Monday, 7 October 2013

The Real Deal: Helen Czerski, Physicist



Today we welcome the amazing Dr. Helen Czerski to the blog, who took time out of her busy schedule to tell us her story, or more accurately, her adventure! Helen is a physicist, TV presenter and a self-described rebel. But don’t just take our word for it…

Catch up with Helen on twitter: @helenczerski

What do you do and give 3 words that describe how you got there?
I study bubbles underneath breaking waves in the ocean.
Three words: Enthusiasm, Stubbornness, Adventurous

What career did you think you would have when you were younger?
I didn't think about it. I hated it when I was asked. When people asked me "what are you going to do when you grow up", I just said "I'm not going to grow up", and I think I'm probably doing ok on that one. I just wanted to do interesting things, and I saw no reason why I needed to plan years ahead. I knew I'd do something related to science and physics, but I didn't mind what.

What is the one thing you'd love to achieve in your research?
To find something off to the side of my main topic which turns out to be important and was entirely unexpected. You can't plan to do that, but if you do science well, those little unexpected things can be the most valuable and rewarding bits.

What is the best and/or worst thing about your job?
The best thing is the freedom to work out how best to do my job, which is just to find out interesting and useful things about how the world works. The worst thing is that there's so much of it to do, and you never get to relax with a feeling of a job that's finished, because there's always more that you should be getting on with.

If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
Don't be afraid to walk up to people and just talk to them.  I was very very shy as a kid, and I wish I'd got over that sooner.  I did a lot of stuff on my own - especially travelling - and it was great but it would have been more fun if I'd done more of it with other people.

What is it that makes you want to come to work each day?
I care about science being done well, and I enjoy the challenges along the way. Mostly, I enjoy the variety - I do hands-on practical work, I write, I get to piece together scientific jigsaw pieces, to teach, to think. It's the variety that keeps me happy.

What do you enjoy other than science?
Sport: badminton, swimming, running and anything else active that I can get involved with.
Books.  I love books and words and playing with words.
New things.  I am a glutton for things I haven't done before.
Making stuff. I get a real kick out of making physical things - experiments, cakes, lego contraptions, anything.

What would be your idea holiday?
Something like hiking over the Alps or walking a segment of the coast of Britain - something outdoorsy and active. Maybe a trip to Iceland - I've always wanted to go but I've never been.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration (science or otherwise?)
Scientific inspiration: the mentor I had in California, who is a fabulous scientist with great integrity but very human with it. He is honest and open about how he makes decisions, not afraid to admit he's failed, and he's always up for a challenge.  It was an enormous privilege to work with him.

In general:  probably my parents. My mum isn't afraid to challenge authority about things that could be done better, and she's very practical. My dad has a very open attitude to the world - his default reaction to a question is "well, let's go and find out". Both them supported whatever I wanted to do, and weren't pushy.  I really appreciate that - I'm a bit of a rebel by nature, and I don't respond well to being bossed about without understanding why I'm being asked to do whatever it is.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I never had the idea that I would have a "career" and I still haven't. I'm not particularly interested in thinking more than a year ahead – who knows what will happen next week? It would be utterly dull to live out a pre-planned career path. I've always been happy to take opportunities, just because I like the adventure, and I work hard at what interests me.  So far, it's always led me on to other things that interest me.
Most of the good things that have happened have come as a result of something that I "wasn't supposed to be doing", according to conventional career lore. I care about integrity in the work I do, and I care about working on things that contribute to society. Past that, I'm open to pretty much anything.

1 comment:

  1. "I didn't think about it. I hated it when I was asked. When people asked me "what are you going to do when you grow up", I just said "I'm not going to grow up", and I think I'm probably doing ok on that one. I just wanted to do interesting things, and I saw no reason why I needed to plan years ahead. I knew I'd do something related to science and physics, but I didn't mind what." -->

    Hey, that's me as well! Or pretty close, anyway. I mean, I liked imagining myself doing cool science-y things but I didn't imagine myself as an adult at all, I didn't want to grow up.

    It's very nice to read about other women like me.

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