Moving to work at a university offered a far greater work-life balance, but when you’re a dad of three one-year-olds, starting any new job is a big adjustment. I had to juggle things, manage my time effectively and limit the number of conferences I attended to make it work – but I did. I say I left industry, but I still work really closely with businesses big and small through the Polymer Chemistry and Characterisation Research Technology Platform here at Warwick.
Scientists are always trying to solve problems, and often the big solutions come from working in the world beyond academia. The companies we work with, including the likes of Unilever and Lubrizol, come to us with their problems because not only do we have probably the best set of equipment for analysing polymers in Europe, but also because we can help them understand what’s happening with expertise they just don’t have internally. It could be that there is a problem with some packaging, or that they’re keen to make something more sustainable.
Sustainability is the big thing I’m passionate about in my work. Polymers are everywhere. They’re in your mobile phone, your clothes, toiletries in your bathroom…
Yet when people think about plastic, they think about single-use plastics – so the assumption is that we’ve got to remove polymers from our lives. Of course, doing that completely is impossible, so what I think we need to do is to provide materials that perform a lot better and are sustainable, whilst not costing very much more.
I’m proud to say we’re already doing it, and often in ways most people don’t even notice. It can be as simple as the plastic packaging of food; a few years ago it was black plastic, but now it’s clear plastic because it can be recycled more easily.
Through a spin-out company, I’m also working in transdermal delivery to try to create a hormone replacement patch to give testosterone to women going through the menopause. There’s currently no product in the world that can be prescribed to solve that problem – so if we can make the first, it will be incredibly exciting.
As a working-class lad, I’ve always felt at home at Warwick because it’s a place that gives you a lot of freedom and has never been too traditional. The University can be quite bold, too. I became a Professor after five years, and when anyone suggested a new idea the response was usually “great, go and do it and let’s see what happens”.
In a way, that’s kind of how my career has developed over time, too.
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