Leading Shropshire scientist retiring after 40 years urges girls to embark on career in science

A leading Shropshire scientist who is set to retire from her role with one of the UK’s top environmental education charities after 40 years is flying the flag for more women in science.

Sue Townsend
Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend, Biodiversity Learning Manager at the Field Studies Council (FSC) in Montford Bridge, near Shrewsbury, will hang up her wellies at the end of this week.

However before she does so, she is helping to celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science by publicly urging more young girls and women to follow in her footsteps and embark on a science-related career.

She said: “I would love to see more girls choosing to take science-based subjects at A-level and degree level and the reason for this is because we can. We do it well and all roles need balance and diversity to bring our advocacy and messages into society.

“Women have excellent evaluation, communication and planning skills which makes them really good at science.”

Sue has undertaken a variety of roles during her 40 year career which began with her studying applied biology at university.

She started at FSC, which welcomes 165,000 learners to its 25 UK field study centres a year, as an Education Advisor. After a number of years she was appointed Head of Centre at Preston Montford and latterly she moved into the role of Biodiversity Learning Managing.

Challenges

On a day-to-day basis her activities include preparing presentations, overseeing course administration and supporting staff.

She chose to pursue a science-related career because she wanted to champion and care for the environment and the highlight of her career to date was being made an honorary member of the Natural Biodiversity Network.

But, her life in science hasn’t always been plain sailing and Sue admits having to overcome some pretty difficult challenges in the early days of her career.

She said: “One of the biggest challenges I faced was the parental perception that I would never get a proper job and then of course there were other challenges around poor pay associated with environmental science roles compared to other jobs in the commercial and medical sector.

“Early on in my career there was also a bit of a ‘girls can’t do’ attitude but it was starting to change and I was lucky enough to be a part of that change.

“When I first became head of centre at Preston Montford I had five letters from women congratulating me for breaking through the glass ceiling of the ‘gentleman’s naturalist club’.

“Thankfully we’ve come a long way since then and there is now much more diversity across science related roles. Having said that, there is still room for many more girls and women in the field and my top tip for those wanting to pursue a science career is to ‘do it’."

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