research within this area.
On a more personal note, the belief that I, as a mature student and single mum, could succeed stems from my ever encouraging parents and, specifically my aunt who moved to Australia when I was very young and started a degree in industrial engineering. Her experience wasn’t all pleasant, there were very few women in this line of work and she faced gender based discrimination on a daily basis. However, these experiences made her more determined and now, I am very proud to say, Carol Jones is very successful in her career, and facing these kind of challenges, on the other side of the world with no family around, her inspired me.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
SH: The most fascinating part of my research is facing the challenges, treading on new ground, helping the world to understand the different experiences of different people. Highlighting the importance of people’s identity in their well-being and sense of community.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
SH: The premise behind Soapbox Science, engaging the public in science, in my research, and the emphasis on women in science. It was my daughter who first saw the poster at the University of Exeter and asked me what it was about, so we read it together and she said ‘you should do that mum’ the thought of promoting women in science to my daughters was the biggest attraction I think.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
SS:If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be
SH: To tackle the imbalance of girls in science at GCSE and A-level stages, this is where it should begin, encourage girls from a young age to engage in these subjects.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
SH: I am only at the very beginning of my PhD, so I guess it would be the things I say to myself. Exeter offers fantastic mentor schemes, research groups, buddy systems and my supervisors are always approachable and happy to help if I am struggling with anything. So, my advice would be take all the help that is offered to you, be driven by your research and enjoy your work!