My career as a woman in science, by Deborah Roberts
By Deborah Roberts
Recently, I was asked by Macmillan Education Caribbean to provide a quote about women in science. My initial thought was why me? I was really busy at the time, but it stopped me in my tracks and I took a moment to reflect on my role as a woman in science.
I studied in Science to a master’s level at University. After studying for a degree in science, I embarked on a postgraduate certificate in education because I wanted to teach. But I remembered entering a traditional science laboratory when I was 12 years old. I had mixed feelings when I saw the weird and wonderful equipment, benches and stools instead of desks and chairs - and the smell. Oh, the smell of chemicals and burning!
I was the only girl in the family with lots of male relatives so this was exciting yet a little intimidating. I threw myself into science and maths lessons. I found the content a challenge as I wasn’t a natural academic. One of my teachers told me that ‘[I] wasn’t the brightest tool in the box, but [I] was a trier’.
Years later when I started teaching, I was thankful for my resilience and hard work, as it gave me the skills that helped me to progress through a number of qualifications. It also made me the outstanding teacher that I was judged to be. I was able to break complex content down to levels that students could understand, and I had hundreds of stories and analogies that helped me to make sense of scientific phenomena because I had relied on them so much. I was the most enthusiastic teacher and absolutely loved my job. My son once told me he envied me - that every day was a vacation for me because I loved my job so much.
I initially became a teacher-trainer mentor and this elevated my status to Director of teaching and learning. I moved schools for a new challenge and studied to become the director of learning with English as an additional language, which opened up another passion for me. I was then in the right place at the right time, and Science opened up another door - possibly the most important door of my career. I was asked to write a series of books. This was mainly because I had experience teaching EAL students and a passion for Physics and Maths, although I could also teach Chemistry and Biology to advanced level.
I soon had no choice but to leave teaching, and become a consultant and author full-time as I was travelling the world, working with ministers of education and teachers. I remember being devastated that I couldn’t support the young students that I had been working with, and seeing how their lives could be transformed.
A teacher told me recently that she recalled me saying: ‘Qualifications make points, and points make prizes in the name of choices – life choices’. She recalled a student calling out ‘It’s okay for you, Miss, you come from money’. And she remembered my answer: ‘I actually was brought up down the road, and went to the local school’. I also recall someone, who has now become my mentor, saying: ‘You impact a couple of hundred students in your current role - but as a consultant, you will impact hundreds of thousands.’ I didn’t quite believe that - but when I approached 100 scientific publications, and had trained hundreds of teachers and teacher-trainers in Science, I realised it was true.
I have the best job in the world. I am self-employed, I work with some amazing people across the globe. I am self-sufficient and do not rely on anyone for anything. I am a woman of science and I am extremely grateful and proud of what I have achieved in science. I thank the day I walked into that archaic laboratory and thought: ‘Wow-just wow’.