This week marked International Women's Day and British Science Week, so all the more reason to celebrate women in science based roles.
Environmental Compliance Advisor, Ashley tells us about her passion for the environment, and how this developed into a career in science.
I am currently on secondment in the MCERTS team, which is the Monitoring and CERtification Scheme for EA wastewater discharge permits, measuring the flow quantity from wastewater and some water treatment works. For the past year I have been an Environmental Advisor in the same wider team. I finally got to a role with Environment in the title, after studying it at University.
But it’s been a zig-zag route to get here.
I first began down the Science/STEM route, taking Physics and Maths at college – but only because I was told to, as I wanted to do Architecture. I was one of only three girls in the Physics class; the other two stopped after AS level. I also did design, getting an A in Graphics, which led to me doing a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Chelsea College of Art & Design.
A two hour commute each morning and evening, I struggled being in a world of fairly wealthy students who could buy all sorts of resources, whereas I would rescue materials from the bins of the supply shop to use.
But it was a good learning experience out of my comfort zone. I used this in my job in the college’s summer schools as a Student Ambassador, supporting 16-18 year olds from backgrounds like mine, to encourage them to apply for university.
I went on to study BA Architecture at University of Brighton, but trying to study this full-on, intense course and working part time weekends was tough. I was the first person from my family to go to university and I still didn’t really know ‘how to do this’.
But I learnt more than my course, getting involved in student union meetings, becoming part of Brighton’s LGBT Society and I immersed myself in environmental talks and did Permaculture courses at Brighton Earthship, Stanmer Park.
The start of a career in the environment
In my second year I struggled to meet the standard of the course; I was more concerned with the environmental impact of my design than the aesthetics, clashing with tutor’s opinions. I weighed up my options, got advice and took the scary step of starting again studying BSc Environmental Sciences, even though this meant a year of fees I had to pay.
I studied environmental planning, renewable energy, energy assessment of buildings and environmental impact. I also enjoyed modules in wetlands, water and soil analysis, water and health, and sustainable development, all of which started me down the path of interest into wastewater treatment.
Making waves at Southern Water
Following a few years moving around, I returned to Brighton and started at Southern Water in 2013 in what was the Technical Centre of Excellence, fielding calls reporting leaks or no water from customers. I got a great overview of customer operations including the various teams, service partners and IT systems.
At the same time, following years of applying to water company graduate schemes, I secured a place on our Operations Graduate scheme. I did placements in different functions getting another great overview of our operations but from shadowing managers and operators. I also completed a Level 4 Diploma in Water Industry Operations and Management.
Since then I have worked as an Asset Planner understanding Capital planning and wastewater treatment across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, with training in Asset Management and defining risk.
I’ve completed a development plan as a Reliability Engineer in Failure Mode Effect Criticality Analysis (FMECA) team, taking part in a trial of Lean Reliability Centred Maintenance. Following a secondment in Operational Excellence, I moved into the Environmental Compliance team I am in now.
Helping to shape the future
Throughout I have volunteered doing Waterwise / Sewerwise talks in schools and community groups, and was previously involved in STEM talks and Aqualogic.
If we are to see more women in science, more women in management, and more women, diversity and inclusion as a whole in water companies to reflect the communities we serve, then I think we need to fund more community engagement and careers guidance work.
I am proud that I am the first from my family to finish school, let alone go to college and after a few sideways steps – university.
I am proud that I am a female in science.
I am even more proud of my sister who graduated with a first last year, also in a BSc degree and has got a job with the police. As a female, and as a person of colour after this last year, I think that’s especially important and I’m super proud of her.