Mae’r proffil hon ar gael yn Gymraeg
Hi, I’m Ian and I work as an associate professor in chemistry. I’m the enterprise, partnerships and innovation lead for the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Swansea University.
What does an associate professor in chemistry and an enterprise, partnerships and innovation lead do?
As well as teaching students at Swansea University, I also try and figure out how to meet net zero targets and mitigate climate change. In recent years, this has involved working on buildings that generate their own power and use any excess power to do useful things such as powering electric transport.
How does your work affect the world around us?
My specific work is on coating technologies that can generate power – for example, roof coatings that produce electricity from the sun. This is used to power the building and any excess can be stored in batteries and used for useful things. In the UK, that typically means powering electric transport, but I also work in India where it’s used to boost agricultural income in poor communities and in South Africa where it’s used to improve access to sanitation
Salary range: Postdoctoral researchers (an example of a starting position in academic research) – £27,000–£39,000. More information about a higher education lecturer’s salary can be found here. The role of professor is flexible – the salary might be in the region of £60,000+.
Skills: Communication is key. It took me a long time to realise that talking to people and working as a team to create ideas to solve challenges is my job, not a distraction from it.
What is your typical day like?
My day is varied! Depending on the time of year, a typical day might involve teaching, talking to companies about support for a new project and understanding their needs and challenges, making funding decisions, reporting on a project’s progress and talking to teams around the world on how to rapidly overcome an obstacle to our work. I might also have a conversation with a local council or government about their priorities and hopefully there’s some research time in there too. Yes – that’s one day!
What do you like most about your job?
The people I work with, the variation in things I get involved in (everything from Formula 1 to sanitation) and, most of all, the realisation that it’s bigger than me. Most people want the chance to improve things and leave the world a little bit better than how they found it. Teamwork is key – I’m expendable, we all are. No one is singlehandedly out there fixing problems. I’m fortunate to be part of a team that cares about the wellbeing of future generations and, together, we try to do our part.
How did you get your job?
I did an MChem with a year in industry in a sandpaper factory as a resin chemist and saw how even the most overlooked product was packed full of science. The year in industry shaped my path and the master’s project confirmed my love of academic research. I then knew I wanted to work on the interface of industry and academia.
After this, I did a sponsored EngD which includes a PhD-style research project, thesis and viva on an industrial challenge, with an extra year for taught modules, both technical and covering things like management and finance. The industrial challenge was looking at how we can cure (toughen/harden) coatings quicker and that led to thinking about how we can produce materials for renewable energy in the same way. This broadened my horizons and gave me a wider skillset than just the research alone. It’s enabled me to contextualise my work and present convincing arguments and business cases for change.
The next big eye-opener came from talking to and visiting people who are living at the front end of global challenges. This inspired me to realise the part that chemical scientists can play when we consider our place in the systems required to tackle huge problems like climate change and affordable access to clean energy, water and sanitation.
Minimum qualifications: For my job – doctorate level. However, there are lots of jobs at all levels and we are developing a skills escalator that people can jump on and off at various stages of career. For example, we’ve had people start as apprentices in our local steelworks, do part time courses, get a degree, then go for doctorate and come back to the works with a huge amount of both experience and knowledge.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemical science?
Chemistry has got a hugely important part to play in changing the world. From industrial decarbonisation through clean transport, more responsible and circular use of critical materials, to provision of energy, water and food, the chemistry needs to work, and work economically.
Find something you care deeply about and listen to as many points of view around that topic as you can so you have a broad understanding of the debate and discussion in the field. Show your energy, passion and make sure you network hard. When opportunities come your way, seize them. Your career will hardly feel like work if you’re contributing to something you care about.
I should say that, as an undergraduate, I had no idea I would end up doing a doctorate. I probably thought it was beyond me, so don’t read this and think that you can’t – it’s about finding something you care enough about to help you apply yourself and believe in yourself. You’ll be amazed at what you can do.
What are your plans for the future?
My dream is to see rapid changes in the whole systems around us and to work together to reduce our impact on the environment. Clean energy and transportation, for example, has to be accessible, reliable and affordable.
I’m at the stage where I’m transitioning from doing to enabling. My vision now is about growing teams and the potential for them to be far better than I am. This job is well suited to that. Through teaching, I can share 20 years’ lessons in a couple of formative years. Then, in my research and innovation role, I can grow colleagues who are making their initial steps. With my faculty role, I can hopefully create an environment that makes it easier to thrive and deliver against huge global challenges.
Want to know more?
- Explore your study options, talk to a career adviser and look into gaining work experience.
- Find out more about the role of an academic researcher.
- Browse Swansea University’s website.
Ian Mabbett FRSC, associate professor in chemistry at Swansea University.
Hear from more chemical scientists in Wales
Discover profiles of other chemical scientists working in Wales, ranging from pollution control and pharmaceuticals to product development and more.
Published August 2022