Eilidh Oliphant

Scientist/Chemical Specialist (Thermo Fisher Scientific)

What is it you do? Describe your job and the ways it links to STEM.

I am an analytical chemist with a background in Organic Chemistry. For the past 2 years I have been working at Scottish Water as an organic chemist, I carried out various chemistry techniques in order to analyse water to make sure it’s safe for you to drink, and to protect our environment.

I have recently got a new job as a Chemical Specialist for a global company called Thermo Fisher Scientific, which means I no longer work in a lab but I now offer scientific support for laboratories across the country.

How did you get to this job? Talk us through your route to this role, in terms of education and career?

I was never really sure of what I wanted to do when I left school, I had always fancied being an engineer but I tried that and it wasn’t for me! I studied various subjects at higher level, including chemistry and physics.

Like many people I was really interested in forensic science and decided to pursue this at University, so I applied to study Forensic Science as Glasgow Caledonian University. I quickly found out this course was more analytical chemistry and less forensic science! However, I really enjoyed my time here and I learned skills/techniques which I still use on a daily basis, there is even things I learned in standard grade/higher chemistry that I still use all the time.

I then went onto to study for my masters degree in Environmental Management, with a focus on water quality and treatment. This interest lead me to my role at Scottish Water where I was actively involved in the analysis and protection of our water and wastewater.

After approximately 2 years I decided I wanted a change and I moved to my current role as a Chemical Specialist for Thermo Fisher Scientific. I’ve only just started this role however in a brief summary I offer specialist support for customers across the country.

How relevant is your degree/highest qualification?

My degree is extremely relevant to my previous role and my current role. I use the techniques I learned at University everyday in my job.

What or who inspired you to study and work in a STEM role?

I attended an event run by Strathclyde University called the “Scottish Space School” which is a week long programme aimed at pupils who are interested in a career in STEM. At this event I was really inspired to pursue a career in science and it motivated me to follow this career path.

What is a typical working day like for you and what skills do you use?

A typical working day in the lab was normally a day of what we call “extractions”, which is a sort of chemistry experiment. We would be sent water samples from all over Scotland and analyse them for various chemicals/compounds, after I had extracted the samples I would analyse the results on specialised equipment known as instruments using techniques called  “chromatography “ which is basically the separation of chemicals/compounds in a mixture.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoyed working in the lab, my favourite thing was probably getting to use so many different chemistry techniques. I got to try a lot of different analysis and I really liked learning new methods.

Do you face any STEM related challenges in your job?

I think one of the challenges I faced was how unpredictable chemistry can be! Sometimes the analysis wouldn’t quite work correctly or something would fail, and often there was no obvious reason as to what the problem was and it would just start to work again the following day.

What advice can you give young people looking to work in a similar role or STEM more generally?

I think the best advice I can give is to not give up and that nothing is set in stone. I didn’t always have the best grades at school and I was never really sure of what I wanted to do/study. I tried engineering and didn’t like it, so I switched fields and now I love what I do! Also University/college isn’t for everyone and I know a lot of people who did apprenticeships for example who are now in great jobs.

What do you love about living and working in Argyll?

I grew up in Argyll and went to school there, unfortunately I had to move away to work at Scottish Water as I was based in Edinburgh. I loved the scenery in Argyll and how friendly everyone was, I’m hoping that with my new job being remote I’ll get to spend more time back in Argyll.

Challenge

A cool experiment which is fairly straight forward is to make a DIY lava lamp:

You’ll need:

Vegetable oil, vinegar, baking soda, a few drops of food colouring and some water.

I have included a link to a video which will show you how to create it step by step!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9QdMaOlVrM